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date: 26 November 2022

The Women’s Movement in Bangladeshfree

The Women’s Movement in Bangladeshfree

  • Firdous AzimFirdous AzimBRAC University - English and Humanities

Summary

The women’s movement in Bangladesh can be traced to the moment of its birth and can be aligned with nation-building efforts. These early feminist campaigns and interventions influenced the ways in which feminist campaigns were launched or how feminist standpoints were conceptualized during the last decades of the 20th century. Three main movements or campaigns marked this moment, leading to new forms of activism and new issues that have emerged in present times. Thus the main contours of women’s activism in the country can be traced to the concepts and campaigns that animated the social movement arena from the 1970’s to the 90’s. Any account of the women’s movement in Bangladesh has to keep in mind the complexities of the ‘woman question’, and the evolution of strategies and tactics for advocating for women’s greater rights and freedoms.

Subjects

  • South Asia
  • Women

Historical Background

Women’s movements or feminist movements in modern South Asia emerged as part of the anticolonial national movements that marked the beginning of the 20th century.1 Kumari Jayawardena in her path-breaking book Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World shows this effort to be a pan-Asian one, as women across East and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and South Asia struggled to define their place within the emerging nation(s) through political participation.2 It was also during this time that women began voicing their own views through a plethora of writings. However, the entry into nationhood was marked by violence, and national independence and partition brought untold tragedy to the lives of the people. Postindependence, women were placed in an especially fraught situation. As Urvashi Butalia has shown in The Other Side of Silence, the issue of women’s citizenship—the place that they would call home—was decided by state institutions over which women had no control or even access to. The paternalistic thrust of these efforts amply demonstrates the problematic nature of women’s citizenship and status within the nation.3

An understanding of the position of women in Bangladesh echoes many of the concerns that postcolonial nations are faced with. Three points of entry will be useful for understanding the complexities of women’s positioning in Bangladesh. These include (a) the difficulties of writing women into history, (b) their problematic positioning in the formal documents of the state, and (c) national development and the centrality of the figure of the woman in development discourse. These points of entry also help to illustrate the two poles or axes from which women’s activism, or the main issues that women’s movements are based on, can be viewed: The first, sees it as a struggle to ensure the greater participation of women, highlighting the ways in which women can be drawn into national struggles and development objectives; and the second, as a process of transformation, of drawing attention to the discrimination that women face, with the ultimate objective of changing social attitudes and practices leading to a more equitable and just society.

The history of the birth of Bangladesh invariably involves the recognition of the violence unleashed upon its people, and the systematic rape that women were subjected to. These women were subsequently given the title of birangonas or the brave ones. Despite this recognition, birangonas have remained the most unacknowledged of war heroines, hidden from public view. When, in 2016, a belated recognition and compensation was announced for these largely unacknowledged women, they insisted on being addressed as women freedom fighters, because for them, the earlier nomenclature had brought shame and dishonor. In fact, one of the ways in which these women are addressed even today is as those who had “lost their honor” in the service of the nation. The very complex process of acknowledgment, which is at the same time a disavowal, points to the difficulties of placing women’s life histories and experiences within the paradigm of national history. Writing about women after the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971 tends to make a division between “women as participants” and “women as victims.” This division makes it even more difficult to visibilize the birangona, and the latest disavowal has resulted in a further occlusion, a further masking, of addressing rape as violence, as a war crime that needs to be redressed.

Dwelling on the history of the birangonas leads to the issue of violence against women (VAW) or gender-based violence, which has been the abiding theme for women’s mobilizations. The birangona, hidden as she is, nevertheless has formed a trope for remembrance and recounting of the war. From literary representations, including Syed Shamsul Huq’s play Payer Awaaj Pawa Jai, Shaheen Akhtar’s novel Talaash, or Yasmine Kabir’s documentary film A Certain Freedom; to research on war-time rape, such as Nilima Ibrahim’s Ami Birangana Bolchi; to more recent works, such as Yasmin Saikia’s Women, War, and the Making of Bangladesh: Remembering 1971, Nayanika Mukherjee’s The Spectral Wound: Sexual Violence, Public Memories, and the Bangladesh War of 1971, or the very controversial Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War by Sarmila Bose, this problem of commemoration and honoring becomes clear.4 Bangladeshi scholars have contributed to the feminist understanding of the place of the birangona in national history, as seen in Bina D’Costa’s Nation Building: Gender and War Crimes in South Asia or a collection of essays edited by Hameeda Hossain and Amena Mohsin, Of the Nation Born: The Bangladesh Papers.5

If the story of the birangonas displays the problem of placing women in the history of the founding of the nation-state, another founding document—the First Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh (1972)—can also be seen as a record of the difficulties in defining women’s position in the nation-state. Promulgated on December 16, 1972, exactly a year after liberation, this document stresses the equality of all citizens in its opening preamble. However, when it comes to women, Article 28(2) clearly states that “Women shall have equal rights with men in all spheres of the State and public life.” The phrase “public life” is read as omitting family and personal life, and discrimination in processes such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and so on, ensues as a result. These arenas of citizens’ lives continue to be governed by religious dictates, dividing the polity by religion as well as eschewing equal gender rights. While women’s groups, led by the Bangladesh Mahila Parishad (BMP) at that time, were involved in campaigns which led to legal reforms, such as the Dowry Prohibition Act or the Marriage Registration Act, the issue of equality in the family only came up in the late 1980s with the demand for a uniform family code, and the recognition of gender equality in all spheres of life. The division between the public and the private that the constitution set out has far-reaching consequences in the lives of women. In this regard, Saira Rahman Khan’s The Socio-Legal Status of Bangali Women in Bangladesh: Implications for Development is interesting in that it shows the many ramifications of women’s legal and constitutional status.6

National development and the inclusion of women within that process is the third access point from which to view both women’s position as well as women’s activism. National development was and remains part of a global discourse, which brings in the concept of women’s development as a marker of national development. The UN Decade for Women’s Development was inaugurated in 1975. Bangladesh was already part of the development discourse, and the organizations that sprang up in the wake of the liberation war, such as the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), set up in 1972, or Gonoshasthya Kendra, also established in 1972, were committed to including women in their programs as workers, and were also committed to working toward women’s development, making women the agents as well as the targets of development. This effort was further consolidated with the founding of Grameen Bank in 1983. These organizations were well-placed to leverage the opportunities that opened up at this point. The efforts and discourse around women’s development spawned new ways of envisaging women, and women’s development rapidly began to be seen as an indicator of national development. As agents of the development process, the development workers—young women going from house to house in rural Bangladesh talking about microloans or household-based farm activities, or even family-planning methods and nutrition issues—helped to bring about a change in the attitudes toward women in the country. However, these efforts were characterized in global discourse as “women in development,” which saw women as the “targets of development,” with colonial echoes of portraying women as “backward” and in need of reform and amelioration. Naila Kabeer, in Reversed Realities: Gender Hierarchies in Development, points to the need to address the issue of development differently, calling it “Gender and Development”; she analyzes how gendered hierarchies and norms prevent women from enjoying their full rights and expressing their full potentials.7 This change in nomenclature brings to light the structural inequalities that govern society and development efforts, and brings into view the disadvantaged position that women are placed in.

