“Why Feminism is not widely accepted in Bangladesh”
Feminism is a movement that demands the right of women to have political, social, and economic equality with men. It is a discourse that involves various movements, theories, and philosophies which are concerned with the issue of gender difference, advocate equality for women, and campaign for women’s rights and interests. According to Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan, the history of feminism can be divided into three waves. The first wave was in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the second was in the 1960s and 1970s and the third extends from the 1990s to the present. Feminist theory emerged from these feminist movements. It is manifest in a variety of disciplines such as feminist geography, feminist history and feminist literary criticism.
Bangladesh is a small country with a large population. Approximately 93 percent people are religious including 80 percent Muslims. The term feminism appears to mass people in a misconception. Instead of social workers, feminist are commonly known as atheist, anti-religious, anti-social customs and an agendum to break family system. In this paper I will try to find out the reasons of this misunderstanding.
Feminism is a very common theme in Bengali literature. Many literary works created that have the feminist subject matter like the rule of patriarchal society, oppression on female, rape, child marriage, dowry, double standard for female etc. Rabindranath Tagore, Sharath chandra Chattopadhyay, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Begum Rokeya, Ashapurna Debi, Tarashankar Bandopadhyay, Manik bandopadhyay, SomoreshMajumder, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Humayun Ahmed, Imdadul Haque Milon and many more male and female writers have writen many literary works where they show social, political, economic, religious oppression against women. The writings of these writers worked for female rights. Some writings worked as revolution. Like Begum Rokeya;s Sultana;s Dream, Imdadul Haque milon;s Nurjahan, Bankim Chandra’s Kapalkundala, Rabindranath Tagore’s Cintrongoda, most of the novels of Sharath chandra Chattopadhyay, Ashapurna Devi’s famous trilogy Prothom Protishruti(1965), Subornolota(1967), and Bokul Kotha(1974), Anjon Dutto’s Nilonjona and many more literary works have talked about female rights and raised voices against oppression against women. There are many popular feminists characters like Dipaboli, Madhobilota, Sultana, Rajlakshmi that embody real female characters in Bengali literature. Many women accept these characters as their idols and want to be like them. Although the application of feminism is accepted by all class and religious people but they don’t think that feminists workers activities are these sorts of works. Unfortunately the general people think Toslima Nasrin is the icon of feminism. Toslima Nasrin is also feminist but not only feminist writer. Some of her writing may support the third wave of feminism that demands the right of lesbianism, bisexuality, and much more freedom of female. This is supported by Toslima Nasrin’s writing in some context. Making it as a big issue, the people who are anti-feminist or extreme religious try to make feminists as supporters of Toslima Nasrin. Some of her (Toslima Nasrin) writings criticize existing religious and social customs of Bangladesh. Though those criticisms are not related to feminism but some wicked people mixed up those with feminism. These sorts of discussions take a large place in print and electronic media, social networks as well. As a result mass people have a negative concept about feminism. Some celebrities, writers who seem to be feminists skip to introduce themselves as feminists. It may be from the fear of losing popularity.
The second wave of feminism is the most popular feminist movement than rest of two. This movement wants female social, economic rights and raised strong voice against any sort of oppression on women (Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan). Most of the feminists supports and works for this movement. This movement carries the real meaning of feminism. The third wave of feminism deals with lesbianism and homosexuality. Lesbianism is forbidden in Islam and other religion as well. In Bangladesh most of the Muslims are concerned of this law of Islam. For this reason when they find someone who seeks the right of Lesbians or homosexuals they think the person as an anti-Islamic.
In Bangladesh the feminist’s movement most commonly is criticized because of some writers who represent their identity as atheists or secularists or agonist more than as feminists. Their writing starts with the oppression on women then it turns into the criticism of religion. Some people use their feminists’ works to get political benefits. The opposite people who hold the opposite political view mix up their political anger with the feminism.
