A Long Way To Proceed Through
Anis Fatema :
The equal and praiseworthy participation of both men and women and their wise coordination can provide the world with a balanced, safer and much better social and financial living environment. Contribution of women towards the welfare of a nation deserves due respect and honour. A nation, free of the curse of 'gender discrimination' is able to reach the platform of success. It achieves speed towards the path of development by dint of tremendous and dynamic effort of all citizens. Both men and women are superb creation of The Almighty Allah. Thus both of them have rights to practice their own capabilities in order to get their own space of success in the society and the country they live in.
Of a financially and socially developed country, contribution of women is an inevitable part. Women play vital role in every sphere of life. At home we have our mothers and housewives, conscious enough regarding issues of the family and by dint of proper education they can fulfil their duties properly. They can also put in forth their opinions and ideas in major decision taking moments of their families.
We have highly capable women in each and every sector of development. There are female Physicians, Doctors, Professors, Service holders and Business tycoons. There are female members in Law Enforcement Department. The women are encouraged to practice their abilities and merit. In all the steps of development women in our country are putting their efforts. This is a positive side of their position in our society.
But now-a-days women in Bangladesh as well as all over the world are highly concerned about their own rights and privileges. We have to keep in mind that the favourable environment for survival needs movements and struggle. History reveals itself with stories behind today's achievements. The series of achievements regarding the burning issue of women emancipation have not yet been completed. Still the world has to deal with a complete episode of women movements.
We cannot forget the history of Women's Rights Movement in the years of 1848-1998 in the USA. On 13th July, 1848 a young housewife and mother named Elizabeth Cady Stanton was invited to have a cup of tea by a very few number of friends. On that sweltering summer day in upstate New York they dreamt of Women's Rights Movement. While having conversation with friends Stanton poured out her discontent with the limitations placed on her own situation under America's democratic rule. She mentioned her own capabilities and desired to play a vital role in the establishment of the new Republic. The other women also agreed regarding the issue. That was the first group of women to plan and carry out a specific, large scale program. Within two days of their afternoon tea together, this small group had picked a date for their Convention, found a suitable location, and placed a small announcement in the Seneca County Courier. They called "A Convention to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women." The gathering would take place at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls on July 19 and 20, 1848.
Declaration of Independence had been used as the framework by Stanton for her writing titled 'Declaration of Sentiments'. it was an outstanding step where Stanton connected the nascent campaign for women's rights directly to that powerful American symbol of liberty. The same familiar words framed their arguments: "We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." According to Stanton's version, "The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having indirect object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world."
Then it went into specifics:
o Married women were legally dead in the eyes of the law
o Women were not allowed to vote
o Women had to submit to laws when they had no voice in their formation
o Married women had no property rights
o Husbands had legal power over and responsibility for their wives to the extent that they could imprison or beat them with impunity
o Divorce and child custody laws favoured men, giving no rights to women
o Women had to pay property taxes although they had no representation in the levying of these taxes
o Most occupations were closed to women and when women did work they were paid only a fraction of what men earned
o Women were not allowed to enter professions such as medicine or law
o Women had no means to gain an education since no college or university would accept women students
o With only a few exceptions, women were not allowed to participate in the affairs of the Church
o Women were robbed of their self-confidence and self-respect, and were made totally dependent on men.
Stanton's draft continued boldly by saying, "Now, in view of this entire disenfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation - in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of these United States."
The dreamer of freedom, the noted Black abolitionist, the great orator, Frederick Douglass also joined Stanton and spoke up. Woman, like the slave, he argued, had the right to liberty. "Suffrage," he asserted, "is the power to choose rulers and make laws, and the right by which all others are secured." In the end, the resolution won enough votes to carry, but by a bare majority.
A depiction of complete realism took place at the end of 'Declaration of Sentiments' where it was mentioned: "In entering upon the great work before us, we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule; but we shall use every instrumentality within our power to effect our object. We shall employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the State and National Legislatures, and endeavour to enlist the pulpit and the press in our behalf. We hope this Convention will be followed by a series of Conventions, embracing every part of the country."
