Economists and researchers at a programme stressed the need for inclusion of women into the labour force and address the issue of unpaid labour for ensuring economic empowerment of women which will ultimately lead to better health and nutrition outcomes.
They also criticised the present claim of the government of spending 2.2 per cent gross domestic product (GDP) for social protection. Rather it is 0.7 per cent which is actually meant for extreme poor and social protection, they noted.
They called for better integration in nutrition programme implementation to achieve the target of reducing 2.0 percentage points of stunting every year as per the Seventh Five Year Plan and making the lawmakers accountable and competitive to measure nutritional achievement in their constituencies.
Their observations came at a discussion titled 'Compact 2025 Bangladesh Roundtable' at a city hotel. The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the USAID jointly organised the event.
During a panel discussion on 'Social Protection and Nutrition', Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) research director Binayak Sen said economic empowerment of women is needed to ensure nutritional achievement.
"Stipend schemes for girls have been successful here but it should be supported by job creation, pro-poor and pro-women infrastructure and gender-friendly work climate," said Mr Sen.
Much investment has been made for development of women for over the past two decades, he said, adding now time has come to include them in labour market.
"Including them in the labour market has multiplier effect including nutritional achievement," he said.
Referring to a recent study, the noted economist said readymade garment proximate villages have high secondary enrolment and completion rate.
The same type of study can be done to see whether there is commensurate health and nutritional impacts following investment in RMG.
"We should not just say that female labour force participation has increased to 35 per cent from that of 13 per cent in 1983. The largest part of this labour force includes unpaid family helpers who do not have possibility to be paid labourers or self- employed," said Mr Sen.
He said the claim of spending 2.2 per cent GDP for social protection is a myth which should be stopped because the lion's share of this is formal pension meant for the non-poor.
"If you exclude the formal pension meant for non-poor, a study has shown only 0.7 per cent of GDP is allocated for extreme poor or social protection," he said, adding that the transfer is minimal per beneficiary which is Tk 300-500 per month.
"With such pathetic allocation, one cannot aspire to be lifted out of poverty and extreme hunger and poverty," Mr Sen noted.
Earlier, IFPRI Bangladesh representative Akhter Ahmed made a presentation on 'Bangladesh: Assessment of Food Security and Nutrition Situation."
General economics division (GED) member Shamsul Alam said there are too many social protection programmes in Bangladesh numbering 140 to 145. The government allocates 12.5 per cent of the national budget for social protection the main target of which is to eradicate poverty and free the country from hunger by 2025.
World Food Programme (WFP) country representative Christa Rader said Bangladesh has shown tremendous success but at the same time there is economic burden of stunting. The Seventh Plan's target to reduce stunting at a rate of 2.0 percentage point annually, which is now 1.2 per cent, is an ambitious one.
The new social protection strategy will target women of reproductive age and most of the programmes will address child stunting and under-nutrition. The programmes will also address the 1,000 days of a child's lifecycle which will cover the nutrition need during pregnancy and two years after the birth of the child.