INTERNATIONAL Women’s Day, today, is of much importance for Bangladesh to observe properly, with adequate amount of soul searching particularly by the ruling elite, for the social, political and cultural status of the women in Bangladesh remains absolutely gendered despite the fact that the country’s mainstream political process is apparently dominated by two women, the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, and former prime minister Khaleda Zia, who have been heading the two major political parties of the country for a few decades now. Bangladesh has as its leader of the parliament a woman, as the leader of the opposition in the parliament a woman, as the speaker of the parliament a woman while the country has women in positions such as vice-chancellor of public university, on powerful bodies such as the Election Commission, panel of judges of the High Court and so on. But, at the same time, the country has witnessed at least 445 women killed while 62 women committed suicide in the face of sexual harassment and stalking only in 2016. Again, while the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, has been awarded the medal of the Planet 50-50 Champion and the Agent of Change Award by the United Nations for her ‘outstanding contributions’ to women’s empowerment, it is under her governance that the police have resorted to brutal attacks on the apparel workers, 80 per cent of whom are women, for their just demand for an increase in ‘minimum wage’, particularly when inflation and soaring prices of essential commodities have made their lives further miserable since the last pay increase in 2013. Moreover, pervasive gender inequality is visible everywhere — in the family, in socio-political organisations and at every tier of government administrations. This is about gendered and, therefore, unequal power relation, which is inherently undemocratic. Democracy, after all, is about equality, equality of men and women included, at all levels — social, political, economic and cultural — which is missing in Bangladesh.
Under such undemocratic circumstances, International Women’s Day should be observed in the country, keeping in mind that a few women at the helms of power could hardly change the status of women in society, in general. For bringing about in positive changes in the gendered power relation, the forces of democratic equality between men and women have to effectively attack the inherently patriarchal systems — political, economic and cultural — that sustain and perpetuate the structures of gender inequalities. It is important for all concerned to realise that a country, which is said to have been striving for the democratic transformation of its society and state since its birth in 1971, cannot attain the goal without having a serious agenda to do away with pervasive gender inequalities.
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