Bangladesh’s Women Are In The House

June 27, 2010

By Hana Shams Ahmed

[Women’s Feature Services, May 26, 2009]

At a public meeting in Noakhali district in the Chittagong Division of Bangladesh, Agriculture Minister Motia Chowdhury had a strange encounter. Throughout the proceedings, a group of men stood with their backs toward her. The men, as it turned out, were conservative Muslim clerics, who found it difficult to accept a woman as a leader, but at the same time could not pass up the opportunity of listening to her speech.

Chowdhury is a leading woman politician in Bangladesh. Her involvement in politics goes back to Eden Girls’ College in Dhaka where she became vice president of the students’ union in 1963. She served a jail sentence for political activities in 1964-65 and actively participated in the liberation movement in 1971. In 1990, Chowdhury also actively took part in the movement against the rule of the Ershad junta, which ultimately ended an eight-year military rule. After democracy was restored in 1991, she was one of the few women to win a non-reserved seat in parliament. (In the original constitution, 15 seats were reserved for women. By 2004, this rose to 45 seats.) Chowdhury served as the Agriculture Minister in the Awami League (AL) government from 1996-2001. And is heading the same ministry in the recently elected AL government. Her feisty personality and determination to break barriers in a patriarchal political set-up has earned her the title ‘Agni Konna’ (daughter of fire). Read the rest of this entry »

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We will not let them forget you

June 14, 2009
Artwork by Arif Haq

Artwork by Arif Haq

Hana Shams Ahmed

[THE DAILY STAR, 12 June  2009]

SHE was only 22 years old, a very vocal woman activist. An activist from a community that is treated by the Bangladesh state as second-class citizens. Someone who did not fear the most venerated institution in our country. A combination of all these elements made her a chillingly vulnerable person, a target for “The Vanishing” (i.e. those who are made to disappear without a trace).

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When It Also Happens At Home

May 27, 2009
Tanvir Murad Topu

Tanvir Murad Topu

Hana Shams Ahmed talks to Sara Hossain about domestic violence

[FORUM magazine, THE DAILY STAR, May 2009]

In December of last year, a case was brought to court by 33-year-old Dr. Humayra Abedin, with the help of human rights organisation Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), against her own family, for confining her against her will.

She had come to Dhaka in August of that year after being told that her mother was seriously ill. As soon as she arrived home, her parents hid her passport and plane ticket and held her captive. She was forced to take mood stabilisers and anti-psychotic drugs until she confirmed that she would not be returning to the UK, and would give up her job and disassociate herself from everybody she knew there.

On November 14 she was allegedly forced to get married to someone against her will. There were repeated attempts on the part of her parents to not comply with court orders. They only responded after the court said it would hold them in contempt if they failed to show up. They kept claiming that Humayra was mentally ill therefore unable to appear.

After a fierce legal battle and after the High Court in England also passed orders requesting the co-operation of the Bangladesh judiciary and the authorities, her parents finally allowed Humayra to come to the Bangladesh High Court. Two judges interviewed Humayra in person and ordered her to be released and she immediately returned to the UK later that month.

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Breaking New Ground

May 27, 2009
Zaid Islam

Zaid Islam

Hana Shams Ahmed and Quazi Zulquarnain Islam applaud the pioneering Bangladesh women’s cricket team

[FORUM magazine, THE DAILY STAR, May 2009]

In July 2004, Bangladesh Amateur Wrestling Federation (BAWF) postponed the first ever women’s wrestling competition, following threats from Islamist groups. One of the religious leaders, Mohiddin Khan said: “Female wrestling is nothing but showing off their bodies in front of male audience. This is totally immoral and against the teachings of Islam.”1

The event had been scheduled to take place at the Women’s Sports Complex. In October, members of the Islamic Shashantantra Andolon gathered in front of the National Sports Council to protest against the country’s first-ever women’s football tournament, clogging traffic in the area for three hours.2

In November of the same year, the Bangladesh government stopped women from taking part in a swimming competition in Chandpur, after a group that went by the name “The Committee for Resistance to Un-Islamic Activities” threatened large demonstrations if the competition was allowed to go ahead.3

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Take back the streets

April 15, 2009
hana_pcp1

Photo: Zahedul I Khan

Hana Shams Ahmed

[THE DAILY STAR, 11 April, 2009]

Pull up the hood of your rickshaw,” I heard for the hundredth time. It was a very nice day, with the wind blowing, and the sun making occasional appearances. But the hood of the rickshaw had to be put up. After all, I had to ‘hide’ myself from the numerous gawking eyes that always followed me throughout the journey from Mohammadpur to Elephant Road, where I went to study my A-levels.

Out of sight of my parents, I would always pull down the hood, and unfortunately pairs of eyes of all ages would look me up and down as if I was an exhibit in an art gallery. Then, depending on the vulgarity of the yelled comment, I would have to decide whether to keep the hood down, or give up and put it back up.

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The Parent Trap and Honour Crime

December 26, 2008

After a five-month ordeal in her home country of Bangladesh, 32-year-old doctor Humayra Abedin confirmed a forced marriage at the hands of her parents. But what does the incident reveal about Bangladeshi attitudes on domestic violence towards women?

humayra_daily_telegraphby Hana Shams Ahmed

[Altmuslim.com, December 22, 2008]

Humayra Abedin, the only child of Mohammed Joynal Abedin, a retired businessman, and his wife, a housewife, was trained as a doctor in Bangladesh. She went to England in 2002 to attend Leeds University, eventually moving to East London and working in hospitals across the capital as she studied to become a doctor. According to UK press reports, when her family found out that she had developed a close friendship with a Hindu Bangladeshi man in London, they were furious and since May of this year, they have desperately been trying to force her into a marriage with a Muslim man.

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Working in a Man’s World

September 22, 2008

[STAR Magazine, September 12, 2008]

A working woman is an epitome of self-sufficiency and equality. She is expected to have overcome the socio-cultural dynamics of the gender battle and earned a place for herself in a brutally disparate system. But the work environment for women is anything but fair, from supervisors who hold back women’s advancement, to colleagues who make harassment a constant presence at work. In the absence of a code of conduct at organisations, and no legal support, it has an extremely negative impact on women’s performance and future in the workplace.

Hana Shams Ahmed

Fahima* used to work in a local NGO. Her supervisor regularly directed verbal sexual innuendos towards her. After work he would ask her to come to his office on the excuse of ‘additional work’. He would then tell her stories with sexual connotations. Ignoring his advances only made matters worse — he started getting aggressive. When she could not bear it any more, she told her husband what was going on. But her husband, instead of helping her, accused her of “leading him on” and asked her to quit her job. Facing this double blow, she came to Bangladesh National Women’s Lawyer’s Association (BNWLA) to file a legal complaint against her supervisor. Unfortunately, social and family pressure pushed her to change her mind — she not only withdrew her case after a few days — she eventually resigned from her job. In the end, both her workplace harasser and her husband satisfied their male egos at the cost of Fahima’s career.

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