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                    Volume 11 |Issue 07| February 17, 2012 |


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Male Chauvinism or Partnership?

Shah Husain Imam

Educated women often grouse about men being so didactic telling them what to do and what not to. Men decide for women in a power relationship that is inherently biased towards men. It is this unilateral defining role of men that the thrust of women's empowerment drive should be on to bring about healthy bilateralism. New balanced gender equations are a matter of time to be emerging with the growing realisation of the value of partnership on equal terms.

I wonder if it is a shift in gender roles – in any historic sense. But that's what it is made out to be. Pentagon, the heartland of US military power, has announced that from now on women will be placed in combat roles. What this translates into military terms is that they will be attached or shall we say, posted to regimental levels where combat responsibilities are involved. Having had such stints in Afghan and Iraqi wars, American women in uniform have entitled themselves to wearing that badge of honour according to a reckoning in Pentagon.

Quite understandably though, advocates of greater women's role in the US army consider the move falling short of the frontier they would have liked women to have pushed.

One sees a tinge of male chauvinism underlying the Pentagon's liberalised opening out to women elevating them to 'combat zone'. For all we know, women have always been behind the lines in surveillance, medical and engineering corps. At the regimental level, they are supposed to have frontline duties which means placing a demand on their martial competence and valour. Does combat role mean command role?

Simply put, what's command role in the army can be theoretically equated with decision-making role in other sectors. But in command, hierarchical and decision-making structures women in general lag behind men.

There are women presidents, prime ministers, corporate chief executives and heads of international multilateral institutions wielding considerable power and authority. But no military general in combat and command positions (although in the US there have been some in medical and other corps), air martial or naval commander among women.

This is a pity if you recall successful military leaders and heroines in Sultana Razia, daughter of Iltetmish, the famed ruler in medieval India, who defended the throne against the nobles; Jhansike Rani who took up arms against the British and Joan de Arc who wrested the French throne from the British at the age of 15. Sultana Razia and Joan de Arc, however, were persecuted in the end by their illiberal male adversaries.

In some early Islamic wars, women fought side by side with men. Those who want women pushed into the rear, better turn the pages of history to get a sense of valour women warriors have etched on the various historical accounts.

Only four decades ago, our sisters and mothers made a signal contribution to the country's liberation from a tyrannical stranglehold of Pak occupation forces. Some took up arms while others helped with logistics, sheltering, feeding and nursing; others with their music inspired men in the battles.

In present times, Bangladeshi women have been engaged in UN peacekeeping missions in hostile circumstances in foreign lands.

The demeanor of Bangladeshi women police and army personnel and the security attached to the President and their smart turnouts are a spectacular addition to career diversity along the lines of gender equality.

To end on a lighter note let me add this personal anecdote: In the 1973 Jatiya Sangshad a lawmaker with a whiff of mischief bordering on vulgarity at the back of his mind, rose on a point of order after a minister had informed the House that women would be recruited in the Bangladesh police force. This is what he said: 'Should that happen criminals will go after women police rather than women cops chasing the criminals.' The whole House burst into peals of laughter, oblivious of the sexist innuendo.

Thankfully, we have come miles ahead of the frog-in-the-well type prejudice of an anonymous parliament member.

The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.

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