Overcoming socio-cultural barriers to development

Economists generally look for tangibles such as availability of primary produce or natural resources, agricultural lands, industrial sinews, etc., to declare their confidence on the economy of a country and about its potential to rise to a higher state of economic existence. But as the situation in a country like Bangladesh shows, there are other important barriers to development and economic progress.
For example, the basic national endeavour for poverty alleviation gets frustrated in a big way from cultural practices that tend to marry off girls before they reach full and productive adulthood, from dowry taking and giving, keeping women shackled to unpaid household work out of a distorted notion of helping to maintain their modesty, multiple marriages by men taking advantage of supposed religious sanctions, tendency of men to divorce their wives on flimsy grounds, etc.
The expression of resentment of local people towards such negative social behaviour and practices was reported in a recent newspaper report. It detailed how the char people in a place at Rangpur swore to eradicate dowry and adopt other progressive practices in the course of a function organised by a non governmental organization. Noting occasions such as these no doubt create inspiration. But one expects these events to be repeated more frequently and extensively across the country and ultimate to snowball into a long sustaining social campaign to get rid of the scourges for good.
It must be realized that half of the population of Bangladesh are females and the rate of overall economic progress cannot be speeded up by keeping them restricted in their choices and activities. Early marriage, for instance, crushes the self development of girls by making them mothers when they are physically and otherwise hardly prepared for the role and denies them education and participation in mainstream economic activities. The practice of dowry keep millions of families in perpetual poverty from the requirement to go on paying the same to the bridegrooms and their family members.
Not allowing the young brides to have any say in childbirth leads to forcing millions of them to ruin their health prematurely and to keep high the population growth rate. The effect of so called values suggesting women can remain pious as long as they do not work outside of homes, means virtually restraining a great many in the population from joining the national workforce undermining, thus, national productivity.
According to Dispatches International, in July 6, 2010, more than two thirds of adolescent girls in Bangladesh got married, and about two among five girls, between the ages of 15 and 17 were already married. As a result, more than half of the adolescent girls in Bangladesh become mothers when they are only 19 years old.
Most importantly, the dowry system forcing girls to marry in their teens takes away the opportunity from them to get an education when a country’s overall development in all respects depends crucially on whether the female part of its population is educated or not. Women face physical and mental tortures when they can’t fulfill the demands of their husbands. Husbands beat their wives terribly without thinking about their health and feelings.
A study by Johns Hopkins University in the United States, explained that dowry violence causes different effects in health and mentality such as- chronic depression, eating disorders and malnutrition, as well as repeated self-injury, sexual dysfunction, low self- esteem, suicide attempts, and eventually death.
According to the Asian Legal Resource Center’s (ALRC) stated, “Dowry related-violence against women in Bangladesh is alarming, and includes such terrible cases as the murder and gang rape of a girl in the 22nd day of her marriage because her family failed to pay the full dowry claim”
Dowry not only brings curse for women but also for their children. The study from John Hopkins showed that because of dowry violence women are at higher risk of miscarriages, childbirths, and they are at risk of giving birth to children of low weights, which leads to neonatal and infant death.
Furthermore, because of malnourishment their children are likely to be malnourished and contract diseases. Those children who notice their parents to quarrel, and witness physical torture of their mother, they might be in risk of less emotional and physical development.
The dowry system hinders the country’s development. In Bangladesh, half of the populations are women. So, it’s clear that women could have a big influence on our country’s development. The existence of dowry in society obliges parents not to give the light of education to their daughters. They think giving money in their daughters’ marriage is much better thanspending money in education.
It is a cultural superstition that parents have been following for many years. In their viewpoint, dowry works as security in their daughters’ family and it brings reputation, so they want to provide dowry. As a result, many daughters are not getting the light of education, then how they can engage themselves in the country’s development.
There are legislations against dowry taking and giving in Bangladesh. But these exist in paper only, hardly enforced. A conducive social environment needs to be created here against dowry backed up by real enforcement of the relevant laws.It is high time to recognize how bad these socio-cultural practices are from the perspective of the country’s economic growth and development and to build up the desired counterforce against them.