Some people, who think themselves feminists but not know the main aim of feminism bring some problems for the feminism. They often try to establish that some customs and culture that are well established in society are burdens for women. For example; Hijab is popular in Islamic custom. Banning Hijab cannot bring any welfare for women. In some case Hijab can increase women’s repetition. Saying against Hijab is not feminism. But it is a general idea that feminism is against Hijab. This idea also decreases the fame of feminism.
In Bangladesh, Women & Children Repression Prevention Act 2000 considered as one the most effective law addressing violence against women. This Act contains severe provisions for prevention of offences related to oppression on women and children trafficking and kidnapping of children and woman, rape, death resulting from rape and dower, sexual harassment etc. However, Women & Children Repression Prevention Act 2000 is seriously been misused from the time of its enactment. This law is been used as an instrument of humiliation, extortion and harassment. Not only the rate of conviction in the cases regarding violence against women and children is very low, it has also failed to usher in the expected results in punishing actual criminals for committing violence against women.
The abuse of this law has a very adverse impact on our legal system. Many innocent people are suffering for this law. At the same time, it is facilitating further malpractices in the legal system. It has caused loss of substantial resources of the state and society as good amounts of working hours are spent by the complaints or informants, police, jail personnel, judges and the support personnel and staff of the courts, lawyers. Friends and relatives of the accused, victims and witnesses and their associated costs and expenditures are also a factor to consider regarding misuse of resources. Thousands of innocent persons have been into the jailed for many months, including scores of older men, women and children. Even organizations working for women’s rights acknowledge that, plaintiffs who are aggrieved with minor conjugal issues misusing this law. Ultimately, this situation deprives everyone from the possibilities of remedies. Women often file false graver allegations against their husbands or convinced by their lawyers to do so although the conjugal issues may not be that much serious. If proved guilty, that innocent husband receives conviction; but if proved innocent, the aggrieved women lose the chances of reconciliation.
Recently Haji Selim, one of the renowened Parlament members, spoke againt women and child right law. Accoding to Haji Selim “Many men suffer from harassment, intimidation, blackmail and much else. So there should be a law to protect them,” Selim told it in the Parliament. Bangladesh’s Prevention of Women and Children Repression Act 2000 provides for punishment for making false allegations under Section 17 of the law.
The misuse of ‘Women & Children Repression Prevention Act 2000’ makes feminists works a little bit hard. This law was established because of feminists’ demand. The law has active role to decrease oppression on women, acid throwing, dowry, rape, child marriage and other mental and physical torture on female. But some bad people use this law to attack their opposition. The misuse of this law happens for the fault of law enforces organizations and mal politics but feminism has to carry the disputation of this misuse. General people think this law is responsible for breaking the family system of Bangladesh. As this law is the result of feminist movement. So culprit is the feminist movement.
There are many feminist activities that are known as social welfare activities. Movement against Dowry, acid throwing, child abuse, rape, mental and physical torture on women, eve teasing these all are feminist activities. Feminism demands female rights. These activities also demand females’ rights. These activities are very popular in Bangladesh. Because of these activities the women of Bangladesh are enjoying their lives as male does. Now a day’s girls are going to school, college and universities as boys go. This scenery was not seen twenty or thirty years ago. Acid throwing is almost abolished from Bangladesh. But it was a big problem in Bangladesh before five to ten years back. Child marriage, family torture, and eve teasing are also decreasing. This situation has not come in a day. Many feminists have worked for bringing this situation. The problem is that the workers are not working this by the name of ‘feminism’ banner. For this the works and activists are popular but the word ‘Feminism’ has not got that much recognition.