Not only logical but also bold words by Stanton such as 'misconception, misrepresentation, ridicule' were enough to bring about the backlash. Particularly the ninth resolution where women were demanding the right to vote was the most horrible anticipation in the eyes of masculine class. With a few amendments, one by one, the twelve resolutions achieved unanimous endorsement. Only one of the resolutions, the call for women's voting right did not pass. Even Stanton's long time friend Lucretius Mott was shocked at such an idea. But the bold dreamer queens did not stop. It took an episode of seventy two long years for the women and their male supporters to be successful. This campaign includes thousands of political strategists, capable organizers, administrators, activists and lobbyists. It was a litany of achievements against tremendous odds, of ingenious strategies and outrageous tactics used to outwit opponents and make the most of limited resources. It's the history of women facing down incredible obstacles to win that most basic American Civil Right-the vote.
Among these women are several activists whose names and accomplishments deserve mentioning:
Esther Morris, the first woman led the campaign for woman suffrage, in Wyoming in 1869. Abigail Scott Dune-way, the leader of the campaign in Oregon and Washington in the early 1900s.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Mary Church Terrell, organisers of thousands of African-American women who worked for suffrage for all women.
Daughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton named Harriet Stanton Blanch, and Daughter of Lucy Stone named Alice Stone Blackwell, carried on their mothers' legacy through the next generation.
Anna Howard Shaw and Carrie Chapman Catt, leaders of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in the early years of the 20th Century, brought the campaign to its final success.
Alice Paul is considered the radical wing of the movement.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Supreme Court Justice says, "I think about how much we owe to the women who went before us - legions of women, some known but many more unknown. I applaud the bravery and resilience of those who helped all of us - you and me - to be here today."
In 1920, the Women's Bureau of the Department of Labour was established to gather information about the situation of women at work, and to advocate for changes it found were needed. In 1923, Alice Paul, the leader of the National Woman's Party, drafted an Equal Rights Amendment for the United States Constitution. Such a Federal Law, it was argued, would ensure that "Men and women have equal rights throughout the United States." A Constitutional amendment would apply uniformly, regardless of where a person lived. Thus, in 1920 the fight for the right to vote for women was won.
In 1960s the second wave of activism was created. Esther Peterson was the Director of the Women's Bureau of the Dept. of Labor in 1961. She encouraged President Kennedy towards a Commission on the Status of Women having Eleanor Roosevelt as its Chair. The report issued by that Commission in 1963 documented discrimination against women in virtually every area of American life. State and local governments quickly followed suit and established their own Commissions for women, to research conditions and recommend changes that could be initiated.
In 1963, a landmark book 'The Feminine Mystique' published by Betty Friedan evolved out of a survey she had conducted for her 20-year College reunion. This document presented the emotional and intellectual oppression that middle-class educated women were experiencing because of limited life options. Thousands of women took the book as an inspiration and built up their own ways of thinking. Next: Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed, prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sex as well as race, religion, and national origin. Betty Friedan, the Chair of the various State Commissions on the Status of Women, and other feminists agreed to form a Civil Rights organiSation for women similar to the NAACP. In 1966, the National Organisation for Women was organized, soon to be followed by an array of other mass-membership organisations addressing the needs of specific groups of women, including Blacks, Latinas, Asians-Americans, lesbians, welfare recipients, business owners, aspiring politicians, and tradeswomen and professional women of every sort.
25 years ago there was a time when a married woman was not issued credit card in her own name and also most women could not get a bank loan without a male co-signer. Women working full time earned fifty-nine cents to every dollar earned by men. But as a result of the movement a tremendous change took place and women started to reach their desired goal by fulfilling their dreams.
Then, in 1972, the Equal Rights Amendment wording: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex." was finally passed and sent to the states for ratification. The progress of this ratification campaign was highly supported by women of all sectors. Those who had always been active were supporting it wholeheartedly and also the other women supported it spontaneously. All the magazines and publications had stories on the implications and progress of the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment).
In the background of the achievement of women of U.S.A, we may think of the emancipation of women in Bangladesh.
Today's women are living in the era of emancipation but still the question pokes us 'are we really enjoying it?' The fruit of emancipation that we are having in our life had been kept at our door as a result of tremendous effort of those bold and wise queens who had craving for a life of honour and dignity. The desire, the quest for living an honourable life was the dream not only of the above mentioned dreamer queens, but also of the women of all over the world.
