Women Historians who have addressed the early history of Bengal have not included gender in their analyses of events. However, the names of queens and occasionally of royal sisters do find their way into these accounts, but always in relation to male power. For example, there is a story that Queen Vallabhadevi, wife of the Pala king dharmapala, was banished to the forest because she had not produced a son. In the forest, according to one legend, she was impregnated by the ocean and conceived a son, devapala. Although the Palas were Buddhists, they extended their patronage to Brahmanism.
After the Senas came to power in the 12th century, Brahman priests were a fixture of the royal court. While the extent to which Brahmanical injunctions were followed during this period is not known, they included pre-puberty marriage of brides with bridegrooms three times their age. Most family celebrations were associated with fertility: the girl's first menstruation, pregnancy, birth, tonsure, first rice and naming. Some women, undoubtedly from the highest classes, were literate but these women had little autonomy.
Women had no legal or social status other than that derived from their position in the family, could not inherit, except for the widow who was allowed to 'use' her husband's property if there were no male heir, and had few options to support themselves. While women belonging to the royal court were secluded from view, this was not true of women generally, who did not veil. It is believed that widows were regarded as inauspicious, prohibited from attending ceremonies, and encouraged to immolate themselves on their husbands' funeral pyres. It is not known how sacraments were supposed to be performed and what was considered ideal behavior. Accounts of how people lived their lives are hardly available. Equally unattainable is information about women's participation in economic production and the impact of changes in crops and commerce on their lives.
During the first three decades of Muslim rule in Bengal the Hindu caste system was defined and inscribed on society. Without a Hindu ruler to enforce social hierarchy, caste councils became arbiters of custom. Greater attention to caste purity undoubtedly had an effect on women's lives as carriers of the code. Marriage was the key institution for maintaining purity and would have been subject to greater scrutiny, as would issues of paternity.
In the 16th century, considered a 'golden age' of Bengali literature, women become visible as literary subjects. The Vishnu cult generated narratives, the Ramayana and stories of Krishna, and devotional songs, with human love as a metaphor, which featured women as heroines and objects of desire. The other major genre was the Mangalkavya, poems that focused on the worship of goddesses and served to connect local goddesses with the wife of Shiva and hence to the dominant tradition. Sri Chaitanya initiated both men and women and some historians have seen this as a time when the status of women improved. Women from respectable families took part in kirtan performances, some traveled long distances as pilgrims, and a few women initiated disciples. The Mangalkavya was a powerful force for propagating popular goddess cults as they established Kamala, Ganga, Shitala, Manasa, Sasthi and other goddesses in the popular imagination. A rich source for historians studying this period, the Mangalkavya also tells us something about women's lives.
By the late 16th century, Bengal was annexed by the Mughal Empire and administered from Delhi. Under Mughal rule, Bengal experienced an economic boom with rice, cotton and silk in demand on the subcontinent and in international markets. Powerful Hindu chiefs were incorporated into the Mughal system with land grants and other inducements. At the same time, the area under cultivation increased significantly and Islam gained adherents.
Far less is known about women in this period than one would expect. Hindu women who worshipped Shiva-Shakti became more involved in ceremonies with the introduction of Kali Puja and Durga Puja, but it is difficult to analyse the importance and significance of goddess worship for women. There are some who contend that women are empowered through goddess worship because they identify with the power of the goddess; others have pointed out that goddesses mainly benefit male devotees. Moreover, the dangerous and irrational side of goddesses such as Kali and Shitala can be rationalised to extend control over women.
The Vaisnava cult was equally ambiguous in terms of empowering women. Vishnu cults initiated women, recognising their spiritual equality, but Chaitanya strictly forbade his devotees to look at or talk to women. The emphasis on women's potential for religious piety seemed, in this case, to be linked to a deep-seated fear and distrust of their sexuality.
The sources agree that Hindus and Muslims followed different customs but also remark on those cases where Muslims observed Hindu customs and Hindus adopted Muslim customs. The Muslim ruling class seldom brought women with them; so it seems clear that wives, and certainly female slaves, were acquired from Bengal. Female slaves served in the households, but details such as their origin or the roles they played in these families is difficult to ascertain. Tales of abduction and rape of Hindu women abound in historical accounts but are narrated without detail. Violence against women has become, nevertheless, the set explanation for growing rigidity in adherence to customs such as child marriage.
Although there were some Hindu girls who attended pathshalas and literate, women known for their erudition, formal education for women was rare. The belief that education for girls contributed to early widowhood seems to have been widespread and, along with the emphasis on early marriage and concern for female chastity, meant females who learned to read did so in the home rather than in schools. The prevalence of child marriage meant that among Hindus there were many child widows and they were required to follow strict rules in terms of dress and diet. It is not known when Hindu women first began practising purda or seclusion, but it was probably in the period between the 16th and 18th century and linked with fear of abduction and greater emphasis on chastity. These customs: child marriage, compulsory widowhood without remarriage, and restrictions on women's mobility were the hallmarks of the Hindu upper castes, and not necessarily followed by the lower castes. The sources say less about Muslim women, but mention customs such as polygamy and seclusion as common. Little is known about education or age of marriage.
British rule brought far-reaching changes in the economic, political, social and religious lives of the people. Early in the 19th century, the 'woman question' became central to discussions about Indian civilisation and influential British writers referred to the treatment of women in condemning Indian religions, culture, and society as inferior.
The two major communities, Hindus and Muslims, were differently affected. As Muslims, and many Hindus, withdrew into defensive positions, some members of the Hindu community reacted by examining their own society and proposing reform. From then on, topics such as sati, child marriage, widowhood, polygamy, and prohibitions on education dominated the discussion on women.
Reformers reacted to foreign writers who declared their culture 'barbaric', but they were also inspired by western ideas and concerned with proving Indian traditions valid and dignified. Rammohun Roy opposed the custom of sati and argued women's 'backwardness' was a consequence of socialisation. Pundit Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar devoted his life to improving the status of Hindu widows and encouraging remarriage, supporting female education, and opposing polygamy. In 1829, the British outlawed sati and in 1856, the Widow Remarriage Act was passed. However, sati continued, even increased in incidence and the 1856 Act had little impact on women's lives. The British were the foreign overlords and their pronouncements regarding social customs were insufficient to effect far-reaching changes in society.
One of the major topics of discussion among reformers was female education. In his Report on the State of Education in Bengal (1836) William Adam wrote that while Hindus believed education would lead to early widowhood, both Hindus and Muslims were reluctant to educate women because they feared 'female intrigue'. At the time, female education was largely informal and limited to practical matters. Women from respectable families often studied classical or vernacular literature as 'a pious recreation', and girls from propertied families received some education in keeping accounts. It is important to recall that the first autobiography Amar Jiban (published in 1875), was written in Bangla by Rassundari Debi, a housewife who had taught herself to read. Muslim girls were expected to learn the Quran and some accounting skills. While the number of women who were literate and capable of handling accounts was undoubtedly higher than the British estimated, it is impossible to arrive at meaningful numbers.
Missionaries began the first girls' schools in Bengal. The Baptist Mission formed the Female Juvenile Society in 1819 and set up the first girls' school. In 1821, Miss Mary Anne Cooke came to Calcutta to preside over 30 schools opened by the Church Missionary Society for 'respectable' Hindu girls. By 1824 there was a Christian female school in Dhaka, but it was closed in 1826. Staffed by Brahman pundits, these schools were patronised by Hindu gentlemen, but failed to attract girls from the higher castes.
