‘Islamist groups a barrier to women’s emancipation’

The Islamist groups have stayed active in recent past to slow down the process of gaining gender equality

  • Bangladeshi student activists of Islami Oikyo Jote (IOJ) shout slogans as they protest against the National Women Development Policy (NWDP) 2011 in Dhaka

At a time when Bangladesh has been making great strides in ensuring women’s emancipation, Islamist groups are spreading propaganda to constrain the progress achieved so far, women’s rights activists have claimed.

Although Bangladesh has achieved praise from international organisations for the country’s performance in recent years in ensuring women’s emancipation, the Islamist groups have stayed active to slow down the process of gaining gender equality, they said.

To address the situation, the Nari Nirjaton Pratirodh Committee, a body formed by several women’s rights bodies, will mark the International Women’s Day placing a demand for a ban on all Islamist parties to establish gender equality.

In 2006, the Global Gender Gap Index had ranked Bangladesh 91st out of 115 countries in terms of gender equality. However, in the 2013 index, the country was placed 75th among 136 countries, compared to being ranked 86th and 69th out of 135 countries in 2012 and 2011.

The index ranks countries according to the gender gaps on economic, political, education and health-based criteria, and provides country rankings that allow for effective comparison across regions, income groups and time.

As per the Human Development Report 2013, Bangladesh belongs to a group of 18 highlighted countries that have seen rapid progress in human development including women’s progress; with other highlighted countries including China, India, Malaysia and Vietnam.

However, according to the UNDP’s Human Development Index (HDI) 2013, Bangladesh’s HDI value for 2012 was 0.515, which puts the country in the low human development category. It is, however, Bangladesh’s best performance so far, with the country ranking 146th among 187 countries under HDI 2012, and 147th under HDI 2011.

Rights activists, meanwhile, said the progress could have been quicker if fundamentalist political and social groups did not obstruct governmental and non-governmental initiatives.

Sultana Begum, 38, is an example of a successful entrepreneur whose progress was cut short by local “religious leaders.” After being abandoned by her husband seven years ago, Sultana was forced to set up a tea stall to earn a living for the many mouths she had to feed. However, local “religious leaders” allegedly forcefully shut down her shop, saying that running a tea stall was not a woman’s job.

Sultana, who had been able to achieve financial stability from her tea stall, now works as a domestic help.

All children should be sent to school so that they do not face similar struggles, Sultana said, adding that five years of her life had been lost because of some men who claimed themselves as “religious leaders.”

Gender inequality in education also plays a barrier in women’s empowerment, as was experienced by 20-year old garment worker Rahima, who could not continue her education because there was no secondary school in her village that provided facilities for female students.

Saying some of her colleagues had faced similar experiences, Rahima said the female garment workers could have joined the factories as supervisors, if they had been able to continue their studies further.

Shipra Bose, a women’s rights activist, said improper funding by government and NGOs causes the problem of slow development. If a girl’s school needed a common room, funding was provided for setting up a toilet, she said.

Shipra added that inclusive and equitable growth could not happen without taking into consideration the role of women.

In 2011, Bangladesh achieved its best ranking on the Gender Gap Index; but the ranking dropped again in the following year as some alliance of Islamist parties created unrest demanding the dissolution of some women-friendly policies.

The Islamists became active again last year, when radical Islamist group Hefajat-e-Islam brought out its supporters on the streets to demand segregation of sexes in public.

Women’s rights activists criticised the government’s stance against the Islamists, saying it was inapprehensible why the Islamist political parties were acknowledged.

Ayesha Khanam, president of Bangladesh Mohila Parishad, said Islamist activists demonstrated on the streets when the government took the initiative to form a national women’s policy aimed at giving women equal inheritance rights.

A stronger position was needed against the Islamists, she added.

Women’s rights activists Khushi Kabir said Bangladesh has always had a history of women’s emancipation since the days of Begum Rokeya, to women’s active role in the Liberation War, and through today’s Shahbagh movement.

Progress becomes slow when Islamists are constantly opposing the successes, Khushi said, adding that the nation would progress faster if women were freed from all fears and allowed to do their work.

International Women’s Day today

International Women’s Day will be celebrated today with the theme “Equality for women is progress for all.” Various organisations will mark the day with elaborate programmes across the country.

President Abdul Hamid and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina have given separate messages on the occasion congratulating all women.

Each year International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8, with the first International Women’s Day held in 1911.

Source: Dhaka Tribune

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