Bangladesh, a country since its inception known as one of the poorest and most overly populated nations, is now gradually seeing economic improvement to an even greater degree than its contemporaries: India and Pakistan. At one point, Bangladesh was included in the list of Least Developed Countries (LDC) enumerated by the UN; but now it has been estimated that by 2024 it will break free from this categorization as it has seen a drastic increase in standard of living, fertility rates, and lowered infant mortality rates.
A Rough Start
Bangladesh got its independence from Pakistan in the year 1971 with the help of India. However, this independence was achieved through a lot of violence and struggle, so the Bangladeshi administration was not able to fulfil even some of the basic needs of its people due to the damage it had suffered, both economical and physical. Following this, there was even a major famine which killed nearly 15 lakh people in the country. This, along with political instability and constant military coups made it very difficult for any growth to take place in the country.
The Basket Case
After its independence, the foreign secretary of USA at the time, Alexis Johnson, called Bangladesh an ‘International Basket Case’. A basket case means a country burdened by economic strife and which falls into severe debt in order to cope with its financial crises. Such countries are those that struggle to maintain a self-sufficient and autonomous economy. Other newspapers would also predict that Independent Bangladesh will be an economic failure. Such predictions at the time were made due to the fact that Bangladesh was overburdened by a very dense populations, leading to severe problems like food shortage. It was also not a country rich in natural resources which would allow it to bolster its economy, so the general view was it would become an underdeveloped state and become economically dependent on other countries. This became true in the 1980s, when Bangladesh heavily relied on foreign aid to stay afloat and meets its needs.
How did Bangladesh become a well-performing economy?
Firstly, there is the well-known fact of the cheap labor or low-skill manufacturing that Bangladesh provides. After China, you are most likely to see a ‘Made in Bangladesh’ tag on the clothes bought in even the most expensive and high-end shopping areas in the world. This is because international clothing and apparel companies look to countries like Bangladesh for cheap labor and manufacturing so as to make greater profits on their products. This industry has provided major employment in the country, and has contributed up to 10% of its GDP at times, helping the country a lot in its growth.
Furthermore, around 80% of the workforce in these factories are women, which is an indicator of high employment for women and their empowerment. In a country where women are generally limited to being homemakers, the employment of women has led to fruitful advancements. Many reports have shown that as more and more women employed in factories, their educational attainment, age of marriage, and general welfare has increased. This is due to the fact that they have become economically independent and have seen an increase in income, thereby allowing expenses to be made on girl child’s education and not making marriage for money a necessity. Today, even the male-female wage gap is slowly decreasing in Bangladesh.
Then there is also the role of NGOs in Bangladesh. International and national NGOs got involved in the improvement of Bangladesh’s socioeconomic situations, with the building of schools and advancement of medical infrastructure. NGOs have played a unique role in Bangladesh’s improvement, as generally such welfare measures should be taken by the government so as to gain public trust. However, the Bangladesh government has given much leeway to the NGOs, and has encouraged to work together with them so as to promote growth in the country. This attitude has led to significant improvements, and other governments hesitant to work with NGOs for fear of it affecting their public image should look to Bangladesh as an example of its benefits.
Finally, and perhaps most important, is the balanced foreign policy of Bangladesh. They have created such a foreign policy that they have received foreign aid from many different countries, even those that have opposed their independence like the USA. Also, the scheme of remittances (money transferred by Bangladeshi citizens working in foreign countries to their home) in the foreign policy has contributed greatly to the GDP of the country. Overall, the foreign policy has allowed for products and services from Bangladesh to be bought and sold in foreign, richer countries, thereby helping income.
Hence, in this way Bangladesh has seen much economic success especially in the last decade or so. What remains to be seen is how the country will move forward in the years to come. Will their dependence on the clothing and garment industry be dangerous? Will international trade regulations become stricter as the country is economically improving? Only time will tell us the answer to these but for now, Bangladesh can celebrate how far it has come.