Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 1, Issue 40, Tuesday March 9, 2004






Arranged Marriages: A different perspective

Think about pledging to spend your entire life with a person you don't even know! Seems impossible? Well, that's what an arranged marriage seems to be from a different perspective. I'm not saying that tradition and culture are all wrong or incorrect, but surely this can't be the solution to the chances of marriages working out.

More often than not, arranged marriages are set-up by people who don't know the to-be-weds well enough. Setting up couples seems to be an enjoyable activity for individuals of the family and sometimes the occasion is really anticipated by both family and friends. The idea of an arranged marriage seems entangled in our culture, but it should be noted that the individuals who are about to get married know far too little about each other to make such a commitment.

Marriage counselors around the city, mostly matchmakers with a different title, say that arranged marriages are required to maintain a social status. They say that society is more likely to reject couples who are involved in a love marriage, and no one would like to be shunned from society, that's for sure. However, such marriage experts also state that arranged marriages are a part of our tradition and tradition should not be changed based on Western philosophies.

On top of it all, it can be seen that some families force women into marriage, and this is definitely not an ideal example of women's rights. Such a case could be seen when Mr. Golam, suffering from old age syndromes told Farina, his youngest daughter, that she had to get married according to his choice because he was afraid that he would miss her wedding. Before even informing her about this, he had already asked their relatives to look for a prospective 'well-off' groom. Farina being an undergraduate student at a private university in the city at that time, hesitated to abide by her fathers wishes mainly because she was in the prime of her educational career. However, there was no other choice after particular pressure from the whole family. Five years later, it can be seen that Farina is at home taking care of their two children and her husband doesn't even give her the respect she deserves. She was unable to complete her education because of the birth of her first child and thus she doesn't even consider the option of taking a job. For a simple mistake, most of Farina's dreams have been shattered. Such stories can be heard quite often in Bangladesh and these actions surely have to be changed. Suppression of basic Women's rights is something that should not be a part of any culture.

Although arranged marriages are a strong part of our tradition, the basic process should be modified for this new generation. It can be suggested that the to-be-weds should be allowed to know each other better a few months before the marriage, so as to let them decide whether or not they want to spend the rest of their lives with each other. After all, it is their lives. Even after marriage, life isn't always a bed of roses, so married couples should hold respect for each other and really try to understand their differences, this shall definitely aid in making the marriage a success.

By Mishel Ali Khan
Writers Note: The characters in the story are real life people with changed names.

Letter to the LS editor
The multifaceted roles of Bengali women

Dear Editor,
As the UNESCO representative in Bangladesh I should like to send you a brief comment on the latest issue of "Star Lifestyle”, published on 2 March 2004.

Being a regular reader of the Daily Star, I have come to sincerely appreciate the excellent journalistic work done by the Daily Star, and often in difficult circumstances. It is therefore with deep concern that I came across the item on "Heroines on the home front", where women are described and presented in the most conservative and backward fashion, a role-model of yesterday! Where does the author of the article live? Surely not in Bangladesh, where any "housewife" even in low-income families has at least one if not more servants at her disposal. Yet, the photos pretend to imply that this lady is doing it all alone. Who is going to believe it? Not a credible approach at all.

Most of all I was shocked by the way women in Bangladesh are presented: loving/caring housewives, content to serve the master and the kids. Advertisements of all sorts are trying to project the same conservative image; is the Daily Star going backwards? And how about the title "Heroines at the home front"? It should rather say "prisoners at the home front", judging by the amount of responsibilities they face. The photos convey clearly the image of the submissive housewife, a very traditional, conservative role model that should belong to the past, if ever 50 percent of the population were to join national development and social progress for all. Finally I get the impression the article actually wanted to tell a different story; that of professional women who, when they come home have to attend to numerous chores and duties, while men just come and sit back. This is indeed the case in many households, but the article did not clearly convey that message. This implies the writer missed her own subject, and the photos just gave the wrong impression too. And as pointed out before, servants do the real job anyway, as we all know!

As far as UNESCO is concerned we are trying, well beyond 8 March women's day, to promote the idea of women's equal access to education and professional and social life, including equal career opportunities. For example on 8 March, together with BNCU, we will host a meeting with a series of outstanding women performing in unusual professions, as we believe that women can exercise just any profession, and should be given the right and opportunity to do so. I will make sure the Daily Star will be invited to follow the meeting.

In a largely male-dominated society, there is still much to do, despite progress achieved here and there in education. The article of Lifestyle, is promoting just the contrary to progress and women's equal share in life, by seeing them only, and very hypocritically in their role as housewives. How about showing men doing household chores, cooking, shopping etc? It exists, and men will have to learn they too have a role to play at home, not only bringing the paycheque once a month.

It is hoped other editions of Lifestyle and the Daily Star may consider giving a more forward-looking image of women in Bangladesh. Already the article by Sultana Yasmin on page 7 of Lifestyle provides a different view, so there is hope for instant progress, so important on the eve of 8 March, international women's day!
Kind regards, Wolfgang Vollmann UNESCO representative to Bangladesh

Answer:Dear Reader,
Thank you for reading Star Lifestyle, regularly, and being so critical about it. Your point is well taken but I would really like to get that 'servant', (as you put it) who could teach my child and help her with homework. Believe it or not, I am very much in Dhaka and am yet to find a servant, or domestic help, as I prefer to call them, who would do the above along with my grocery, entertain guests, take care of my ailing parents, tend to the sick if need arises, and juggle a career.

While writing the article I was indeed appreciating the womenfolk for the amount of load they can take. I am a journalist; I bring out 16 pages of weekly supplement every week. At the same time, I am a very content and happy homemaker. I, or that woman who was in my photo shoot, posing for my photographer, are both proud of what we are. I don't see the crime I committed in saying the things I said or doing the chores I do. I have a very balanced husband who knows how to respect women and firmly believes in equality. When I am away at seminars or fellowships he makes sure that our home runs smoothly and that our child does well in schoolwork. Believe me, at the end of the month my paycheque matters too.

So what are you trying to say? That being modern and progressive means that I don't have a family or enjoy housework? Unfortunately I don't agree with your point of view. All my fellow women colleagues, my cousins, my friends are working women of Bangladesh and they all have a perfectly balanced family life minus a few. (Maybe the men in their cases are not enlightened enough.) Yes it's true, juggling work and home is difficult but we are doing it and with ease also. Even if we don't work outside we can be content being homemakers and at the same time be progressive. Being modern and progressive doesn't really mean paying your own bill at the restaurant while your husband pays his. It doesn't necessarily mean that I butter my own toast while my family is left to tend to theirs, in which case, I don't see the need to get married and have a family. If you have a family, there are few rules that you just have to abide to.

The work that a woman does at her own home needs to be appreciated not undermined. This is a very debatable topic and opinions differ, but I hope that we do have one in common emancipation of women.

Thank you
Raffat Binte Rashid, Editor Star Lifestyle, The Daily Star


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