One of the most important schools for girls was the Hindu Balika Vidyalaya opened in 1849 in Calcutta by JE Drinkwater Bethune. Bethune persuaded several prominent families to endorse this experiment and by 1850 the school had 80 pupils. In 1854, the government declared its intention of supporting female education through grants-in-aid. In that year Bengal had a total of 288 schools for girls. Those who supported female education wanted their daughters to be good companions to their husbands, 'scientific' nurturers, and members of civil society.
Brahma Samaj led the movement for female education and equality between the sexes. Begun early in the 19th century by men who wanted to examine their religious beliefs, by the 1860s the Samaj sponsored gatherings, religious instruction, and sewing lessons for women. Within a decade Samaj members differed on questions of women's education and reform. In 1878 it was split over questions of 'female emancipation' and the progressive branch, the Sadharan Brahma Samaj, established Bethune College as an affiliate of Calcutta University. In 1883, Kadambini Ganguly (1862-1923) and Chandramukhi Basu received their BA degree from Bethune, becoming the first women graduates in the British Empire.
It was late in the 19th century before the Muslim community tackled issues of female education and social reform. The first men who initiated this reform were members of the ashraf who formed the intelligentsia. They were joined by members of the great landed families, inspired by the work of Sayyid Ahmed Khan at Aligarh, and by members of a new middle-class who acquired wealth and position through business and administrative service. Drawing on Urdu literature from North India, Bengali Muslims instructed their daughters to read manuals about ideal female behavior. One of the best known of these was Ashraf Ali Thanawi's Behesti Zewar published in Urdu in 1905 and its Bangla translation in 1925. This book was designed to guide the 'new Muslim woman' who understood the changing world, assiduously defended and preserved traditions, and willingly accepted dependency and her housebound status. These manuals for women, written by men, advocated education designed to add honor and dignity to the woman's family.
The Muslim community was also concerned with other issues that were salient among Hindu reformers. One of these was child marriage, a topic commented on by Muslim reformers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But they also focused on issues unique to the community: mahr, the marriage contract, inheritance, polygamy, and female seclusion. Increasingly, the Muslim middle class who espoused these reforms developed a life style not unlike that of reformist Hindus.
Nawab Faizunnessa Choudhurani, the daughter of a prosperous landowner, set up the first girls' school in Comilla in 1873, but it was not until the 20th century that Muslim girls studied at such schools. In the 1880s the Musalman Suhrd Sammilani, an association of Muslim men who had graduated from Dhaka College, advocated systematic home education for women and developed a syllabus, provided textbooks and arranged for examinations to advance this movement. It was Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain who began the movement to set up schools for the education of Muslim girls. Born into a landed family, Rokeya was educated in secret with her brother's help. Her husband continued her education, encouraged her to mix with 'new women' from other communities, and provided her the money necessary to open a school for girls. The Sakhawat Memorial Girls' School, established in Calcutta in 1911, was the first for Muslim females in Bengal.
Rokeya was also convinced of the harmful affects of purdah and wrote about it in her essays and the terrifying and funny, Abarodhbasini, published in serial form in 1929. However much she disliked the excesses of veiling, Rokeya observed its rules in her school.
By the beginning of the 20th century, Bengali women were forming their own organisations to promote social reform. Saraladevi Chaudhurani '(1872-1945), a member of the Tagore family, called for a permanent association of Indian women. Her organisation, the Bharat Stri Mahamandal, had its first meeting in Allahabad in l9l0, but soon developed branches in Bankura, Hazaribagh, Medinipur, and Calcutta, as well as other cities in India. One of the organisation's main concerns was female education and it sponsored teachers who taught reading, writing, music, sewing, and embroidery to women in their homes. In 1916, Rokeya began the Anjuman-i-Khawateen-i-Islam to work among disadvantaged Muslim women. At the same time Saroj Nalini Dutt (1887-1925), founder of the women's institute movement in Bengal, organised mahila samitis in district towns.
The 1920s and 1930s witnessed the beginning of all-India women's organisations that were joined by Bengali women. The National Council of Women in India and the All-India Women's Conference both had branches in Bengal, and Bengali women served on their national councils and committees.
Bengali women's involvement in nationalist politics began in late 19th century. In 1890, five years after the Indian National Congress was founded, Swarnakumari Ghosal, a novelist, and Kadambini Basu Ganguly, one of the India's first female medical doctors, attended as delegates.
In 1905, the British partitioned Bengal Presidency and women joined men in protesting this division by boycotting foreign goods and buying only swadeshi products. Other women took a vow to devote themselves to the motherland and observed it by every day setting aside a handful of rice for the cause. Still other women gave their support to revolutionary organisations.
When Secretary of State for India Edwin Montagu announced in 1917 the British government's intention of including more Indians in the governing process, Sarala Devi Choudhurani applied for an appointment for members of Bharat Stri Mahamandal to discuss women's educational needs. Members of the newly formed Women's Indian Association in Madras also requested an audience. Officials informed both groups that only deputation on political subjects would be heard. In December, Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949) from Hyderabad led an all-India delegation of prominent women, including Sarala Devi, to meet with Montagu and Chelmsford and request the vote for women. It was Sarojini Naidu and Sarala Devi Choudhurani who secured the support of Congress for women's franchise. In England, Sarojini Naidu spoke to the Joint Select Committee and said that all Indian women, including orthodox Hindu and Muslim women, wanted the vote. In the end, the House of Commons allowed provincial legislative councils to add women to the list of registered voters. Women's organisations worked for the removal of sex disqualification and in 1926 propertied women in Bengal won the right to vote. They composed 3.0% of the total electorate.
Gandhi played a seminal role in bringing women in Bengal and throughout India, into agitational politics. During the Non-cooperation Movement, Basanti Devi, Urmila Devi, and Suniti Devi, all members of Congress leader Chittaranjan Das' household, took to the streets to support the boycott against British goods and were arrested. Their detention grabbed public attention and Gandhi urged women all over India to follow the example of these brave Bengali women.
The Mahila Rastriya Sangha, begun in 1928 by Latika Ghosh (b 1902), was the first formal organisation to mobilise women in Bengal for political work. That year Subhas Chandra Bose also asked Latika to recruit a company of women volunteers to march with men in the procession to inaugurate the annual Congress meetings in Calcutta. She enlisted 300 women: students from Bethune College and Victoria Institution, and teachers employed by Calcutta Corporation. The Calcutta women formed the Nari Satyagraha Samiti in 1929 in response to the Congress call for women to be ready to serve the nation. During the Civil Disobedience Movement women made and sold salt, picketed cloth and liquor shops, preached the value of khaddar, and joined processions.
Muslims were generally suspicious of Congress at this time. However, on the eve of the Civil Disobedience movement, Hindus and Muslim in Calcutta joined to support the Carters' strike. On the first day of the strike seven cart-pullers were killed and the next day, Hindus and Muslims mourned together, while women showed their support by throwing flowers from their houses. But solidarity was the exception rather than the rule and riots, generally targeting shops and markets, broke out in a number of cities.
At this time revolutionary organisations were recruiting women, mostly students, to their ranks. There are four revolutionary women whose deeds have been valourised by nationalist historians. Shanti Ghosh (1916-1989) and Suniti Chowdhury (1917-1988), two schoolgirls from Comilla, shot Magistrate Stevens to death on 14 December 1931. In February of the next year, Bina Das (1911-1986) attempted to shoot the Governor of Bengal at the Calcutta University Convocation ceremonies. And, in September, Pritilata Waddedar (1911-1932), took part in a raid on the Chittagong Club.