The development effort was also part of a regime of family planning. Women’s bodies thus entered the public discourse, and women’s reproductive potential was harnessed in the service of the nation and family. Development programs provide an interesting example of the public-private nature of women’s lives: for example, microloans enabled women to become economic agents within the household, thus transforming their roles within the private sphere. Similarly, birth control ensured “happy families,” with women at its center. This visibilizing of women in the service of national development can be seen as a further impetus to the women’s movement, at least in terms of opening up new avenues for mobilization and activism. These interventions have been the subject of much feminist critique and movements, as women’s reproductive functions were brought to the service of the nation, largely bypassing the individual woman’s will.

Women’s Movement(s)

It is useful to place the women’s movement in Bangladesh against this historical background. The women’s movement is composed of various groups, the most prominent among them are the BMP, Women for Women, and Naripokkho. There are also specific professional groups, such as KarmajibiNari (or Working Women), as well as Ain o Salish Kendro (a legal-aid organization), women-headed NGOs (working specifically for women), and the women’s wings of political parties.8 This wide range of groups makes it difficult to discern a single movement but leads to the plurality of movements. The BMP is an interesting organization. It came into being in 1969, springing out of the anti-Ayub leftist students’ movement. As a fledgling women’s organization in the last years of Pakistan, it played a vital role in organizing women for the freedom struggle; and as part of the liberation struggle, they were well-placed in newly independent Bangladesh to voice women’s concerns. However, in the early days of independence, it was difficult to split off from the mainstream national reconstruction efforts, and within this dilemma, the BMP was perhaps unable to play a truly revolutionary role. However, they were at the forefront of legal demands, including the Dowry Prohibition Act. Women for Women emerged in the mid-1970s, as a research group with a view to implementing policy. They have highlighted the issues of gender disparity and pay gap, women’s employment, and so on, and helped to bring women’s issues into the public limelight and policy spaces. Naripokkho began its journey in 1983, identifying itself as an autonomous women’s group, acting as a platform for women to voice their concerns. The group claims to mount its campaigns based on the concerns that women (members or otherwise) bring up for discussion in their Tuesday meetings, which act as the nucleus for the development and discussion of ideas that engender various debates. Based on women’s needs, experiences, and demands, Naripokkho is a visible presence in the women’s movement, bringing to light issues such as sexuality, violence, and women’s representation.

An interesting feature of both the BMP and Naripokkho is the mixed nature of the organizations. Despite the different points of origin, both groups began by consciously distancing themselves from the world of donor funding that characterized NGO development activities. But during the 1990s, both organizations decided to accept donor funding, in order to sustain some of their activities (mainly research). The combination of voluntary and paid time is a feature of these organisations, as members contribute voluntary time to formulate policies and drive campaigns, and the day-to-day activities are carried on by paid staff. This mixed nature of the organizations has had diverse effects: strengthening the organizations to build sustainable programs, but also enmeshing them in the bureaucratic details of funding and accountability. These organizations thus reveal a heterogeneous field of activities, which spring out of diverse concerns. The mixed nature of the organizations also provides a good field of analysis for social movements, showing the manifold ways in which activist groups organize and mobilize.

Keeping in mind the heterogeneity of the field in which women’s activism plays out, as well as the evolving nature of the organizations that constitute the movement or movements, is helpful when analyzing some of the campaigns and mobilizing activities that marked the decades of the 1980s and 1990s. These campaigns played a vital role in making the feminist struggle part of the political and social landscape of Bangladesh.

Movements against VAW

VAW is part of the national history, and mobilizing against it has been a constant feature of women’s groups. In this context, 1985 may be considered a watershed year. A few events helped to bring to the agenda many issues that transformed the way that women were thought of, as well as the way that the women’s movement, comprised of the various groups, campaigned and brought the issue of VAW to public attention. Shabmehr’s death was one such incident. Shabmehr was a young girl who died as a result of the injuries inflicted on her in a brothel where she was being forced into sex work. The mixed response from various women’s groups brought to light the differences in feminist thinking that were emerging at that time. As a response to the murder, the BMP instituted a case against the older women (sardarnis or madams) in the brothel, making them liable for the death. Against this, there was a stream of thought that felt that this legalistic approach was too narrow, and failed to address the wider issue of sex work and the status of sex workers.9

Even while women’s groups were divided on strategies to deal with this case of kidnap and murder, the causes behind VAW were highlighted during the course of this debate. At the same time (and not necessarily centered around the Shabmehr case), women’s groups coalesced under the banner of the Nari Nirjatan Protirodh Committee (a platform against VAW), formed in 1985. Again, the debates that ensued during the course of this campaign, gave rise to new ways of looking at the phenomenon of VAW. The main campaign had defined the cases of VAW as a law-and-order issue. The military government of the time had put a ban on all political activities, and this campaign was being used as a platform to highlight the breakdown of law and order as a failure of the then government. But some groups within the campaign felt that violence was a part of women’s lives and experiences, and should not be “hijacked” by power politics. In an effort to draw attention to the continuum of violence that defines women’s lives, the definition of violence was broadened to include experiences of discrimination from the household, to the state of the disadvantages that ensued as a result, both in the family and in public life, and physical violence was characterized as the extreme manifestation of all the structural issues that affected women’s lives. This was a significant moment for women’s campaigns, as some women’s groups tried to grapple with the notion of an autonomous movement, while trying to bring these ideas through feminist mobilization to an understanding of women’s subordinated position, and campaign for women’s freedom and rights.

