Country Listing

Bangladesh Table of Contents



The three services are staffed by volunteers; there is no compulsory service system, and Bangladesh has a large pool of applicants from which to select. Moreover, the country's high rate of unemployment has always made relatively secure positions in the military attractive career options. In the late 1980s, approximately 15.4 million of the 25.7 million Bangladeshi males between the ages of 15 and 49 were fit for military service. Drawing from a male population with a literacy rate of 39 percent, however, the armed forces suffered severe shortages of technically skilled manpower. The shortage was particularly acute for the navy and air force because of their need for skilled maintenance personnel. Low educational requirements for enlisted ranks imposed additional handicaps. Recruits often lacked basic skills such as reading, driving, and using a telephone--skills that had to be taught as part of basic training.

As in most aspects of professional life in Bangladesh, women played a marginal role in the armed forces. Women, however, had been instrumental in the nine-month liberation struggle against Pakistan. Although some female partisans were trained in weapons handling and participated in Mukti Bahini ambushes, their primary role was to support guerrilla operations by transporting food and weapons and acting as informers behind Pakistani lines. Following independence, Bangladeshi women receded into the background. Except for a small number of nurses and physicians in all three services and some army switchboard operators, woman were excluded from the regular armed forces. Bangladesh's paramilitary and police forces did recruit some women, primarily for the purpose of searching and processing female criminal suspects. Women in Bangladesh nonetheless have limited opportunities, as their roles are circumscribed by Islamic and South Asian customs, which tend to limit a woman's station in life to raising children, maintaining the home, and performing agricultural or handicraft labor (see Women's Role in Society , ch. 2).

Data as of September 1988