In district towns and villages women joined processions, wore khaddar, and hid fleeing revolutionaries. Women from Medinipur, 24-Parganas, Khulna, Bakerganj, Noakhali, and Chittagong broke the salt laws and bravely endured police violence against them. It was in this tumultuous environment that Sarala Devi Choudhurani tried to organise a separate Women's Congress. Women from all over Bengal met in May 1931 to discuss this issue, but in the end stayed with the Indian National Congress.
By 1932 opposition to the government had decreased in the cities but increased in rural areas and among women. Muslim weavers and individuals trained in Deobandi Madrasas joined the movement at this time. The Communal Award and Poona Pact changed the nature of the debate since it was now clear there would be separate electorates for Muslims and reserved seats for the depressed castes. The Hindu Mahasabha, worried about the electoral future of Hindus, protested this decision and fomented propaganda about Muslim assaults on Hindu women.
It is only in the 20th century that detailed records of women's work are found. On the one hand, the growth of factories opened the door of employment for women, but on the other, mechanisation replaced avenues women had for earning money. In the jute mills of Bengal women were about 20% of the total workforce, but many of them were not Bengalis. Hindu and Muslim Bengali women were hindered by purdah restrictions and accounted for only 10% of the female jute workers. The decline of female employment in the jute mills, related to increased mechanisation and the imposition of labour legislation, was discernible from 1930. Although their numbers were small, women played a significant role in strikes and labour disturbances, as strike breakers, and as labour leaders.
Other women found work in the unorganised sector where they earned a living as maidservants, coolies, and prostitutes. These unregulated occupations flourished and continued to flourish in the modernising urban sectors. Beginning in the late 19th century, educated women were trained in the new professions open to them: teaching and medicine. In 1884 Kadambini Ganguly became the first woman admitted to Calcutta Medical College, but Bidhumukhi Bose and Virginia Mary Mitter were the first Indian women to graduate, completing their degrees in 1889. Campbell Medical School, offering a vernacular medical degree, opened its doors to women in 1888. Musammat Idennessa, the first Muslim woman to study medicine in Bengal, entered the programme in 1891. She graduated in 1894 and went on to serve as a medical doctor in Mymensingh.
Women were prominent in the Quit India Movement that began in 1942. When the movement spread to the countryside, large number of peasant women joined men in protesting taxes, land tenure, and landholder's rights. At the end of September 1942, peasants attacked police stations and destroyed telegraph lines in four sub-divisions of Medinipur district. When people of Tamluk sub-division marched on the town, Matangini Hazra, a 73-year old widow, stepped forward, lifted the Congress flag, and gave her first public speech. She was shot first in the hand holding the flag and then in the head.
Two Bengali women, Aruna Ganguli Asaf Ali (1909-1996) and Sucheta Mazumdar Kripalani (1908-1974), both domiciled in other parts of the country, became all-India leaders in this movement. In 1942 Aruna Asaf Ali went underground to organise the resistance and hinder the war effort. Sucheta Kripalani also went into hiding in 1942, but she worked to co-ordinate non-violent activity to bring the government to a standstill.
The Bengal Famine of 1943-1944 caused the death of at least 3.5 million people and the impoverishment and dislocation of millions more. Women who previously earned a living by husking paddy or trading in the local market were deprived of their incomes. In addition to food shortages, women faced sexual harassment when they sought employment or help from relief centres. During the famine years, women were visible both as victims and activists. Starving women begged for food in public places, while middle-class women worked to provide relief.
India was at war against Germany and its allies, but had not consented to this war. Subhas Chandra Bose escaped from Calcutta in January 1941, and by 1943 was in Singapore organising the Indian National Army. In addition to building a conventional army, he wanted to organise a unit of women to be called the Rani of Jhansi brigade. Before long he had 1000 women recruits and among them were a number of Bengali women, ready to fight to death to liberate the motherland.
The Tebhaga Movement of 1946 fully involved women. Among the young Communists who went to the countryside to organise the peasants were Rani Mitra Dasgupta, Manikuntala Sen, and Renu Chakravartty (1917-1994). Rural women readily joined the movement, at first in subsidiary roles, and then as leaders and fighters. One of the best known of these women was Bimala Majhi, a widow from Medinipur district, who became a successful organiser of women.
August 1946 catapulted sectarian politics into a new phase. Hindus and Muslims who had lived side by side now turned on each other with vicious intent. The Calcutta riots were followed by riots in Noakhali, Comilla, and Tippera.
In the period following 1947, an account of Bengali women must be told as two stories as new national identities shaped what they could do as women. [Geraldine Forbes]
Bibliography Usha Chakraborty, Condition of Bengal Women Around the 2nd Half of the Nineteenth Century, Calcutta, 1963; Ghulam Murshid, The Reluctant Debutante: Response of Bengali Women to Modernization, 1849-1905, Rajshahi, 1983; Meredith Borthwick, The Changing Role of Women in Bengal, 1849-1905, Princeton, 1984; RS Hossain, Sultana's Dream and Selections from the Secluded Ones (ed and translated by Roushan Jahan), New York, 1988; Tilottama Tharoor (ed), Naari. Calcutta, 1990; SN Amin, The World of Muslim Women in Colonial Bengal, 1876-1939, Leiden, 1996.
Constitutional status of women Women have some rights recognised by the Bangladesh Constitution. Article 15(d), under the heading of Fundamental Principles of State Policy, states that where the State accepts a fundamental responsibility towards raising the standard of living of the people, it specifically undertakes responsibility for providing social security to inter alias, widows. Article 17(a) provides for equal access of boys and girls to free and compulsory education upto the level to be decided by law. Article 18 (2) provides that the state shall take effective measures to prevent prostitution. Equal opportunity for all citizens is ensured by Article 19(1). Sub-section 2 of the same Article requires the state to take effective measures to remove socio-economic discrimination.
The Section Three of the Bangladesh Constitution contains provisions for fundamental rights. Rights and opportunities for women (or rights relevant to them) are the following:
Article 27: equality of all citizens before law and equal protection under law.
Article 28(1): no discrimination on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.
Article 28(2): equal opportunity for men and women in all spheres of state and public life.
Article 28(3): no discrimination on grounds only of religion race, caste, sex or place of birth in providing access to any place of public entertainment or resort, or admission to any educational institution.
Article 2(91): equal opportunity for all citizens in respect of employment or office in the service of the Republic.
Article 65(3): Women are free to contest election from any constituency. But originally 15 seats were reserved for women; the number has been raised to 30.
These provisions in the Constitution are believed to have provided adequate guarantee for women's rights in Bangladesh. In reality, however, despite the constitutional provisions, women's rights have little practical application. The government did not take any positive step to rescind the old laws antagonistic to women's rights.
The Constitution of Bangladesh made provision for reserved seats for women in the context of women's backwardness and disadvantageous situation. Originally 15 for ten years as per the Constitution of 1972, an amendment in 1978 increased this number of women's reserved seats to 30, and extended the period of reservation to fifteen years. The system was however interrupted in December 1987. Consequently, there was no provision for reserved women's seats in the 1988 parliamentary election. But, pressed by the strident demands of some women's organisations, the system was reinstated through the tenth Amendment in 1990 reserving 30 seats for 10 years from the date of the first meeting of the next Jatiya Sangsad. This limit has expired in 2000. [Shawkat Ara Husain]
Legal status of women indicates to what extent women enjoy equality in the socio-economic and political spheres of the country. Laws protecting women's rights provide the essential framework for formal equality to be transformed into reality. They also provide legal protection to women's rights by critically intervening in health, education and employment sectors.
The Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh is the ultimate source of the fundamental rights enjoyed by men and women. However, the day to day life of the people is governed by two sets of laws: civil and personal. The civil laws cover the rights of women under the Constitution; the personal laws cover the family life.
The Constitution of Bangladesh guarantees equal rights of men and women in all spheres of the State and public life enabling the State to take affirmative actions towards this end. Sub-Article (2) of Article 29 of the Constitution recognises political rights of women by clearly enunciating that no discrimination on the basis of sex shall be permitted.
Article 27 categorically states that all citizens are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of law. Article 28 permits the State to make 'special provisions in favour of women or children or for the advancement of any backward section of citizens'.
The supportive action by the government came through the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (UNCEDAW).
An analysis of the relevant text of the Constitution shows that the guarantees of equal rights between men and women do not extend to the private sector (i.e., the inheritance of property and matters concerning the family). In ratifying the UNCEDAW, the government had reservation regarding the provisions related to equal rights within the family. This is a sharp departure from the commitment made by the government to establish gender equality. The civil laws are supposed to maintain non-discrimination between men and women. But some of these laws are openly discriminatory against women. The Citizenship Act of 1951 is an example of such discrimination. This Act encroaches upon a woman's right to enjoy the same legal status as that of a man.
Though criminal laws are not based on religious laws, these laws fail to maintain non-discrimination between men and women in some respect. Under the existing criminal laws, rape is defined as an act of sexual violence, but proving charge of rape is very difficult for a woman as the rules of evidence require that the victim has to undergo medical test to prove the incidence f forcible sexual violence as well as her lack of consent. The victim and the accused have been put on the same footing, as the law requires that the victim's testimony must be corroborated by at least circumstantial evidence.
The Constitution guarantees non-discrimination and full application of the existing labour laws in the industrial sector. Women workers hardly get any protection from these laws. Widespread disregard of the existing labour legislation in the government sector where majority workers are women is a rule rather than an exception. Existing practices in industrial workplaces enable the management to bypass its statutory obligations. Preferential recruitment of unmarried women and extending the period of probation of women workers beyond the statutory period deprives many of these legitimate/legal rights. Despite a rapid increase in the number of women workers in the informal sector, their rights are not protected by law.
A wide gap exists between the rights and status of women guaranteed by the Constitution and those imposed on them by social norms and practices reflected in personal laws. The family laws are based on personal laws of the respective religious community into which a person is born. Thus, civil laws and personal laws co-exist perpetuating male-female disparities with regard to marriage, divorce, guardianship, custody of children and inheritance.
Under the Muslim law, marriage is a contract between two individuals and to make it valid the consent of both partners in the presence of two witnesses is essential. With regard to child marriage, the law states that should a girl be married off by her parents during infancy, the marriage must be endorsed or dissolved by the girl on her attaining puberty. In a bid to restraint child marriage, the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 (amended in 1984) raised the minimum age of marriage for both women and men. The 1984 amendment fixed the minimum age at 18 for women and 21 years for men. But widespread contraventions of this law prove that its enforcement is very weak, and there is hardly any prosecution for any breach of this law. Although the law provides for punishment in cases of contravention, the Act has no provision to make such marriages invalid. Limited polygamy is permitted in Islam whereby a man is allowed to marry upto four wives at a time on condition that: (a) the husband has the means to maintain the wives according to their status; and (b) all the wives be given equal share of his love and affection and be treated by him with complete equality. But in the absence of any mechanism to enforce these directives, the senior wives generally become victims of the husband's cruelty and neglect. In an attempt to provide protection to these wives, the Family Laws Ordinance 1961 forbids a man to contract a marriage during the subsistence of an existing marriage without the prior permission in writing of the Arbitration Council on certain grounds and of the wife/wives. The punishment consists in the immediate payment of the entire dower or mahr (a fixed sum of money agreed to be paid by the husband to the wife). Prompt dower is immediately payable to the wife on demand and deferred dower is payable on dissolution of marriage. The punishment also includes imprisonment upto one year or fine upto taka 5000 or both. However, the Ordinance has no provision to make the subsequent marriage illegal. Under the Muslim law, divorce can be had in any of the following manner: (a) mutual consent of the husband and the wife without court's intervention; (b) a judicial decree on request of the wife on one or more grounds specified in the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act 1939 and the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance, 1961; and (c) divorce by the husband at will without assigning any reason.
However, the right of talak (divorce), where a marriage is irrevocably and immediately dissolved by simply pronouncing the intention in front of witnesses, has been modified by the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance, 1961. Under the procedure to be followed, talak does not become effective immediately. A period of 90 days would have to intervene between the date of serving the notice to the Union Parishad chairman (the lowest tier of the local government system in Bangladesh) and the divorced wife and the date when the divorce becomes effective, and in the meantime to attempt reconciliation through the Arbitration Council formed with the chairman of the Union Parishad and nominees of the husband and wife.
The right to divorce at will is not enjoyed by a Muslim wife unless her husband delegates such right on her in the marriage deed (kabin) registered by the Muslim Marriage Registrar. However, she can obtain a divorce through a court decree, which is an uncertain, lengthy and costly process involving complicated procedure. Despite the legal reforms, gender discrimination still persists in the sphere of marriage and divorce.
Under the Muslim law, the wife inherits a fixed share of one-eighth of the deceased husband's estate if he leaves behind any child or children. If he does not leave behind any child or children, the wife inherits a quarter of the husband's estate.
A daughter, who is an only child, inherits half the estate of her late father or mother. If there is more than one daughter and no son, then the daughters jointly inherit two-thirds of the estate. However, if there is a son (or sons), the daughter's or each of the daughter's share will be equal to half of the son's or half of each of the son's share. In all cases within the family man inherits more than the woman does. Thus, in the field of inheritance also, personal laws continue to remain grossly gender discriminatory.
Under the Muslim law, the mother is never entitled to guardianship of property of her children. It lies with the father and after him with his father and brothers. However, the mother is entitled to the care and custody of her sons until they attain seven years of old and of her daughters till attaining puberty.
The laws, as modified by the Guardian and Wards Act of 1890, state that the welfare of the child is more important than the rights of the parents. A mother may also have her child beyond the specified ages if the court is satisfied that it would not be well looked after by the father. The mother may also apply to the court for guardianship of the child in the absence of male agnatic near relations. But it involves expensive and time-consuming litigation over a long period. The father can dispose of the child's property for its legal necessity, but the mother cannot do so without the prior permission of the court even if she is the appointed guardian of the child. A Muslim mother is entitled to maintenance from her son if he is solvent financially.
The existing law requires that every Muslim marriage solemnised must be registered. There has also been an enactment titled Marriage and Divorce Registration Act, 1974.
Again, despite the existence of a law to restrain child marriage, the girls are being married off well below the minimum age of 18 years by false declaration of such age before the Marriage Registrar. However, it is difficult to enforce this law due to the absence of compulsory birth registration in Bangladesh, particularly in the rural areas before 2001 when it was made compulsory. Although religion has made provisions for dower, the payment is rarely made. The society has made provisions for dowry (money, jewelry, and luxury items presented by the bride's guardians at marriage), and it has become a tradition though it is prohibited under the Dowry Prohibition Ordinance 1985 and also a punishable offence. Non-payment of dowry, more often than not, brings disaster to the lives of many women.