The debate inaugurated by Shabmehr’s death spilled over into discussions and mobilizations over other incidents that came to light during the same period. These included rapes and deaths in police custody. Women were unsafe everywhere, making VAW more than a law-and-order issue. Domestic violence was highlighted through a sensational murder in 1989, as Munir, the son of well-known doctors in the city, murdered his wife. There was a huge outcry, and people demanded that Munir and his lover (who was not present at the scene of the murder) be hanged. Leading women’s groups were part of this public outcry, while some other groups felt that sentencing, and especially the demand for capital punishment, could not be part of a feminist agenda. Also, it was felt that public sentiments were being voiced in a way that echoed the stereotypes used to define and divide women. Thus, the wife was shown to be a pure and innocent “flower,” and the lover, a vicious and vile woman. This Madonna/whore divide had been used in the case of Shabmehr as well, contrasting the innocence of the victim to the evil machinations of the brothel sardarnis. Many viewed the public debate around these issues as divisive, but enough groundwork had been done to center the discussion around women’s representation and the stereotyping to which they were subject, to bring in issues of domestic violence and the place of women within marriage, to align women’s campaigns with human rights’ concerns, and to avoid a sentence being passed without fair trial, especially one so reactionary as asking for the death penalty.

These incidents of VAW, of the campaigns against them, and the ensuing debates and discussions kept the “woman question” in the public eye. Violence, women’s place in the home, women’s safety and security, their sexual positioning within and outside marriage, were brought to public debate and discussion, and this really laid a strong foundation for further campaigning for social reform and the establishment of women’s rights.

The decade of the 1980s really helped women’s groups to grapple with the underlying causes of VAW, and of ways of dealing with it. Looking at it as more than a law-and-order issue, helped to foreground the social and cultural reasons behind it, questioned the place of women in marriage and the home, and challenged social mores and customs.

The campaign against acid violence, in particular, and the ensuing change in vocabulary that women’s groups insisted on, not only brought to focus the plight of young women who had been horrifically attacked with acid, often by spurned boyfriends, but helped to bring about a new way of talking about victims as survivors. The visibilization of these young women led to a reconsideration of the rehabilitation aspect, changing the nomenclature from victim to survivor. This has had a long-term effect not just on attitudes, but on the ways in which rehabilitation programs are envisioned. From victim to survivor to leader became the motto.

Movement for a Secular State

While the campaigns against VAW in the 1980s debated the place of women in the home, in society, and in the state, a concomitant and contemporary movement shows how women’s groups started participating in the more formal arenas of constitutional amendments, how they became involved with the equality of all citizens, and how they were able to place the issue of women’s equality within this domain. This is what led to the movement in favor of a secular state as a response to a proposed constitutional amendment.

In 1988, with the declaration of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of Bangladesh, which made Islam the state religion, Naripokkho (a women’s group) spearheaded the protest against this proclamation. Their experience garnered during the 1985 campaign and subsequent campaigns against VAW enabled this women’s group to be the vanguard of a movement that was challenging the state and the constitution, or the process that led to constitutional amendments.

The fact that a women’s group was at the head of a campaign for secularism highlighted and brought back into play the pivotal concept of equality and the state’s role in guaranteeing it at a very fundamental level. It also helped to bring into focus the secularist roots of the women’s movement itself. Allusions were made to the writings and works of Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, establishing her as a feminist heroine. Feminist scholars were beginning to highlight the writings of Rokeya, as she is popularly known, who besides being a prolific writer and social reformer, was also a pioneer in the sphere of Muslim women’s education as well as one of the feminist voices in the nationalist anticolonial debates of the early 20th century. Contemporary secular demands were thus placed within a historical and cultural background.10

This campaign also showed how the struggle for women’s rights was associated with the struggle for the rights of all discriminated groups, thus establishing the grounds for future alliance building. Equality of citizenship was seen to be endangered with the promulgation of this amendment, and gender equality was as much at stake as the rights of religious minorities. Women’s groups had been protesting against a constitutional anomaly that had consigned the personal rights of all citizens to religious laws, and they had already mounted the demand for a uniform family code. It was felt that making a particular religion a part of the constitution compromised the notion of equality, and contradicted the principle of secularism on which the nation had gained independence. Hence it was felt that a fundamental principle of the constitution was being violated by declaring a particular religion as the state religion.

Having established the specifically feminist principles that drove women’s groups to this movement, references were also made to Bangladeshi history. The spirit of the war of liberation was recalled as the moment when Bangladesh had gotten rid of its Pakistani past and repudiated the two-nation theory on which Pakistan had been founded. It was felt that the birth of Bangladesh had indeed laid to rest the “unholy” alliance between religious identity and national formation, and that in Bangladesh, all citizens would be equal regardless of religion.

Even within this movement, the autonomy of women’s groups needed to be guarded. Political parties who identified themselves as pro-liberation, saw this moment as an opportunity to promote their own party interests, thus embroiling the issue of secularism in a political power struggle. It was felt that the conversation had to be about secularism, which was seen as the only way that the rights of all citizens could be guaranteed.

It is important to look at the different notions of secularism that emerged at this point. There was a debate regarding the meaning of secularism in its classic European form to mean “the separation of the state from religion,” hence relegating religious activities to the private sphere. The slogan expressing this was jaar dhormo taa rkaache, raashtrerki bolaar aache, which translates roughly as “religion is a personal matter, what does the state have to do with it?” Secularism was also taken to signify a spirit of tolerance for people of other religions, and an acknowledgment that the state had to deal with all the different religions within its purview. This is perhaps the Indian brand of secularism, which looks at the state as multireligious, where all religions are given equal space. A Western view of secularism was seen to ignore a particular South Asian negotiation with secularity that had specific meaning in this context. However, and most importantly for women’s groups, experience had shown that women’s rights would never be guaranteed if each religion were given its own sway in the state. Thus, from a feminist vantage point, it was very important to stick to the notion of secularism as a separation of the state and religious institutions, and keep religion firmly in the private sphere.

