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      Volume 10 |Issue 11 | March 18, 2011 |


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A visitor at the exhibition looks at images of pioneering women who have contributed to upholding women's rights and world peace, Photo: Zahedul I Khan

Architects of a Peaceful Society


On the occasion of International Women's Day 2011 the La Galerie of Alliance Française was dressed up in a different attire altogether. A wide array of strings were hanging down the walls, holding several colourful postcards and photographs of extraordinary women who dedicated their lives for the promotion of social justice and peace. Different colours of the post cards and the photographs referred to their different fields of work and illustrated the vast array of engagement, such as reconciliation and reconstruction, human rights, women's rights, economic rights and livelihood, ecological security and fight against violence against women. A ten-day event to reflect on the importance of women as crucial actors of peace and social justice in the world and their engagement for the development of Bangladesh was organised by the Embassy of Switzerland in Bangladesh and Alliance Française de Dhaka to celebrate International Women's Day 2011.

The exhibition aims to increase visibility of women promoting
peace all over the world. Photo: Zahedul I Khan

The organisation PeaceWomen Across the Globe, is based in Bern, Switzerland that aims to increase the visibility of women promoting peace all over the world. It nominated 1000 women from over 150 different countries, including 16 candidates from Bangladesh for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize. The nomination was prominent for including not only celebrities, but also relatively unknown women who have made significant contributions to world peace. Since then, more than 60 countries have held over 1000 exhibits so far on this, now the exhibition, ending March 19, is finally being held in Bangladesh to pay a tribute to each one of these incredible women.

At La Galerie, the soft lights on the photographs and postcards illuminated the incredible journeys of these women relentlessly working for peace all over the world. One such woman is Angela Gomes (born 1952), founder-director of Banchte Shekha (learning to survive), one of the most respected women's organisations in Bangladesh. Set up on a modest scale in 1981, the organisation now accommodates 200 live-in trainees and also serves as a women's shelter. More than 25,000 women in 750 village-based organisations are active members of Banchte Shekha, and more than 200,000 benefit indirectly from its agenda. Angela has been working on the issue of gender rights through social rights education and income generation programmes.

Shirin Banu, another Bangladeshi, has blended very effectively her experience in politics with the women's movement in her work on the empowerment of grassroots-level women leaders. She has motivated women leaders of the Union Parishad (grassroots legislative unit) to coalesce into an elected women's forum that can collectively bargain to assert their rights and powers. Shirin Banu has also worked to create local women's groups to unite women in rural Bangladesh against fundamentalism.

Another inspiring woman is Beggzadi Mahmuda Nasir who began her work on women's education in 1950, women in Bangladeshi society had zero space in public life. Coming from a liberal and educated family, Beggzadi had an advantage. She believed that education is essential to women's status, the deplorable condition of women's education disturbed her. Pursuing a dream with remarkable single-mindedness, Beggzadi set up the Central Women's College in 1956 and the Central Women's University in 1993.

Amongst the 16 Bangladeshis nominated was Khushi Kabir who embodies the very spirit of the socioeconomic empowerment of women, peace, and democracy in Bangladesh. For more than 30 years, she has been involved with working-class rural communities on issues ranging from people's control over their own resources, challenging anti-people policies and programmes, secularism, and human rights. She has been integral to the forging of strong national coalitions of civil society groups, and the creation and sustenance of global networks and coalitions for human rights, gender equality, and democracy.

Aruna Roy, an Indian social and political activist was also among those nominated, her Right to Information movement led to the enactment of the Right to Information Act in India in 2005. Somboon Srikhamdokkhae from Thailand, was nominated for establishing the Council of Work and Environment related Patients Network of Thailand; Wilaiwan Saetia, for campaigning for the safety and welfare of factory workers, particularly women. There were also many women amongst the 1000 nominated who had no idea that their work had moved the world and that they had been nominated for their efforts.

Women from various other countries who have fought to uphold the rights of the women, minorities and indigenous people in the society were also in the list. These women struggle to ensure economic well being of the people. They believe, fundamental rights, dignity and respect for everyone are indispensable elements of peace. To honour the enduring, tireless work of these women the exhibition is held. A walk along the displayed postcards and photographs will not fail to impress and inspire women visitors especially who need such role models to make them believe that they have in themselves the potential to reach the heights that they may never have even dreamed of yet.


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