While the civil laws are applicable to the Hindu community, marriage, divorce, inheritance and guardianship, which relate to the private sphere, are governed by the Hindu Personal Laws. These laws have remained unchanged since 1947, though Hindu law has been substantially changed in India after 1947.
In the Hindu religion, marriage is a sacrament, not a contract. The foremost duty of a Hindu father is to marry her daughters off. The girl's consent in marriage is not required; nor is divorce possible; and unrestricted polygamy is allowed. The father is always the preferred guardian of his children, while the mother can be the guardian, her rights are inferior to those of the father. Not all daughters of a man are equally eligible to inherit. In order of priority, unmarried daughters and married daughters can inherit in the absence of any son, and in the presence of a son no daughter can inherit any property of the father. But daughter inherits mother's self acquired property (stridhan). A Hindu widow inherits life-interest in husband's property like a son and that only in non-agricultural property, otherwise in husband's agricultural property she has only a charge of maintenance. To raise status of women in public life government has taken certain affirmative actions through various legislations. Reservation of seat for election of women members in the Union Parishad, Pourashava, City Council and District Council, and of one of the two vice chairmen of Upazila Parishad has been made. Draft women policy has come with promises for raising of status of women but due to stiff resistance by the traditionalists it has not yet been finalized. Hindu law permits adoption, but only of boys. [Khaleda Salahuddin]
Violence against women The United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995 recognises violence against women as one of the crucial problems with the relationship between men and women. The Conference observes that women are subjected to acts of violence by men throughout the world. However, the extent of violence against women in developing countries is much greater than that in developed countries.
Generally speaking, violence against women means forcible acts of physical, psychological or sexual abuse of women. This kind of violence may occur on' individual level or in the family or within the general community. The violence derives essentially from unequal social positions and unequal rights of men and women. In the male-dominated civilization the subordinate status of women is manifested in various rules and regulations, rites and practices, and manners and customs which are directly or indirectly used for perpetrating violence against women. For the women to remain confined within the home, to wear burkhas (veils), to have unequal right of inheritance, to play a subordinate role in the family and in the society, and countless other discriminatory practices are indeed a kind of silent violence' against women. And this is what physical and sexual violence against women originates from.
Violence against women is a serious problem in Bangladesh. Fourteen per cent of maternal deaths in the country are caused by violence against women. Acid attacks on women are quite commonplace. Women seriously wounded in violence are admitted to hospitals and health centres almost everyday. Reports on human rights indicate that acts of crime against women are gradually escalating.
The main forms of violence against women are: sexual abuse, rape, injury and murder, female infanticide/ foeticide, fatwa-dictated abuse of women, injury and murder related to dowry demands, marriage or divorce, incest, prostitution, and trafficking in women.
Acts of domestic abuse constitute the most universal form of violence against women. Political, social, cultural and religious practices forced women into a subordinate position to men. The Constitution of Bangladesh proclaims that women shall have equal rights with men in all spheres of the State and of public life. To put the principle into practice, the government also enacted various laws at different times for preventing violence against women.
The government has established the Ministry of Women and Children's Affairs with a view to eliminating violence against women as well as achieving other development goals. The Ministry has taken a number of measures to eliminate abuse of women. These include (a) provision of legal aid through newly created organisations such as Legal Aid Committee, Women Assistance Programme, and Prevention of Oppression on Women Cell; (b) provision of accommodation, medical treatment and primary education for abused women and children at the Abused Women and Children's Accommodation and Rehabilitation Centres, and giving them training in different trades; (c) establishing Employment Exchange Information Centre for women, and conducting training courses on computer operation, shorthand, typewriting etc for them with a view to facilitating their employment and empowerment.
The Government of Bangladesh welcomed different steps taken by the United Nations and other development agencies to eliminate violence against women. It may be mentioned that Bangladesh acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1984, excepting a few of its Articles. Bangladesh also endorsed the measures recommended in the World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995 to eliminate violence against women which was one of the twelve issues on the agenda of the Conference. [Nilufar Parvin]
Women in Civil Service No detailed information exists on the number of women in the civil service in British India (c 1757-1947). Yet, one gets an impression that their number in administrative apparatus during that period was insignificant. In fact, during the early years women were legally debarred to enter the higher administrative posts. They were mostly employed in the Medical Services, Indian Educational Service, Provincial Educational Service, and in the Posts and Telegraph Department. At lower level they were allowed to enter the clerical services in the Home Department, Directorate of Intelligence Bureau, Finance, Security Printing, Defense, Armed Forces, Geological Survey of India, Explosives Sector, Labour and Lands, All-India Radio, Military Accounts, and miscellaneous posts in the Central Board of Revenue.
After its creation in 1947, Pakistan had kept intact the system of civil service developed by the British. Although the 1956 and 1962 Constitutions of Pakistan ensured equality of opportunity for all citizens with regard to public employment, in reality the situation was quite different. The recruitment rules adopted at the central level allowed the women to enter most of the central services, including the Audit and Accounts Service, Military Accounts Service, Income Tax Service, Postal Service, but they were not eligible to enter the All-Pakistan Services, i.e., the Civil Service of Pakistan (CSP) and the Police Service of Pakistan (PSP). Nevertheless, women were appointed increasingly to those professional services such as education and health both at the central and provincial levels as well as to the subordinate services. However, it is likely for anyone to assume that unequal representation of women in the civil service in Pakistan was aggravated due to their persistent social backwardness.
Though women in Bangladesh have since liberation been encouraged to enter all kinds of professions alongside the men, their persistent social backwardness prevented them to have equal access to the top levels of administration in the governmental hierarchy. Yet, beginning in the early 1970s, the government have been trying hard to involve and integrate women in the policy and decision making processes. Many steps were being undertaken during the last thirty-eight years to change the status and conditions of women through provisions of laws, executive orders, policy interventions and building of institutions. These steps and measures seem consistent with similar steps of the United Nations, e.g., the Declaration of International Women's Year in 1975, designation of UN Decade for Women (1975-85), adoption of Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Indeed, all these measures seem to have influenced the government a great deal to adopt policies and programmes: to enhance women's status, roles and rights. Moreover, the outcomes of four World Women Conferences in Mexico, Denmark, Nairobi and Beijing also have raised greater hopes for the Bangladeshi women.
The Constitution of Bangladesh gives equal right to women to enter any employment or office in the civil service. The Constitution not only ensures equality of sexes but also acknowledges the necessity of remedying the existing unequal representation by reserving certain percentage of civil service posts for the women. One of the most important laws regarding women's participation in administration is the reservation of quota for women's employment in the civil service. Initially the reserved quota for women was introduced in 1972, but became effective after a modified government order issued in 1976. The order ruled to reserve 10 percent women quota in all categories of vacancies subject to their fulfillment of basic qualifications. However, this reservation of quota was not to be applied in respect of recruitment to certain technical posts, posts in the defense services, and such other posts, which may be considered unsuitable for women. However, another order issued in July 1985 revised and partly modified the quota system with a view to increasing women's participation in the services. The order was made mandatory to all government, semi-government and autonomous bodies and different sector corporations in case of direct appointments. Now 10 percent gazetted posts and 15 percent non-gazetted posts are kept reserved for women in addition to merit, which is applicable to all types of public employment. So on the basis of merit and sex women can get entry to public service. They can also enter the public service through quotas for freedom fighters, tribals, and Ansars and VDP, if they belong to any of these groups. There is also a provision for reserving 60 percent posts of primary school teachers for women.