There is an ideological conflict among feminists in Bangladesh. The people who work for feminism are divided into many political or ideological groups although their activities are the same to establish women rights in the society. Some of them think that Islam has all sorts of rights for women. Islam itself is a feminist religion. Islamic feminism is concerned with the role of women in Islam and aims for the full equality of all Muslims, regardless of gender, in public and private life. Islamic feminists advocate women’s rights, gender equality, and social justice grounded in an Islamic framework. Although rooted in Islam, the movement’s pioneers have also utilized secular and Western feminist discourses and recognize the role of Islamic feminism as part of an integrated global feminist movement. Advocates of the movement seek to highlight the deeply rooted teachings of equality in the Quran and encourage a questioning of the patriarchal interpretation of Islamic teaching through the Quran, hadith (sayings of Muhammad), and sharia (law) towards the creation of a more equal and just society. Establishing Islam in country will ensure female rights. Secularist feminist activists think total opposite of this. They try to establish that religious society is a burden for women’s rights. Like this Marxist, Atheist, Nationalist and other ideological people try to establish feminism from their own ideology. Different wicked political or religious groups take this advantage. They try to spread propaganda to gain their own benefits. Finally the mass people get the message that feminism is bad.
Barbara Smith, a renowned black feminist, calls for a redefinition of the goals of the women’s movement and for an autonomous black feminist movement. The western women movement’s aim and demands are formed according to their women’s needs. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, an Indian feminist, also claims that the feminism that is formed for the need of western females is not able to realize Indian women’s reality. Bangladeshi women are also different from other country. The atmospheres, the culture, the land where they live in are definitely different from western countries. Having different environment, culture, religion the mental and physical tortures that our females face are also different. Because of these differences our feminists have to come in a same platform. Some of Islamic feminists think Islamic feminism can solve all the problem of female. Some feminists think Marxist feminism is important for Bangladesh. Other think only western feminism is essential in Bangladesh. Leaving these ideas if our feminists can establish a new Bangladeshi feminism that only thinks and forms to ensure our women’s rights will be perfect for Bangladesh.
The women should write about themselves. According to Helene Cixous, women are afraid to write in a world that is controlled by patriarchy. Language plays an active role in creating ‘reality’. Using language differently can produce different ‘realities’. She realizes the language of literature that has formed by men is an active creator of women’s oppression. She invites women to write in their own form. The male writers can never write about female perfectly. In Bangladesh female writers are very few. Most of them are not thinking from their female point of view. They have not yet established a writing era for their own. They may follow other male writers. There are many actresses in Bangla media but only one or two female director can be found. A film director or producers has the power of crating formation or ideology of a film. For these reasons feminism is not running according to females’ way.
It is clear from Feminist Laura Mulvey’s article “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975)” that feminism is against showing female body in films and media. Female should not be used for the satisfaction of male gaze. In Bangladesh, the popular print and electronic Medias, which are supposed to be the representative of feminism, have failed to spread this idea. Instead of standing against male gaze it is claimed that the popular Medias are trying to show female body in their media for a commercial purpose. Now-a-days media is a means of huge business. They deal with many people to increase their TRP. In the occasions that are related to feminism like Women’s day, Mother’s day etc. the medias print and telecast some famous feminist like Sultana Kamal, Selima Rahman, Begum Rokeya and many more writers’ interview, article, poem, story etc. This does not mean that the owners of the Medias are feminists. But the anti-feminist people spared the idea that the media owners are feminists. They are engaging to bring our women from the house to the light of mass medias to show their (our women) bodies. This sex appealing activities always go against feminism in Bangladesh although it is an anti-feminist activity.
Feminist activities are popular but not the word feminism as much. It happens because of misunderstanding. The mass people even some educated people don’t know the real meaning of feminism. The word ‘feminism’ does not get much media coverage. Moreover many feminist activities are not recognized as feminist activities rather social activities. This concept will be clear to the mass people very soon with the increasing of educated people and positive practices of feminism.
Rivkin , Julie and Ryan, Michael; Introduction: “Feminist Paradigms”
Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, 1975.”
Spivak, Chakravorty, Gayatri. A critique of postcolonial reason, Chapter 3, “Can the Subaltern Speak? ” 1999.
Cixous, Hélène. The Laugh of the Medusa, 1975.
Smith, Barbara “Toward a Black Feminist Criticism”, 1982.
Dashgupto, Shomita(2008). Feminism in Bangla literature (Bangla Sahitte Naribadi Vabona)
http://archive.thedailystar.net/ Saturday, March 23, 2013