The campaign brought women’s activism to the public forefront, and also helped to align women’s concerns and issues with that of a broader polity. Among the many lessons learned during this campaign, was the relation between popular protest and the more formal realms of governmentality, which led women to ask questions of the state, using the judiciary. This was the reasoning behind the writ petition against this constitutional amendment to which women were signatories. Given the nature of the state at that point—largely held to be a military junta in disguise—the appeal to the judiciary was indeed surprising. That the writ petition has never come up in court is perhaps not that surprising, but the fact that the court admitted the petition means that there is an official document from a group of women accusing the government of tampering with the fundamental principles of the nation-state, and of treating its citizens in an unequal manner. The feminist contribution to the debate on secularism is thus well-recorded, and feminist struggles regarding defining the nature of the state, the meaning of equality and rights, as well as grounding these debates in a particular social and historical background are indeed well worth analysis and study.

This movement, and the picture of women marching on the streets asking for a secular state, illustrated clearly that women were well aware of their place in the nation-state, and were able to amalgamate their own demands for equality with the overall demand for the equality of all citizens. This movement can be seen as the moment when women were claiming equal citizenship in all aspects for themselves and for all citizens.

In this context, the sex workers’ movement that followed shows how women activists needed to address the differences among women, not only in terms of religion, community, or even class, but in terms of sexual positioning. While the Movement for the Rights of Sex Workers can be seen in the light of a demand for safety and security or a guaranteeing of the right of livelihood, it at the same time drew on the understandings of citizenship and of the equality of the rights of all citizens. It is important to stress this point, as faced with the differences among women themselves, feminist activists had to grapple with the plurality of positions that pertain to women, and how movements can bring diverse groups of people together.

Sex Workers’ Movement(s)

The Movement for the Rights of Sex Workers began as a response to a series of eviction threats against brothels. Beginning in 1991, it continued to dominate the campaign scene until 1999. While the threat of eviction was the triggering point of the campaign, many of the issues that the feminist movement had been grappling with—the sexual positioning of women, vulnerability, violence, and citizens’ rights—coalesced in the campaign. Most of the threatened brothels were located in Dhaka and Narayanganj, the latter a river port town situated just outside Dhaka, though some of the campaigning spilled into other areas such as Tangail and Jessore. The brothels in question were old, established institutions from the 19th century, situated in port and commercial areas, and had been prominent in the cityscape for more than a century. Sex workers who plied their trade outside brothels were also drawn into the campaign.11

The threats to the brothels’ existence came from a variety of sources, which were eyeing the commercially desirable lands on which these establishments were located. This included local politicians, including members of Parliament, and local mosque-based citizens’ groups, which came together as the Movement against Anti-Islamic Activities. The sight of men marching toward brothels after Friday prayers, characterizing the women and their activities as un-Islamic, was indeed menacing. The image of pious men marching on “sinful” women pitted the idea of “free” sex against the morality that is supposed to be embodied by an Islamic society. The hypocrisy of these actions was revealed when the women claimed that they regularly contributed money to mosques in their area and therefore did not consider their activities as “un-Islamic.” The first public expression of the brothel residents’ resistance took place in a press conference held in April 1991, demanding that the state protect them from these threats.

The statement that issued from this press conference used the vocabulary that feminist activists had deployed, claiming the rights of sex workers as citizens, and demanding protection from the law-enforcing agencies of the state. This statement resonated with feminist demands, and hence attracted the attention of women’s groups, who joined brothel residents in solidarity with their demands. In 1991, the eviction threat was successfully averted. Similar kinds of threats, however, could not be averted in 1998 and 1999 and, despite all efforts, including winning a court case, women were ejected from the brothels.

Sex workers themselves had deployed the language of rights to express their demands. The specific right that was being addressed was the right to abode and the right to work. So when 267 sex workers, along with 86 human rights organizations, took a writ petition to the court, they could ask the state to explain why it had failed to guard the fundamental rights of brothel workers/residents. The court ruled in favor of the women, and asked the state to ensure protection. This ruling, despite being unimplemented in real terms, was hailed as a landmark judgment, as women’s rights to brothels as places of residence were acknowledged. The judgment is worth quoting from. It began by asserting that “prostitution is not illegal under any existing law in Bangladesh.” The ruling went on to say that “even while Islam is the state religion, Bangladesh does not follow sharia [Islamic] laws regarding zinna [adultery], so accusations brought on that count were not admissible.” The rest of the ruling stressed sex workers’ right to work and abode, making the law-enforcing agencies of the state, such as the police, culpable for failing to protect the safety and security of these women. The recognition of sex work as legitimate, and of the duty of state agencies to protect and secure the livelihoods therein was clearly enunciated. With this ruling, sex work was brought under legal purview. Crucially, the ruling also made comments on the status of the place of religion in law.12

By recognizing brothels as places of abode, which needed to be secured, a very important difference between earlier ways of dealing with sex workers’ safety can be noted. Until then, safety had been conceived of in terms of rehabilitation. Rehabilitation efforts had involved rescue (from brothels) and confining women to rehabilitation centers, which were also known as vagrant homes. Crucially, the ruling also granted the status of “work” to sex work, recognizing brothels as places of work. The feminist campaign had deliberately used the term “sex work” instead of “prostitution,” and brothel workers proudly asserted that they did not live off charity but actually worked for a living. Accordingly, feminist campaigns for the rights of sex workers had the effect of changing the popular representation of women, who were either seen as objects of opprobrium or pity to recognizing them as workers and women, as well as expressing solidarity with their struggles as workers and women.

The court ruling was important, even though it was ineffective and confined to delineating sex work within brothels as legal. The legalistic language did not comment on the moral or ethical issues, and hence had minimal effect on the public representation. The public vilification of the older women in brothels as kidnappers and exploiters of younger women, which the Shabmehr incident had brought about, was not particularly changed. Indeed, the vilifying of older women or the “madams” of the trade, along with pimps and brothel owners, kept on apace, and sensational horror stories continued to proliferate. The change in the public address from moral outrage and sentimental pity to expressions of solidarity was ambiguous and limited at best. But women’s groups successfully garnered this limited and uncertain expression of solidarity to form a platform called “shanghati” (literally solidarity), which was a loose platform composed of women’s groups, human rights groups, and some developmental NGOs. This was the platform for the fight for the rights of sex workers. Gradually, this exercise in alliance building and solidarity led to the formation of sex workers’ groups, such as Ulka, which were set up to fight for the rights of their members and to demand health and social services, as well as schooling for their children.