Another aspect of quota is that, it is applicable only at the entry level. Few women who had joined the public service beyond that level (contract, deputation or lateral entry) therefore did not derive any benefit from the quota system. Before the quota system was introduced, only 6.60 percent of jobs in the public sector excluding nationalized industries and statutory bodies went to women on the basis of merit. After the introduction of female quota in 1976, the number of female employees increased by about 3 percent and the quota system does not seem to have affected the pattern of employment in favour of women in any noticeable degree.
In spite of constitutional provisions for guaranteeing equal representation of women in all sectors and continuous support and cooperation from local and international agencies in advocating women rights, the situation of women employment in administration has remained marginal. After independence of Bangladesh, the number of women civil servants gradually increased. From 1972 to 1983 only 1417 women were recruited in fifteen cadres, and among these cadres women civil servants were mostly employed in Education and Health cadres and at the lower levels. These female civil servants represent only 4.89 percent of the total civil servants in different cadres of the civil service. Before the quota policy was introduced, the total number of civil servants (excluding public sector, industries) was 3,31,189. Out of this only 23,420 women were employed in the governmental services. At present, out of total public sector employment of 9,71,028, only 83,156 are women. About 8.56 percent are women and among them over 90 percent (74,884) were class III and class IV employees i.e., the vast majority of women in the civil service are low-paid and clerical staff. But women's position at the top administrative and managerial classes (about 10 percent) with higher prestige and pay is extremely meager. This is despite the reservation of quotas, 10 percent for class I and class II posts and 15 percent for class II and class IV posts.
In the Secretariat, the number of female employees is very insignificant. In the various Ministries and Divisions, out of 8611 employees, only 784 are females (about 9.1 percent). The civil servants are broadly divided into four categories, namely class I and class II gazetted officers, class III non-gazetted officers and class IV employees. Only 212 women out of 2070 gazetted officers are employed in class I and II. However, out of 6541 civil servants about 572 women non-gazetted officers and employees are employed in class III and IV. Currently, there is one woman secretary, one additional secretary, five joint secretaries and eight deputy secretaries. [Salma Ahmad]
Women in Development is a relatively recent addition to development vocabulary and, as a concept, reaffirms that women have a significant role to play in social and economic development both nationally and globally. WID requires that women are associated with development activities and an environment is created to make their participation possible. Women in Bangladesh often suffer from the traditional value system of a patriarchal society and gender discrimination. Women do not have adequate access to and are deprived of many benefits from services in education, health, employment and governance. They give birth to children, contribute to their care and work in managing household work, but often do not get proper recognition. Women are more likely to be employed without the benefit of legal or Institutional support is evident from the fact that 84% of women in rural and 59% in urban areas are employed as unpaid family workers. Women in Bangladesh work 21 hours more than men do in a week and although the female household labor is treated as economic activity, it is not counted for in estimating national income. Female labour in family based small and cottage industries is also not accounted for. Identity of a woman is frequently determined by the occupation and social status of the male head of the family. Even within the family, especially in rural areas, women get the lesser share of food and healthcare as well as of inherited property. The Constitution of Bangladesh recognizes equal rights of women but the family laws and laws relating to religious rites put men and women on unequal platforms. Women emancipation movements and efforts in women empowerment open new avenues for their broader participation in economic activities and also for recognition of women as agents for change and development.
The women's rights movement has been demanding a uniform, non discriminatory Civil Code to govern matters under religion-based personal laws. Numerous women's rights groups have lobbied for legislative uniformity for all citizens, and the two major political parties have in previous election manifesto made a few concessions to the need for eliminating discrimination. The bangladesh mahila parishad brought out for the first time a draft model Uniform Family Code, after the culmination of several seminars and workshops on the subject. Since 1994, several other organizations collaborated with Mahila Parishad to try to improve upon the draft and make the model truly representative as a uniform, common law for all Bangladeshi, irrespective of gender or religion. This draft code by the Bangladesh Mahila Parishad was a first breakthrough as a decidedly 'Uniform Laws. In 1996, Bangladesh Mahila Parishad and Ain O Shalish Kendra jointly brought out an improved version of the original draft of Uniform Family Code, and also formulated a charter of benefits that should ideally result from a Uniform Personal Code, but no further progress has occurred due to governmental inaction.
The NGO Periodic (Shadow) Report 2004 on CEDAW, UFC has strongly recommended for the development of women in the PRSP document. Based on the discussion in the UN.
CEDAW committee meeting in July 2004, made some suggestions to the Bangladesh Government e.g define discrimination particularly for domestic violence, marital rap etc, training for judicial, health and legal personnel difference in personal rights be removed by introducing Uniform Family Code.
Though some gaps still exist within the present legal procedure, women's access to the legal system has improved over the years. Some laws have been enacted which have widened the way to establish women's rights in all spheres of life. In fact establishments of the mediation court, enactment of the Acid Throwing Act and the formation of women and children Repression Prevention Tribunal have been considered as positive steps of Bangladesh Government in this regard.
Women in employment in Bangladesh number about 25 million. Only about 10,000 of them are in administrative and managerial services. Nearly 79% work in agriculture (including fishery and forestry), 9.9% work in manufacturing and transport sectors, 5.3% are service sector workers, 3% are professional/ technical workers, 2.2% are sales workers, and 0.6% are clerical workers. This distribution does not account for employment of women in Food for Work activities, especially in construction and maintenance of rural roads. A large segment of women is in self-employed, especially in crop cultivation, fishery, poultry, kitchen, gardening, homestead afforestation, cane and bamboo craft. About 34% of unpaid workers in small and cottage industries are women. They constitute a significant share of urban labour-intensive industries, especially in garments sector, where their share is more than 80% of all employees.
In addition to providing labour, women contribute to development by way of being entrepreneurs and creating investment and employment opportunities for others. Handicraft is the most preferred area of women entrepreneurship. These income generating activities in both rural and urban areas cover mainly sewing of cloths, drawing, batik, and boutique, embroidery, and food sales. Urban working women are employed at sales counters, reception desks, and advertising agencies as well as in educational and health services, legal services, performing arts, print and electronic media, management services, research organizations and NGOs.
Not many women work at the top administrative level of the government. Only two among the 51 secretaries, one among the 80 additional secretaries, three among 251 joint secretaries and seven among 474 deputy secretaries are women. In the banking sector, only one woman works as general manager. In the police administration, 1956 among 1,24,000 polices are women. One out of 1966 woman is D.I.G, four are additional, 253 are A.S.I and 1331 women are working as constables, and in the armed forces, there is only one woman brigadier in the medical core. In National Review Board, only one woman works as an executive member with men. There are 18 women working as tax cadre in the tax department. Four among 18 are the tax commissioner, 8 among 18 are assistant tax commissioner and rest 6 women are working as joint commissioners. Women can complete with men in seeking government jobs, but there are also reserve quotas for them. The number of women employees in government service is about 85,000 (8.6% of total) of whom only 1% are in ministries, 16.5% are in the autonomous organizations and 82.5% are in general offices. They hold 7% of class-I jobs, 3% class-II, 75% class-III, and 15% class-IV jobs.
