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Bangladesh’s gender power bulwark against radicalism

Observes MJ Akbar

Published : 17 Jan 2023 10:02 PM | Updated : 18 Jan 2023 04:02 PM

Bangladesh under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's leadership has made tremendous progress in gender empowerment and this will make all the difference, said India's former minister and author-editor M J Akbar.

Participating in a discussion on India-Bangladesh relations organised by 'India Narrative", a multi-media and multilingual platform, in a Kolkata hotel on Monday, Akbar said "Bengali women power can never be marginalised and that is why Bangladesh will never be an Afghanistan."

"The respect for women is ingrained in Bengali society on both sides of the border. It forms the core of Bengali culture," Akbar said.

Bangladesh's leading columnist Syed Badrul Ahsan, joining the discussion, pointed to how Sheikh Hasina's government had so many women ministers with important portfolios and so many senior women diplomats and bureaucrats.

"There is even a lady major general in our army and senior police officials who are women. Empowerment of women at the grassroots is also a reality, look at our biggest industry, readymade garments, majority workers are women," Ahsan said.

Even top Opposition leaders and the Speaker of parliament are women, someone in the audience pointed out.

One participant, V Ramaswamy said the Afghanistan developments are good because women and those who respect gender empowerment will "now strongly organised to oppose Islamist radicalism."

Someone in the audience that the Awami League should field more and more strong women candidates in the next parliament polls to leverage the gender factor to keep the Islamist Opposition at bay, pointing to Selina Hyat Ivy's victory in the Narayanganj mayor polls in a non-controversial election where she not only faced the Opposition but also considerable opposition within the party.

  Another lady participant pointed to the need for 'institutionalising the gender factor' within the structure of political parties. 

Indian experts have already pointed to how Mamata Banerjee's Trinamul Congress leveraged the "gender factor " to trounce the BJP and Left in West Bengal , as her sweeping victory owed much to her party sweeping the women vote.

"The same model can be replicated in Bangladesh by the Awami League." says Kollkata's leading gender specialist Paula Banerjee, a former vice-chancellor. 

"But for that to happen, front organisations like Mohila League will have to be entrusted to lead the charge rather than just be seen as support groups," said Paula Banerjee.

The programme ended with a screening of the trailer of Khizir Hyat Khan's next film "Ora Sat Jon" based on the 1971 liberation war.