Another important point of learning for the feminists involved in the sex workers struggle was a rethinking of the public-private divide that they had so assiduously stuck to in the campaign for a secular state. Brothels operate as hybrid spaces, being both places of work and domestic spaces. Affective familial functions are carried on in brothels, which function at the same time as workplaces, perhaps like no other, as sexual acts that are performed there range from the most casual and commercial to the most intimate. Such a mingling of functions throws fresh light on existing notions of work. Defining and placing sex work is difficult: it can be seen as part of the service sector, as care work, or as entertainment. The coupling of sex and work brought out for feminists questions regarding the other uses of sex—that is, when sex is not associated with work but with pleasure or is part of women’s domestic reproductive functions.

The campaign for sex workers’ rights brought the body into public discourse, and the politics that define work as pleasure or service. Recognizing sex work as work, also threw light on the exploitation that certain forms of work entail, and led to a reconsideration of work as a pathway to greater rights. Behind the emphasis on rights, the specter of an autonomous sphere of female sexuality hovered in the background, animating and disturbing the structures that define both men and women. A very interesting offshoot of this campaign was the recognition of other sexual groups, such as transgender, bisexual, and homosexual groups, who had hitherto remained outside the scope of feminist activism. As sexual minorities became part of the greater campaign, concepts of gender—of the male-female binary—began to be questioned, and a very fundamental reexamination of gender categories started to be added to the feminist understanding. LGBTQ issues became part of the feminist agenda, as a result of campaigning and activism. Despite this, lesbian groups were not very visible, and the male gay movement carved out its own spaces. It was the transgender groups or hijras who became an intrinsic part of the movement, and the recognition of transgender as a category in formal documents, such as passports and national identity cards, or the special provisions instituted in government jobs, can be seen as successes of this campaign.

The successes and limitations of the 1990s campaign for sex workers rights are important for the way in which sexual and bodily rights have been brought into public discourse until now. The issue of sexuality remains fraught, and while individual rights may be acknowledged, the greater sphere of sexuality—of pleasure and desire—seems to elude public campaigns.

The Question of Empowerment: New Directions of Political Empowerment

“Women’s empowerment” is a much-touted phrase, and is part of national development objectives. In their effort to bring about substantial change in women’s lives, empowerment is also on the agenda of feminist activism. The notion of empowerment itself straddles the two axes through which women’s position in society is viewed. In the political sphere, for example, there continues to be a debate around women’s political empowerment. Reserved parliamentary seats guarantee participation only. The debate around directly elected female representatives and nominated members continues to animate discussions regarding women’s political empowerment. In local government elections, known as Upazila Parishad elections, women contest for one reserved seat in the demarcated constituencies, where they have to contend with other female candidates. This arrangement seems to be more conducive toward political empowerment, rather than the reserved seats in the National Parliament.13

Women workers’ campaigns also highlight the issue of economic empowerment. Development programs in line with national development goals had this in mind as they organized microloans, or encouraged home-based small enterprises. Women’s entry into the economic sphere, however, was galvanized not by these state and NGO efforts, but with the establishment of ready-made garments factories (RMG), which really opened up the labor market for women. The RMG sector has emerged as a major contributor to the Bangladesh economy, and has played a big role in women’s entry into the job market. Earnings from the RMG sector and remittances from migrant workers form the two largest foreign exchange earners in Bangladesh, making it clear that the progress toward becoming a middle-income country is based on the backs of cheap labor. The large number of women workers in the RMG sector has many ramifications, including visibilizing women in public places, as RMG workers ply to and from work, changing family relationships as women acquire greater decision-making capacities.14 This development has further highlighted the links with the global sphere in determining women’s rights. In this case, the links are with the global supply chain, and much of the discussion around the RMG sector has to take into account the international nature of the industry.

Bangladeshi women are seen to be placed at the lowest rung of this chain. Their lives are characterized by low wages, lack of safety and security in the workplace, sexual harassment at their place of work and outside, and lack of bargaining power, among other things. While the nation hails them as “golden girls,” attention to their rights as both workers and women are paid only in times of industrial disaster. In this context, the collapse of the Rana Plaza building and the deaths of hundreds of workers was a most tragic and prominent incident, leading to many interventions by international buyers, by the oversight agencies of the National Building Code, and so on, to ensure safety and security. Along with this, other labor laws, including maternity leave and overtime pay, were also brought to public attention.

An interesting outcome of such disasters and building collapses, of which Rana Plaza was the most horrific, has been the highlighting of working women’s movements. Sammilito Garments Sramik Federation, Bangladesh Garment Sramik Samhati, and Awaaj are only some of the organizations that are visible in this fight for garments workers’ rights, including enhancing the minimum wage, guaranteeing security and safety, and so on. These groups are more focused on women as workers, and are perhaps different from the women’s groups such as the BMP or Naripokkho. Most have sprung from leftist politics and organize women as workers. However, the question of working women organizing themselves into trade unions remains distant, and as a host of articles testify, that seems to be the most difficult part. Nevertheless, workers protesting outside factories, blocking roads, with demands for wages in arrears, or protesting the death of a worker, are frequent occurrences. It will be useful to analyze whether these kinds of protests can coalesce into an organized struggle, or if they will remain as just spontaneous sporadic manifestations. In a conversation, Taslima Akhter, who is president of the Bangladesh Garment Sramik Samhati, talked about the difficulties of forming trade unions with RMG workers, as well as the difficulties of bringing the mainstream women’s movement to mobilize around or with RMG workers in a manner that would truly empower them. Her writings also point to the connections that can be made with the women’s groups—who celebrate March 8 as international women’s day, with a reference to the garment workers strike in New York City—but make no efforts to bring into discourse the rights of workers.15

The inclusion of working women’s voices into the terrain on feminist activism is fraught. The groups that have defined the mainstream women’s movement have been composed of middle-class women, who have occasionally reached across class barriers (such as during the sex workers’ movement) in a gesture of solidarity. However, the feminist agenda has been set by these groups, and the inclusion of working women’s demands has been mediated by them. The barriers to women workers organizing into trade and labor unions have been identified in the existing literature on the vested interests of the garment owners: the challenge for women’s groups is to reach across class divides and provide a strong platform for solidarity for working sisters.