Women have a limited role in decision making at the national level since among many factors their participation in politics and Jatiya Sangsad is marginal. Of the 300 directly elected seats of the Sangsad women occupy only 23 seats, and about 40 ministers in the cabinet only 4 are women. Total number of 57 women candidates from different political parties were contested in 62 seats in the 9th Jatiya Sangsad election. All elected women were contested against men except one. The 9th Sangsad was formed with the 345 seats including both direct and 45 reserved seats. In Sangsad 68 among 345 are women members. Out of 45 reserved seats, Awami Leaque occupied 35, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) 5, Jatiya Party 4 and other political parties received only one seat as per distribution. All the nominations came straightly from the parties and candidates were all elected without any contest.
The 15-member presidium and secretariat of Bangladesh Awami Leaque have 3 women and out of the 75 members of its national executive committee 8 are women. The 12-member standing committee of the BNP has only one woman, and its 260-member national executive committee has 12 women. The 31-member standing executive committee of Jatiya Party (Ershad) has only 2 women and its 200-member national executive committee has 15 women. The 237-member of the Majlish-i-Shura of Jamaat-e-Islami has 35 women, but there is no woman member in its Majlish-i-amela. The 33-member central committee of the Communist Party of Bangladesh (C.P.B) has only three women. Women members are also very few in the elected bodies of local government. For example, among the 4,276 chairmen of the Union Parishads only 22 are women and of the 38,484 elected members of these parishads the number of women is only 85.
As an affirmative step Bangladesh has announced the National Policy on women in 1997 but failed to put forward any concrete proposal on how the policy was to be realized because of lack of understanding with the major opposing party in the Jatiya Sangsad. Besides, the Fundamentalist groups and the Jamaat-e-Islami are totally against the policy.
WID activities are fairly widespread in the NGO sector. The apex body of NGOs in Bangladesh ADAB has a 15-member executive committee with five women. Thirty eight of its 886 member organizations work for women. But unfortunately, ADAB was deadlocked in 2001, because of increasing its internal leadership conflict. The majority member organizations turned out and formed another apex body in the name of The Federation of NGOs in Bangladesh (FNB). The 21- member executive committee of FNB has only 4 women organizations. Now the 85 of its 479 member organizations work for women and their activities include organizing women in groups and associations, raising their social awareness, ensuring their increased access to credit and income generating activities, mobilizing them in protecting basic human rights, providing them training in livelihood skills and creating increased health and education services for them..
There are many barriers to participation of women in development. Women are forced to work in agriculture or other sectors at wages much below the usual rates. Apart from wage distribution, women face problems in entry to labour market in general, and even if some access is available they do not have the opportunity to weigh the' specific jobs against compensation or are able to influence decisions. Target groups for self-employment schemes of the government and majority of non-government organizations include poor and landless women but since the questions of reaching the poor and of designing and implementing programs for the poorest of the poor remain wide open, women of marginal families can hardly avail of the benefits of NGO programs.
A majority precondition for participation of women in development to be effective is the empowerment and enhancement of their capabilities as well as of their status to have and exercise rights in decision making. Development of Women started in Bengal as a movement against early marriage, the pardah system, and injustice to women in the name of religious norms. Added to the agenda later were the rights of women to have education and to participate in vote and elections, peasant movement, politics, economic activities and administration. At the international level, organizations are now emphasise on participation of women in programs of poverty alleviation, demographic transition, and services relating to basic needs.
The constitution prohibits discrimination against women on grounds of their religion, caste, or place of birth. The constitution incorporates the principle of special representation of women in local self-governing bodies. In line with this provision, three women members are elected to each of the union councils and municipal councils of the country. There are also forty five reserve seats for women in the Jatiya Sangsad.
The government has established Women Rehabilitation Board, Rehabilitation and Welfare Foundation, National Women's Organization, Department of Women Affairs and separate Ministry of Women and Children Affairs. The Department of Women Affairs has offices in all 64 districts and in 136 upazilas. The National Women's Organization implements its programs of women development with its offices in 236 upazilas.
The government promotes the interests of women through activities like construction of hostels for working women, assistance to women in slum areas, establishment of day care centers for children of women in work, introduction of separate buses for women to take them to and from work places, maintaining women's quota in recruitment for government jobs, implementing a women entrepreneur development project, creating opportunities for self-employment of both urban and rural women and training of women in vocational and technical skills.
The economic empowerment, security and creation of job opportunity for women have been given top priority in the Constitution of Bangladesh, CEDAW charter, Declaration of Human Rights charter and the National Policy of women.
Bangladesh ratified the UN Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against women (CEDAW) with the reservation on article 2 and article 16 and actively participated in the Beijing Platform for action that identified 12 major barriers to development of women and also the steps to be taken by governments, international community and NGOs to overcome them. The government of Bangladesh and NGOs have undertaken action plans in the light of recommendations of the Beijing Forum and the government organizations involved in implementation of these plans include ministries of agriculture, forests and environment, health and family planning, social welfare, information, planning, youth and sports, culture, foreign affairs, science and technology and education. Organizations other than government ministries, departments and directorates involved in the process are non-profit voluntary organizations, women's associations, mass organizations, labor associations, professional associations, clubs, network, forum and NGOs. [Nibedita Das Purkayastha]
Women in trade and commerce Women's participation in the labour force has been increasing in Bangladesh. But in general, employment opportunities are very limited. The government of Bangladesh and Non-Government Organisations undertake programmes to alleviate poverty by creating employment opportunities. One way to alleviate poverty is to empower women economically, especially through projects that encourage women to engage themselves in entrepreneurial income generating activities. Historically, in both developed and developing countries, male entrepreneurs by far outnumber female entrepreneurs. Likewise, women in Bangladesh are yet to be in the main stream of entrepreneurial activities. The presence of female entrepreneurs is insignificant except in micro-enterprises. Most women entrepreneurs are 'micro-entrepreneurs' who operate in the informal sector concentrated mainly in rural markets. However, a few of them are found in organised sector such as the garment industry.
There is considerable evidence to indicate that women are more disadvantaged than men in relation to the opportunities arising from social structures and dynamics. First, most women are not much aware of their own abilities and business opportunities that they can take advantage of, due to lack of education and restricted social mobility. Second, even if otherwise qualified, women often do not have the kind of access to credit or control over capital that is required for taking risks in business ventures. Third, there are legal barriers or conventions that create bottlenecks for women. For example, if they apply to commercial banks for even relatively small loans, they are required to have a male partners. For this reason, if they want to undertake relatively large scale business operations, women entrepreneurs are often required to team up with male partners. Similarly, women's ability to negotiate terms and conditions of institutional credit is critically affected by the predominant gender ideology. Women entrepreneurs face some special problems too. Men tend to take women entrepreneurs less seriously. This has discouraging impact on women. For many women entrepreneurs, it is an uphill task to compete in the market dominated by male entrepreneurs. Traditional mobility constraints and social conventions discourage women to undertake business negotiations with male strangers.
A recent country level report presented by the International Labor Organisation points out some factors that render Bangladeshi women entrepreneurs additionally disadvantaged. These observations are based on a survey that mostly relates to the small enterprises outside microcredit operations. According to the report, prior to starting business, male entrepreneurs have much longer work experience (4.9 years) in similar businesses than women have (only 0.8 years). Most male entrepreneurs (73.8% of the sample) could generate a sizable equity from their own savings while only 40.1% of women could generate some savings. As a result, women faced more difficulty in meeting the banks' debt-equity ratio requirement, which in turn disqualified women for bank loan. Because of restricted mobility of the female entrepreneurs, most female-owned enterprises (86%), of necessity, are located within the home premises. For this reason, women often lose locational advantages of doing business. Most importantly, initial capital available to a female entrepreneur to start a business was found on average to be one sixth of that available to a male entrepreneur to start the same type of business.
