Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 2, Issue 35, Tuesday, March 8, 2005





Dr. Rifat Rashid
Director, France Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce & Industry

“If a woman is economically successful and makes a contribution to the welfare of the family, she automatically commands respect from her husband, -in-laws and the society," is what Dr. Rifat Rashid, Director, France Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry, feels.

If you dwell on this thought for a moment, you would certainly be able to empathise with her comment. Whether it's a woman from the village with no education, the house help in your home, or you in the higher social strata of life, if you have a way of earning and ability to share the issues involved in running your family, then you have a scope of being considered as a partner. He would be reliant upon your support. The financial dependence is what that has made women subject to discrimination and the objects of much ill treatment throughout the ages.

"Equality doesn't mean donning a trouser, smoking and being able to rest a hand on the shoulder of a friend while greeting them. Why do I need to do all these to press home a point? I like being a woman, I am proud to be a woman and frankly I don't want to be anyone else other than a woman."

In reply to a question Dr. Rashid commented that what the woman activists are doing for our hard-up lots have good intent but its results are yet to be seen. A woman needs to be aware that she requires education and or skill in order to be able to contribute to the welfare of her family, to have something that she can call her own, only then she can change her social position," Dr. Rashid says.

With that acquisition she is likely to gain a situation independent from being only a wife and a mother in the household.

Being the only woman director of a chamber body in our country, equipped with a PhD from Sorbonne, the extremely confident Rashid says that her sex has never posed a problem for her, on the contrary, it has always put her on ease with the almost ninety nine and half percent male dominated job that she does.

"If there was a matter of discord with anyone in the profession it was solely for personal reasons rather than being an issue of my gender. Men's day or Women's day I don't give too much importance to this idea," she explains adding further that empowerment is within you but identification of requisites and the necessary environment are essential.

"When I am in home I've another role as a woman and I don't like to think of it as a discrimination; no matter what you say we are not the same. There's a biological difference and at the end of the day you have to bear the child, you are the mother and your affection and care are needed to rear your children. Women are proven to be adept to this job than male. However, recently fathers are doing the mother's job and this experiment seems to be working as well." Imposed social conditions where a mother is the only one rearing and bearing the children is now more a matter of choice than a gender issue.

In family life both the man and the woman need to be confident and understanding of each other. If you are insecure when your husband has to stay out late for work or if your husband questions the late night phone call from work, or your lunch out with male colleagues is not so much a gender issue as a personal one. It's a problem with the insecurity in the relationship rather than your husband trying to dominate you because you are his woman.
By Raffat Binte Rashid

  Barrister Tania Amir
Practices law at the Supreme Court

How does a successful career woman such as yourself, handle both the world, family and career?
nce I heard a wise lady say that 'the graveyard is full of indispensable people'. In other words no one is indispensable. The higher you climb the more you need to delegate. In order to be successful in life a person cannot be at all place at all times. There is more than one style of management. Some people might take control of everything and do it themselves but I want to distribute responsibility to other people even to my children. I believe in delegation rather than keeping control to myself. When I do household job I do it from my heart. I am not desperately trying to please anyone.

Do you think family can be a barrier in pursuing successful career?
Family can be a barrier sometimes but it can also be a great support. Success is inevitable if you try hard with sincerity and have the right attitude.

You must have a hectic schedule. Do you get enough support from your husband?
Of course I do, I make sure of it.

Do you think celebrating a special day yearly and all the big talks in any way effect women's social status when for rest of the year they play the stereotyped role?
Well, it might not work instantly to solve a specific problem faced by an individual at the micro level, but at the macro level this occasion is an opportunity for policy makers to focus on issues on this day, make assessments, future decision, allocate budget for future work and set goals and in the long run, it ultimately plays a significant role in resolving problems in the micro level.

I am not sure with the term 'celebrating'. I think we observe a day such as International Women's Day as we do Ekushey February. However, this day seems to be losing its significance because different companies are using the International Women's Day to sell their brand names to women, using it as a marketing tool i.e. selling cosmetics, cooking spices, etc by marking the term 'Nari Dibosh', which dilutes the real aspiration of this occasion. We are all in favour of awareness building, but not in the negative sense.

What is the current status of women working in the legal profession?
Increasingly more women are choosing the profession. Although the number is growing but I do not think that it is yet satisfactory. Women in the law are increasingly playing an important role in human rights issues, criminal and family laws but there are not enough expert in company laws, international law, or constitutional law. In fact it is not just women, in general, we have very few lawyers in Bangladesh who are competent enough to handle these commercial or constitutional matters.

