The talk around town at the moment is how our esteemed Prime Minister, herself a woman, is planning on appointing another woman as the next Chief Justice. The Speaker of the House and the Leader of the Opposition are also women, as are a few recently appointed Vice Chancellors of public universities, and the rumoured Chief Justice move will mean that several key positions will be held by the fairer sex. If these rumours are to be believed – and they come from several reliable sources – this move is aimed more at earning bragging rights over the West than it is towards actually empowering women and achieving equality. Given the abysmal state of women’s rights at the moment, not to mention the notable lack of qualifications held by most of the women in these positions, it is hard not to believe that.
Having spent the last two years uninterrupted in the UK before returning home, one of the things that struck me the most in the first week of my return home is how blind people seem to be to the problems that Bangladesh faces. On the topic of women’s rights, the popular consensus seems to be that we have achieved complete equality because women are in visible positions. The hollow, cosmetic nature of these changes can be understood by taking a simple look at how the average woman is faring. Girls’ education has actually dropped in rural communities because people believe their daughters are assured top jobs (including 50 of the 350 seats in Parliament) due to an established quota system. Domestic abuse has shot up while the issue of marital rape, which is still not legally recognised in the country, is no longer on the national agenda. Then again, why should it be when a woman is speaking on our behalf at the United Nations?
This is not just a case of women’s rights however. Child labour, child marriage and infanticide are hardly reported on, the focus instead shifting to how some NGOs and charities have successfully taught slum children how to speak in English. Regardless of their intentions, the fact remains that the only change this has actually resulted in is that these boys and girls can now beg in two languages. Meanwhile, LGBTQ+ rights groups are yelling for visibility on TV shows and an eventual marriage amendment – both visible issues in the USA at the moment – forgetting the fact that homosexuality is still a criminal offence here. Some of these groups actually run the risk of getting their members arrested but are not able to recognise that the fight for decriminalisation is more important than getting a magazine about gay sex published.
On top of it all is the fact that we are not simply misreading the West either. Countries that have influence over our policies, like the USA and the UK, are happy to let us face genuine problems just so long as we are not creating issues for them. The recent obsession with IS has meant that the only type of religious extremism that gains any traction in the international media or in policy groups is the kind that leads to terrorist attacks on foreign soil. Never mind the fact that Hindu and Buddhist communities and holy sites have been attacked several times over the past few years. Or that many Hindus in Dhaka had to hide their identities during Durga Puja this year just so they could complete their worship unharmed.
To say that we shouldn’t aspire for an ideal society is wrong. The West, despite its advances, has not hit that pinnacle either. But in order to reach those heights, we need to understand where we currently stand. Following countries that have had centuries to develop and expecting to be in the same situation in 43 years is foolish. We need to solve our own problems first. Only then can we begin to look at what are still secondary issues for us.
I want to quickly add that I normally back up my pieces with more specific statistics and citations. In this case, I feel it would be better to address each of the issues separately; therefore, I will dedicate the next few posts on my blog to examining the problems I have outlined here, which, I hasten to add, in no way represent an exhaustive list of the problems faced by Bangladesh.