Sources reveal that Bangladesh has had a long history of women's rights organisations. These have traditionally been focused on issues such women welfare, education, skills, income generation and child care. A growth in women's movements in Bangladesh has been noticed in the 1980's. New feminist organisations developed with new modes of organisational behaviour and new points of protests. They have developed specific programmes in order to end discriminatory practices against women such as violence against women, dowry, trafficking of women, unequal wages, work place exploitation, access to credit and unequal political and social rights. According to Banglapedia the women's rights movement "has been met with intermittent and slow responses from the male dominated political system" In 1980s there emerged women's movement in Bangladesh, which many apprehended, would be a replica of the West, but the movement soon was founded on indigenous feminist's issues, roots, new leadership, new organisations and new modes of organisational behaviour. As the decade of 1980s rolled on, there also emerged a new breed of women's organisations and leadership in Bangladesh besides several existing ones delivering social services and skill training. The new brand has more specific programmes in order to end discriminatory practices against women. Issues like violence against women, rape, dowry and trafficking of women, unequal wages, exploitation of women in labour intensive industries like garment, apathy of the traditional Trade Unions towards women labours' needs, rights of access to credit and means of production like land, unequal political and social right became rallying points for the women's organisations. Women came together to raise their voice against violence against women on non-partisan basis. At present, various women's organisations are working for the strategies adopted at the Platform of Action at the Fourth World Conference in Beijing in 1995. ... In creating awareness and political consciousness among the women population of the country the organisations are playing a commendable role. Women's organizations have acted as forums for women's leadership training as well as channels to bring women's voices to proper perspectives and to the fore.
Such an established organisation is Mahila-Parishad. It claims to be the largest women's organisation in Bangladesh with a membership of around 130,000 individuals and a total of 52 branches in various parts of the country. As the country's largest women's organisation Mahila Parishad states that it has struggled to promote women's rights, gender equality and to protect women from violence in the public and private spheres. It has campaigned for a uniform family code for all communities in Bangladesh and for reservations to ensure women's political participation through direct elections to the National Parliament. More recently, it spearheaded a campaign against dowry and violence against women and opened up shelters for women who had been victims of violence. Some of the laws passed by the government on these issues were a consequence of Mahila Parishad's campaigns.
"Bangladesh has a huge number of registered NGOs (nearly 23000) some of which are the largest and best known in the world, and are currently being replicated in other countries." However these Non Government Organisations (NGOs) do not belong to the category of same size and scope. Some are involved in political activism such as lobbying and advocacy campaigns. Some NGOs have their focus on economic development through micro-credit programmes. Many of them have adopted grass-root approach and have established developmental programs on village level in order to assist with women's immediate needs as well as long term empowerment. In the list of major non government organisations we have the names of Grameen Bank, Naripokkho and Steps towards Development.
The very poor villagers get provided with credit by The Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. The Grameen Bank state that: As of March, 2007, it has 7.06 million borrowers, 97 per cent of whom are women. With 2399 branches, GB provides services in 76,848 villages, covering more than 91 per cent of the total villages in Bangladesh. Grameen Bank's positive impact on its poor and formerly poor borrowers has been documented in many independent studies carried out by external agencies including the World Bank, the International Food Research Policy Institute (IFPRI) and the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS).
Naripokkho describes itself as 'one of the most vocal women's groups in the country.' This organisation is praiseworthy for its involvement in research, lobbying and advocacy campaigns regarding gender justice and equal rights. Its work can be clustered under the following four themes: a. Violence against women and human rights b. Reproductive rights and women's health c. Gender issues in environment and development d. Representation of women in media and cultural politics.
Next comes the name of 'Steps Towards Development'. It is another large Non Government Organisation which focuses on advocacy of women's rights and the lobbying of national and local policy-makers. This organisation was established in 1993 and in the last 10 years (till 2004) it has successfully created a large network of 121 organisations that campaign and advocate for policy interventions to establish gender equality and mainstreaming women into development. Commitment of this organisation consists of the establishment of democracy, equality, good governance, justice and respect for human rights. It has engaged in consultation with grass-root groups in 145 different areas in Bangladesh to promote its vision and strategies. This has strengthened its advocacy with local level and national policy-makers.
Grassroots development organisations are a major part of the women's rights movement in Bangladesh. According to Khushi Kabir, Chairperson of the Association of Development Agencies in Bangladesh, "There are many progressive NGOs doing consciousness-raising work among poorer women and village women."
Other grassroots development organisations include: Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), Gonoshasthya Kendra, Nari Shonghoti, Banchte Shekha etc.
The journey towards a world free of gender-discrimination started before ages and till today it's going on. There is still a long way in front of us to proceed through. Till today women are the victims of domestic violence, rape, acid throwing and lots of such tortures. All of us, both men and women, need to take a vow of building up a better and safer world in order to enjoy the true essence of life.
(Anis Fatema is a Teacher, Columnist Translator, Short Story Writer and Poet).