Do you consider yourself truly empowered?
I believe in self-development and self-growth. It is a constant process, everyday there are new challenges that everyone faces and I look upon them as an opportunity of growth and empowerment. In the process I try to reassess, redefine and recreate myself everyday, in a manner, which is more empowering to me.
By Shahnaz Parveen

Rubana Huq
MD, Mohammadi Group

Rubana Huq, the Managing Director of Mohammadi Group one of the leading garment factories in Bangladesh, feels that every day is a gift of God and since she works daily with women in her trade, every single day calls for a celebration of professionalism.

"When I come to work or when I am at home, every day is my day. Women in any case are all overachievers so it's not a matter of just equal rights but a matter of precedence. I don't want parity I want precedence."

Huq feels that womanhood has achieved a certain level of maturity and there is more to go. In her trade over the years, women have become vocal and resilient and anyone who is economically emancipated would not, in her sane mind, take any abuse.

It's again a question of emancipating economically that becomes the issue here and Huq justifiably points out "It's a pretty sight early in the morning to see these women going to work, to see them giving money to their husbands during lunch break, to see them hire help to baby sit while they are at work. It's much prettier to see this massive change which is so very clear and visual. I deal with women from the disadvantaged social strata, those who are not educated and have been discriminated against even before their birth, so I believe I see the changes in its true colours."

During the last ten to twelve years time span women who are earning their own bread and support their family but does not take abuse or allow their pay cheque to be spent by their husbands or fathers only, they shape their own future; they are much more vocal and aware of the rights.

"In my trade, workers are required to be organized because it's line management, they need to be steady, committed and responsible and all these attributions are synonymous with women, so encourage more women to join. However for this positive change to keep going, factories must have maternity rights, welfare rights, health care facilities and benefits, because in a quota free world buyers can buy from anywhere in the world. In order to compete globally we must have these HR compliance issues dealt with," Huq say enthusiastically, emphasising that these women are also shaping our future.

"Its still a man's world but I vehemently object to that and also 'doing a man's job'. I do a job irrespective of my gender and for this I become a better person every day," she says pointing out that having achieved emancipation or whatever it is that you need to accomplish, you should always remember to strike a balance between home and work. "

There is one handicap: you need to put ten to twelve hours of work everyday and the children might miss you quite often, and no matter how supportive the husbands are, all of us are shades
of grey, no one is black or white," Huq explains.
By Raffat Binte Rashid

  Fatema Begum
Additional Deputy Inspector General of Police
Serving as the Special Branch Training School Commandant

“I never accepted the social obligation that men and women would go for different profession. I followed my aspiration and chose this profession", says Fatema Begum, the Additional DIG of Bangladesh Police. Fatema Begum joined the force back in the year 1986 as an Assistance Super of Police and is now serving as the highest ranked female officer in the police force.

In the light of International Women's Day it only seemed relevant to ask her about the general position of female personnel in the police department. "Most of the time female police officers are assigned to desk jobs or given less important responsibilities, thinking that they might not be able to handle serious pressure. I think this is a form of discrimination", she answers.

She gave us some insights on why this scenario prevails in the police department. "Women still receive certain amounts of pressure from their male counterparts as, with ours being a patriarchal society, men are not yet used to taking orders from women. Adding to this, female personnel themselves prefer desk jobs. Family responsibility is a huge barrier that makes our female workforce restrain from taking over important assignments". However, she believes "It all depends on the person. This barrier can only be leaped over if female police officers wish to take control of their lives".

She has taken over a man's job in a man's world. How did she survive all the pressure, we asked. She recalls, "Back in the 80s when I joined the force, society did not approve of women in the police force. At that time there was no woman serving in my rank, only a few in the non-ranking posts. The department was not ready and there was confusion about allowing a woman to take such responsibility. Through my work I have proved myself and now I am respected by my colleagues".

We also asked her how she thinks about a special day being observed for women or is it really helping our womenfolk? She says, "Women are marginalized in our society. They are considered sub-ordinate". She believes "They should receive a special boost to reclaim their self-esteem, which they lost over the years. It will eventually help them in becoming equal beings".

"Seminars and special discussions about women rights held on this day help at least some people to have better understanding and realisation." She adds, "There is no day for men because they are already privileged in every aspect of life".

Is she truly empowered in her life, we also asked, "I am lucky in my personal life, having better understanding with my husband. I received support from my family as well". However this is not the case in every woman's life she pointed out.