The experience from the sex workers’ movements from the 1980s may be drawn on to form other kinds of solidarity networks. But looking at the various sex worker groups that were formed at that stage, what becomes obvious is the difficulties of negotiating between dominant discourses of development to specifically voice women’s interests. In the case of sex workers, for example, health issues driven by the HIV/AIDS discourse have come to the fore, and questions of women’s sexuality, and of sex as work and pleasure, take a back-seat as these groups become embroiled with looking at disease-prevention measures. Similarly, with RMG workers, the need to establish bargaining platforms for demanding a living wage and safe working conditions, tends to get subsumed under economic considerations.

Coalescing the two working-class women’s movements is also important. The challenge is twofold: First, in the case of RMG workers, to garner the ability to speak of workers’ welfare, especially of women workers, to challenge the industry and the state to act on their behalf. This involves bargaining with factory owners (such as the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association), with buyers, but also to form alliances with workers’ movements and mainstream women’s groups. The second challenge, pertaining to both movements, is to keep sexuality on the agenda, highlighting women’s social positioning. Moving away from the experiences of the decades of the 1980s and 1990s, new forms of women’s activism are discernible. These new movements represent special interest groups. The task ahead is to link these movements to a larger national sphere. The issues being debated are definitely related, and women’s and workers’ groups need to form these links.

Gains and Challenges

The two poles that feminist movements have to negotiate between are well-illustrated through these struggles. The effort to ensure the participation of women in all spheres coupled with a struggle against social norms and practices are the two angles from which the gains that the movement has made can be evaluated. In this struggle, the participation of women is perhaps an achievable and quantifiable goal, whereas the struggle for social transformation is difficult both to define as an objective, and difficult to discern and describe. It is often held that increased participation will lead to the goal of transformation, as women will make their presence felt in all spheres.

First national development has incorporated the idea of women’s development as an intrinsic indicator of progress. Thus, statistics regarding the enrolment of girls in schools, the decrease in pregnancy-related deaths, and the availability of contraceptive methods are touted as indicators of success. Women’s groups can also pat themselves on the back as they continue to work with governments, as a pressure or lobby groups, to bring women’s health concerns, women’s education, and women’s legal status to the fore so that they can work toward change. Feminist intervention has indeed brought about meaningful changes in the law, or in the ways that medical and law-enforcing services deal with cases of violence, especially rape. Affirmative action has also resulted in more visibility of women in the police service, for example, as well as in all branches of the government.

There has been a greater institutionalization of the issues that women’s groups have been voicing. Gender professionals and specialists are present in national and international policy spaces, most ministries have gender-focal points, and gender-disaggregated data are available. An important development has been the institutionalizing of women’s studies as an academic discipline. The University of Dhaka has been a pioneer in this field, with the establishment of the Women’s Studies department, in 2000, later renamed the Women and Gender Studies department, which awards both undergraduate and graduate degrees.16 There has been a healthy interaction between the women’s movement and academic disciplines to bring about these changes. Interestingly, just as women’s groups have emerged as hybrid spaces, so has the gender professional and the feminist activist coalesced into the same person, further lending to the straddling between different roles.

International forces have also been at work here, as donor agencies have insisted on ensuring that women’s development concerns be addressed in government programs. In this matter, the UN World Conferences have been of particular relevance. The International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo (1994) and the Beijing Conference (1996) opened up new channels for women to work through and with. While formal policy spaces between governments and donor agencies were informed by feminist concerns, a lively interchange between feminist activists in these international conferences and follow-ups to them have enlivened a global or transnational feminist sphere, in which Bangladeshi feminist activists play a significant role. The UN Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is also another instrument through which feminists in the country and worldwide try to hold the government to account. Again, in the case of Bangladesh, reservations in CEDAW echo the anomalies in the constitution by which women are deemed equal to men in all spheres except that of the family.

The challenge now is to harness these quantifiable achievements into an agenda for social transformation and change, through which gender norms are challenged. The women’s movement has played a crucial role in bringing about attitudinal changes in the social and cultural sphere, and the entry of large numbers of women into the public arena forms the new background from which the women’s movement needs to continue to mount its campaigns for the greater rights and freedoms of women.

Discussion of the Literature

Maleka Begum and Syed Azizul Huq’s monograph, Ami Nari: Teen Sho Bochorer Narir Itihash [I am a Woman: 300 Years of Women’s History], is a survey of the position of women in Bengali history and culture, and the participation of women in various struggles. Another book by Maleka Begum, Banglar Nari Andolon [Bengal’s Women’s Movement], throws light on the various strands of the women’s movement.17

Sohela Nazneen’s The Women’s Movement in Bangladesh: A Short History and Current Debates provides an excellent overview of both the early 20th-century background and current debates and issues.18

Placing the women’s movement within a South Asian context is important and for that three anthologies deserve special mention. These include Ania Loomba and Ritty Lukose’s South Asian Feminisms; Srila Roy’s New South Asian Feminisms; and Firdous Azim, Nivedita Menon, and Dina Siddiqi’s “South Asian Feminisms: Negotiating New Terrains.”19 All three sources contain valuable contributions by Bangladeshi scholars that debate the nature of women’s organizations, the new arenas opened up by women’s campaigns, and the place of women in the workplace. These articles are particular to Bangladesh, but are framed within the wider regional context.

On the history of the birangona, Nilima Ibrahim’s Ami Birangana Bolchi [Voices of the Birangonas] is composed of interviews recorded in 1974, and was the first publication to discuss the plight of the raped women from the war of 1971.20 A recent translation of the work in English has been completed by Fayeza Hasanat entitled A War Heroine: I Speak.21 Subsequent writings include Yasmin Saikia’s Women, War, and the Making of Bangladesh: Remembering 1971, which opens the debate to looking at the many dimensions of the violence that the war of liberation had unleashed, and draws attention to the other victims of the war, especially the non-Bengali population, or Biharis, as they are popularly known. A more controversial rereading of the violence is visible in Sarmila Bose’s Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War.22

Nayanika Mukherjee draws attention to the problem of memorialization in The Spectral Wound: Sexual Violence, Public Memories, and the Bangladesh War of 1971.23 Another very important volume connecting the violence of 1971 to the continued sectarian violence in Bangladesh is to be found in Hameeda Hossain and Amena Mohsin’s Of the Nation Born: The Bangladesh Papers.24

The women’s movement uses the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh as a reference point for discussions on the legal and constitutional rights of women as citizens of the state.

