29 March 2014, Dhaka. Programme on Women’s Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (PWESCR) in partnership with South Asian Feminist Alliance (SAFA) and BRAC hosted a public event, Feminist Voices from Bangladesh on Saturday, 29 March, 2014, from 4 to 6 p.m at the BRAC Centre Inn Auditorium, 75 Mohakhali, Dhaka, Bangladesh. Eminent feminists Rokeya Kabir, Salma Khan, Khushi Kabir, Sara Hossain, Farida Akhter, Shireen Huq, Anna Minj and Moni Rani Das shared their perspectives on feminism, their personal journey as a woman’s rights leader and challenges in being part of a movement. The discussion was moderated by Barbara Phillips, who is a Board Member, PWESCR, a lawyer and civil rights activist.
In an engaging afternoon discussion, panellists self-critically examined the trends in the women’s movement in Bangladesh. Khushi Kabir shared the discomfort, especially within political circles, to use the word ‘feminist’, which is considered a ‘western’ import and not home-grown. Shireen Huq highlighted the silences within the women’s movement, particularly with regard to sexuality rights and personal freedoms. These freedoms are marginalised in favour of socio-economic rights, which the ‘comrades’ in the women’s movement have been openly debating. However, sexuality campaigns like My Body, My Decision (1994), faced resistance from even within the women’s movements. “We can say yes to equal wages but not discuss our bodies. This is when you realise comrades are not progressive after all,” noted Shireen Huq. Rokeya Kabir asserted that violence against women is most severe in the domestic realm, both natal and marital. She importantly reminded the forum that women’s rights were gravely violated during the 1971 liberation war and neither the family, relatives, religion nor the state could protect the bodily dignity of women. She recalled the challenges she faced in her life, especially the incident, in which a Senior Minister not only blamed NGOs for destroying Bangladeshi culture. “We are still fighting this battle today,” she declared. Farida Akhtar lauded the rich history of women’s movement in Bangladesh and applauded the efforts of Bangladeshi women to have always striven on their own initiative, even without the aid of the NGOs. This belief shared by Farida Akhtar was nuanced further by Moni Rani Das, Founder of Dalit Women’s Forum, who has struggled for decades to mobilise, organise, sensitise and create livelihood opportunities for Dalit women, who face multiple discrimination. With the endeavour of the Dalit Forum, Dalit women and girls are more conscious of their rights, are breaking their caste mindsets and thinking about occupations other than sweeping work.
This event was part of PWESCR’s 4th Leadership Institute in Women’s Economic, Social and Cultural Rights from 24th to March 30th 2014, in Dhaka, Bangladesh. 31 women’s rights leaders (women and men) from 18 countries working in organisations worldwide participated. The Institute, based on the International Convenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) is held in two phases each year. 2014’s second phase will take place from 15th to September 20th in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
PWESCR is an international human rights organisation based in the Global South committed to promote women’s human rights - especially in the context of economic, social and cultural rights - by engendering policy, law and practice at local, national, regional and international levels.