She also pointed out that, things are gradually changing. People are getting accustomed to the sight of women in uniform. And she conveyed that "For better appraisal it is women themselves who must prove all the social taboo wrong. Women have to leap over the barriers they face".
By Shahnaz Parveen

a moment
for our men…

While working on these interviews my reporters and I have come to this understanding that the saying 'Behind every successful man is a woman' can safely be reversed and told the other way around.

On this International Woman's Day I personally take a moment to actually give credit to these men behind these and every other successful woman, for being supportive and actually respecting them the way they are. And I don't think that I have made a sacrilegious comment.

In fact I want our men to come out of their narrow egoistic world and broaden their horizons the way a few of their gender have done, and recognise the fact that women are no different than men. That the difference is only a matter of biology and not psychology or any other logy that they prefer to think.

Imagine a world full of men only or only women for that matter. How pathetically dull and boring it would be, don't you think? Together both of us paint the world in such loving colours. What's wrong in accepting this fact?

I want our men to realise that their petty, archaic thoughts regarding women being the lesser mortals should change once and for all. Its high time they show some maturity and get out of this constipated thought process.

Just consider these women this week's issue of Star Lifestyle highlighted. They are all achievers, in fact, over achievers. They are all successful both at work and at home and at par with their husbands and living in perfect harmony with them. And the credit goes to the men in their lives, their husbands and fathers, who were smart and modern enough to break free from their narrow-minded ignorant dark world. They gave their wives and daughters equal treatment. The affirmative action that's been the cause for a while now and for which women's lib has and is going strong, also began with the support of such men.

If only men like the fathers and husbands of say any Rahima, Sakina, Zarina's, be they middle class businessmen, bankers or rickshaw pullers or even teachers, professors or members of the upper class elite, would agree with me and give their wives or daughters a fair chance, the world would be definitely a better place.

However the Rahima's and Zarina's should also know that where there's a will there's way, they should be assertive of their rights and able to put their foot down when they are being dominated or suppressed. Its the 21st century and women should not be just happy to be able to live only.

Never forget that we, the women, are sensible, committed, responsible, hard working and with education and opportunity there's no stopping us. Instead of being afraid of our capability, the men in our lives should appreciate it, then we can also be supportive of you and take you places with us.
By Raffat Binte Rashid

  Mobasshira Farzana Mithila,
ATN Bangla newscaster and Junior Lecturer,
Independent University, Bangladesh

On women in the broadcasting media business:
Women are highly regarded in this field. In fact, in the three private channels that we currently have, women far outnumber the men asw news presenters. However, one has to realize that part of the reason why this is so, is because newscasting and TV anchorage and related jobs are high-profile jobs where presentation is the keyword, and as such, women are preferred because they are still considered a highly 'marketable' asset.

It is unfortunate that in our country, news presentation is seen as being separate from broadcasting journalism as a whole. You don't see as many women being hardcore reporters or holding many posts not related to presentation. Our social structure still isn't prepared to facilitate women exploring the different aspects of this business. Even so, I feel that we have made a lot of progress in this field, and I'm optimistic about where we'll be in the near future."

On women and journalism as a whole:
"This is a fascinating field to work in, with immense prospects for the future. We Bangladeshis have barely begun to explore the possibilities that the world of Media and Communications has to offer. Especially in the case of women.

I personally feel that we've really come a long way. A few years back it was unimaginable for a woman of any age to do fieldwork; to do things like crime reporting, for example. Yet there are women who have done this and proven that it is possible. Even though we are few in number, I believe women as journalists are slowly becoming more acceptable, and even respected.

The main obstacles are provided by the families. Parents don't want to allow their daughters to take on what they perceive are terrible risks; this concern is intensified when the female journalist has a family of her own to care for. Yes, there are risks, but I personally believe this is because we are living in troubled times, and the risk factor applies for all journalists, be they men or women.

Overall, I am pretty optimistic about the way things are progressing, and I'd encourage any young woman who wants to enter this profession. It's got so much promise!"

On women as educationists:
"Now here's a profession for women that has a lot of popular support...at least in terms of acceptability. Women having been seen as the nurturing caregivers, the role of teachers and professors seems to fit the bill. And we do our work with panache too. This is one arena where you are seen as a professional before you are seen as a man or a woman.

However, it's pretty hard on women who have families to juggle with their work. This line requires a lot of concentration, a lot of research, and especially when you want to teach at the University level, you need to obtain the degrees first. It's far easier for a man to drop his family and go abroad for three or four years to obtain a fellowship than it is for a woman. But you do see plenty of women who are managing it, and kudos to them for meeting the challenge.
By Sabrina F Ahmad


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