Regarding legal reforms, a very recent publication edited by Shahnaz Huda and Faustina Pereira, Revisiting Personal Laws in Bangladesh: Proposals for Reform, takes a fresh look at the status of family and personal laws and feminist engagement. Read along with Saira Rahman Khan’s The Socio-Legal Status of Bangali Women in Bangladesh: Implications for Development, the centrality of laws and legal reforms and their role in determining women’s social and legal status is visible.25

The greater involvement with the process of constitutional amendments has perhaps been best covered by Firdous Azim’s “Secularism and the Women’s Movement in Bangladesh,” in Maitreyee Mukhopadhyay’s Feminist Subversion and Complicity: Governmentalities and Gender Knowledge in South Asia.26

Women’s development has remained an abiding theme for women activists. A critique of the development discourse made by Naila Kabeer in Reversed Realities: Gender Hierarchies in Development provides a very sharp gender lens through which developmental discourses can be understood and built on. Naila Kabeer’s engagement with the development discourse and Bangladesh makes for rich reading, and Kabeer’s The Power to Choose: Bangladeshi Women and Labour Market Decisions in London and Dhaka, besides giving a picture of women workers in the garments sector in both cities, delves into the notion of empowerment and choice, adding to the discourse on women’s empowerment.27

Sohela Nazneen’s “Researching Women’s Empowerment: Reflections on Methodology by Southern Feminists” adds to the debate on women and development.28 While Maheen Sultan, Naomi Hossain, and Sohela Nazneen’s “National Discourses on Women’s Empowerment and Development: Continuity and Change,” a working paper from the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development, draws on the concepts of women’s empowerment in the national development arena.29

For women’s political participation and empowerment, Pranab Kumar Panday’s Women’s Political Participation in Bangladesh: Institutional Reforms, Actors and Outcomes is valuable as it looks at the policy measures that guide women’s political participation.30

The debates that animated the sex workers’ movement are recorded in two articles: Shireen Huq’s “Sex Workers’ Movements in Bangladesh: Learning from the Women’s Movement” and Firdous Azim’s “Keeping Sexuality on the Agenda: The Sex Workers’ Movement in Bangladesh.”31 Furthermore, documents related to the movement have been compiled into a collection, Phire Dekha: Nari Adhikar, Manobadhikar o Jounakormider Lorai [Looking Back: Women’s Rights, Human Rights, and the Sex Workers’ Struggle], which contains a detailed record of the writ petition and the court ruling.32

For contemporary RMG workers’ movements, newspaper archives provide a rich source, and the writings of Taslima Akhter form a very rich mosaic leading to an understanding of the limitations of the organizing. Dina Siddiqi’s article, “Do Bangladeshi Factory Workers Need Saving? Sisterhood in the Post-Sweatshop Era,” anthologized in Feminist Review takes the discussion to the international level, asking the pertinent question of whether RMG workers need “rescue.” Reading these articles together gives a very good entry into the issue of workers’ rights and mobilizations.33

Primary Sources

There is no comprehensive archive—digital or otherwise—on the activities that form the women’s movement in Bangladesh. There are some initiatives in the offing. Collected volumes mainly refer to literary writings.

Shaheen Akhtar’s Sati o Satantara, a three-volume anthology of women’s writing and writing about women in the area that forms Bangladesh from ancient to present times is an important source.34 An especially interesting feature is the third volume which looks at oral material. Another notable contribution is Maleka Begum’s Nirbacita Begama: Ardhasatabdira samajacitra, 1947–2000.35

Further Reading

  • Amin, Sonia. The World of Muslim Women in Colonial Bengal, 1876–1939. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1996.
  • Azim, Firdous, and Maheen Sultan, eds. Mapping Women’s Empowerment: Experiences from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. Dhaka, Bangladesh: University Press Limited, 2010.
  • Banu, Ayesha. “Feminism in Bangladesh (1971–2000): Voices from the Movement.” PhD diss., University of Dhaka, 2016.
  • Guhathakurta, Meghna, ed. The Bangladesh Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013.
  • Huq, Samia. “Negotiating Islam: Conservatism Splintered Authority and Empowerment in Urban Bangladesh.” IDS Bulletin 41, no. 2 (2010): 97–105.
  • Kabeer, Naila. “Globalization, Labour Standards, and Women’s Rights: The Dilemmas of Collective (In)action in an International World.” Feminist Economics 10, no. 1 (2004): 3–35.
  • Karim, Lamia. Microfinance and Its Discontents: Women in Debt in Bangladesh. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.
  • Khundker, Nasreen, and Rehman Sobhan, eds. Globalisation and Gender-Changing Patterns of Women’s Employment in Bangladesh. Dhaka, Bangladesh: University Press Limited, 2001.
  • Rahman, Shahidur. “Bangladesh: Women and Labour Activism.” In Women and Labour Organising in Asia: Diversity, Autonomy, Activism. Edited by Kaye Broadbent and Michael Ford, 84–99. New York: Routledge, 2009.
  • Van Schendel, Willem. A History of Bangladesh. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Notes

  • 1. The terms “women’s movement” and “feminist movement” are used interchangeably, as the movement is composed of several women’s groups, and the campaigns and movements they are involved in are, at times, overtly feminist (that is, bringing about social transformation) and, at others, confined to ensuring women’s rights. The phrase “feminist activism” is also used interchangeably with “women’s activism.”

  • 2. Kumari Jayawardena, Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World (London: Zed Books, 1986).

  • 3. Urvashi Butalia, The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India (New Delhi: Viking Books, 1998).

  • 4. Syed Shamsul Huq, Payer Awaaj Pawa Jai (Dhaka, Bangladesh: Charulipi,1976); Shaheen Akhtar, Talaash (Dhaka, Bangladesh: Mowla Brothers, 2004); Yasmine Kabir, A Certain Liberation (Dhaka, Bangladesh: Yasmine Kabir, 2003); Nilima Ibrahim, Ami Birangana Bolchi (Dhaka, Bangladesh: Jagrti Prakansani, 1994); Yasmin Saikia, Women, War, and the Making of Bangladesh: Remembering 1971 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011); Nayanika Mukherjee, The Spectral Wound: Sexual Violence, Public Memories, and the Bangladesh War of 1971 (New Delhi: Zubaan, 2015); and Sarmila Bose, Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War (London: Hurst, 2011).

  • 5. Bina D’Costa, Nation Building: Gender and War Crimes in South Asia (London: Routledge, 2011); and Hameeda Hossain and Amena Mohsin, eds., Of the Nation Born: The Bangladesh Papers (New Delhi: Zubaan, 2016).

  • 6. Saira Rahman Khan, The Socio-Legal Status of Bangali Women in Bangladesh: Implications for Development (Dhaka, Bangladesh: University Press, 2001).

  • 7. Naila Kabeer, Reversed Realities: Gender Hierarchies in Development (London: Verso, 2003).

  • 8. For a very good survey of the women’s groups that form the women’s movement, cf. Maheen Sultan and Sohela Nazneen, “Struggling for Survival and Autonomy: Impact of NGO-ization on Women’s Organizations in Bangladesh,” Development 52, no. 2 (June 2009): 193–199; and Ayesha Banu’s unpublished thesis, “Feminism in Bangladesh: 1971–2000: Voices from the Women’s Movement,” University of Dhaka, 2015.

  • 9. Ayesha Banu’s thesis contains a good analysis of these events.

  • 10. Cf. Firdous Azim, “Secularism and the Women’s Movement in Bangladesh,” in Feminist Subversion and Complicity: Governmentalities and Gender Knowledge in South Asia, ed. Maitreyee Mukhopadhyay (New Delhi: Zubaan Academic, 2016).

  • 11. A compilation of the documents and debates on the sex workers’ campaign can be found in Firdous Azim, Mahbooba Mahmood, and Selina Shelley, eds., Phire Dekha: Nari Adhikar, Manobadhikar o Jounakormider Lorai (Dhaka, Bangladesh: Shonghoti, 2002).

  • 12. Azim, Mahmood, and Shelley, Phire Dekha, 198–202.

  • 13. Farah Deeba Chowdhury’s monograph, Women’s Political Participation in Bangladesh: An Empirical Study (Dhaka, Bangladesh: University Press Limited, 2013), summarizes many of the reforms and debates around women’s political representation. An earlier book edited by Najma Chowdhury and Barbara Nelson, Women’s Politics Worldwide (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994), throws light on the debate as it happened in the early years of Bangladesh.

  • 14. Cf. Naila Kabeer, The Power to Choose: Bangladeshi Women and Labour Market Decisions in London and Dhaka (Dhaka, Bangladesh: University Press Limited, 2002).

  • 15. Taslima Akhter is a very vocal advocate for labor unions headed by women in the RMG sector. She has written profusely about this issue. A number of articles in daily newspapers help to throw light on the problem of organizing such unions, including Taslima Akhter, “Life Partners,” The Daily Star, March 8, 2018; and Taslima Akhter, “Why Higher Minimum Wage Is also a Woman’s Issue,” The Daily Star, March 3, 2017.

  • 16. The very interesting manner of setting up the department is well recorded in Najma Chowdhury, Of Mangroves and Monsters: Women’s Political Participation and Women’s Studies in Bangladesh (Dhaka, Bangladesh: Pathaka Samabesa, 2010).

  • 17. Maleka Begum and Syed Azizul Huq, Ami Nari: Teen Sho Bochorer Narir Itihash (Dhaka, Bangladesh: University Press Limited, 2001); and Maleka Begum, Banglar Nari Andolon (Dhaka, Bangladesh: University Press Limited, 1989).

  • 18. Sohela Nazneen, The Women’s Movement in Bangladesh: A Short History and Current Debates (Dhaka, Bangladesh: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Bangladesh Office, 2017).

  • 19. Ania Loomba and Ritty Lukose, eds., South Asian Feminisms (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012); Srila Roy, New South Asian Feminisms (London: Zed Books, 2012); and Firdous Azim, Nivedita Menon, and Dina Siddiqi, “South Asian Feminisms: Negotiating New Terrains,” Feminist Review 91, no. 1 (2009): 1–8.

  • 20. Ibrahim, Ami Birangana Bolchi.

  • 21. Fayeza Hasanat, A War Heroine: I Speak (Dhaka, Bangladesh: Bangla Academy, 2017).

  • 22. Saikia, Women, War, and the Making of Bangladesh; and Bose, Dead Reckoning.

  • 23. Mukherjee, The Spectral Wound.

  • 24. Hossain and Mohsin, Of the Nation Born.

  • 25. Shahnaz Huda, Faustina Pereira, and Sara Hossain, Revisiting Personal Laws in Bangladesh: Proposals for Reform (Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 2019); and Khan, The Socio-Legal Status of Bangali Women in Bangladesh.

  • 26. Azim, “Secularism and the Women’s Movement,” in Mukhopadhyay, Feminist Subversion and Complicity.

  • 27. Kabeer, Reversed Realities; and Kabeer, The Power to Choose.

  • 28. Sohela Nazneen, “Researching Women’s Empowerment: Reflections on Methodology by Southern Feminists,” Women’s Studies International Forum 45 (2014).

  • 29. Maheen Sultan, Naomi Hossain, and Sohela Nazneen, “National Discourses on Women’s Empowerment and Development: Continuity and Change,” BRAC Institute of Governance and Development 53, no. 2 (2011).

  • 30. Pranab Kumar Panday, Women’s Political Participation in Bangladesh: Institutional Reforms, Actors and Outcomes (New Delhi: Springer, 2013).

  • 31. Shireen Huq, “Sex Workers’ Movements in Bangladesh: Learning from the Women’s Movement,” Sexuality Matters 7, no. 5 (October 2006): 134–137; and Firdous Azim, “Keeping Sexuality on the Agenda: The Sex Workers’ Movement in Bangladesh,” in Loomba and Lukose, South Asian Feminisms, 267–284.

  • 32. Azim, Mahmood, and Shelley, Phire Dekha.

  • 33. Dina Siddiqi, “Do Bangladeshi Factory Workers Need Saving? Sisterhood in the Post-Sweatshop Era,” Feminist Review 91, no. 1 (2009): 154–174.

  • 34. Shaheen Akhtar, Sati o Satantara, 3 vols. (Dhaka, Bangladesh: Dibya Prakash, 2007).

  • 35. Maleka Begum, ed., Nirbacita Begama: Ardhasatabdira samajacitra, 1947–2000 (Dhaka, Bangladesh: Pathaka Samabesa, 2006).