There is a new trend that transcends the limitation of micro-credit. An increasing number of enterprises are being set up by women in trade and services sectors. All such women come from wealthy families and therefore, they are able to overcome some of the institutional obstacles. Women owned boutiques, beauty saloons and restaurants are very common in major cities, as are family-based catering operations. In the professional field, women architects and engineers have begun to open up their own consulting businesses rather than work for firms run by men where their talents were often marginalised or discounted. It is, however, not unusual to find women running businesses such as groceries, health clinics, or cold storage facilities, or travel and advertising agencies. Running of schools, particularly English medium ones, or tutorials, now attract many women entrepreneurs. A private university has also been established by a women entrepreneur. Although very few in number, some women have established their own garment factories. Incidentally, Baishakhi Garments, one of the oldest garments manufacturing factories, was established by a woman in 1980.
Women entrepreneurs are mobilizing their social capital. Women in urban areas have begun to realise the advantages of uniting in order to press for their rights. In fact, women entrepreneurs of Dhaka formed an association, which tries to promote the interests of women in business. To promote women's entrepreneurial activities, MIDAS (Micro Industries Development Assistance Society) instituted a Women Entrepreneurship Development Committee headed by a leading woman entrepreneur of the country. This committee helps women to start businesses by offering collateral free loans. At monthly meetings, women' entrepreneurs are given counseling on various aspects of business activities.
Historically, women in Bangladesh have actively participated in many economic activities, especially in the household and farming activities. Official statistics, however, do not record their contribution to GDP. A sizable number of such women has always been entrepreneurs in the sense that they used their own or borrowed capital to undertake business enterprises such as raising farm animals or kitchen gardening to earn a livelihood. This entrepreneurial class emerged very visibly because of the introduction of micro-credit by Grameen Bank. Individually, these entrepreneurs are very small in size but as a group, they constitute the largest women entrepreneurial class in Bangladesh.
The government plays an important role in fostering conditions for entrepreneurial success. Government investment in women's development is the most effective means of improving health, nutrition, hygiene, educational standards and entrepreneurship. The government encourages governmental and non-governmental collaboration to create an environment in which female entrepreneurship can develop. A large number of programmes and projects are implemented to empower women and eradicate poverty. Apart from the socio-cultural constraints, a major obstacle for women to become an entrepreneur is their lack of access to credit. With the success of Grameen Bank in its micro-credit schemes, other large NGOs and nationalised commercial banks undertook micro-credit programmes. These programmes encourage women to become entrepreneurs. Recently, the number of women entrepreneurs has increased. The micro-enterprises started by women with the help of micro-finance enable women to improve the quality of life for themselves and for their families. Many women prefer self-employment. They do not want to work for others because of rigid job-requirements, lack of childcare services, unacceptable working conditions, rigid hours, job frustration, gender-discrimination etc.
The Fifth Five Year Plan (1997-2002) stipulates amending current laws with a view to promoting women's development. As for micro-credit, the government created an institutional framework to support capacity building. The innovative role of Grameen Bank has had tremendous positive impact on the development of female entrepreneurs. Following Grameen Bank, many NGOs now contribute to the growth and development of women entrepreneurs, although the help is limited to small-scale enterprises. The Rural Enterprise Project of BRAC creates special opportunities for women entrepreneurs in non-farm activities such as iodized salt production, hybrid paddy cultivation, hand-made paper production, and garment waste processing. The programme support enterprises of BRAC provide essential inputs to its group members in an effort to reduce their business risks. The entrepreneurs, however, face problems in marketing their products. They operate primarily in limited local markets. In case of milk, eggs, poultry, handicrafts, processed foods, beef-fattening, etc some marketing network is being gradually developed. This helps development of women entrepreneurship in the rural areas. [Najma Siddiqi]
Women in journalism Bangali women first appeared on the scene of journalism in the field of editing periodicals. Fortnightly Bangamahila was the first periodical edited by a woman. It was first published on 14 April 1870. Its editor was Mokshamdayini Mukhopadhyay. The first monthly gender-based magazine run by women was Anathini published in July 1875. The first weekly magazine edited by a woman was Bangabasini launched on 28 September 1883. The first monthly magazine edited by a Muslim woman Begum Sufia Khatun was Anlesha which was first published in Baishakh 1328 (1921) AD. Papya was the first quarterly magazine edited by a woman from Dhaka. Edited by Bibhabati Sen, this illustrated periodical was meant for children. The Bulbul edited by Shamsunnahar and Mohammad Habibullah used to be brought out thrice a year. Its first issue was published in 1933, which was converted into a monthly from 1936. The first weekly edited by a Muslim woman was Begum launched on 20 July 1947. Nurjahan Begum and Sufia Begum were responsible for editing it. But from its 12th issue onwards (2 November) Nurjahan Begum alone has been editing it.
The first periodical edited by women from this part of Bengal was Banganari. It was first published from Mymensingh in 1923 with Chinmoyee Devi as its editor. Tripura Hitoyishi edited by Urmila Sinha used to be published from Comilla. She was in charge of editing it from 1924 onwards. The quarterly Papya edited by Bibhabati Sen and published from Dhaka in 1927 was transformed into a monthly from 1928.
The illustrated monthly Jayasree edited by Leelabati Nag was first published from Dhaka in April 1931. Kamalbashini Devi was the principal editor of fortnightly Asrami published from Rangpur. It was first published on 1 January 1941. Sultana was brought out on 14 January 1949 as the first women's weekly published from East Bengal. Its editor was Sufia Kamal and Jahanara Arzoo. Naobahar was published from Dhaka in 1949 under the editorship of Mahfuza Khatun. Monthly Manashi was published in Aswin 1357 (1950 AD) from Pabna with Kumari Jyotsna Rani Datta as editor.
Although women were initially involved in editing newspapers, they gradually entered other areas of journalism as well. However, the entry of women in journalism has been rather slow in this part of Bengal during the Pakistan era. Prominent among them were Laila Samad, Noorjahan Begum, Jahanara Arzoo, Mafruha Chowdhury, Mahfuza Khatun, Hasina Ashraf, Selina Hossain, Baby Moudud and Tahmina Sayeed.
The scenario has changed a lot since the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent state in 1971. Now, many educated women are entering the profession of journalism and their number is increasing day by day. This is true not only for the print media but also for the electronic media.
According to a survey carried out by the Press Institute of Bangladesh in 1990, the representation of women in the print and electronic media of Dhaka was around 5% (4% in newspapers, 5% in radio and 6% in television). Most of the women employed in newspapers were working in the editorial section with a handful in reporting assignments. It has been found in the survey that although there is less discrimination between men and women in enrolment to communication courses at the university, opportunities for women to enter the profession are not uniform or equal. The recruitment policy does not favour women and not all jobs in journalism are open to them. Due to social and cultural constraints, the job of reporting and assignments which entail field-work are not considered suitable for women. Therefore most of them are found to be doing desk-work in editorial sections. The situation in the electronic media, i.e. Radio and Television, is a bit better than the newspapers in the sense that here the proportion of women staff is higher. This is mainly because of the reserve quota for women in government jobs. [Helal Uddin Ahmed and Mahbubul Alam]
Women in politics Women's place in Bangladesh politics has progressed through four distinct stages: (i) leadership level; (ii) quota system; (iii) electoral politics; and (iv) women's movement. The nature and scope of women's participation in politics of the country is laid down in the Constitution of 1972. It guarantees equal rights to both sexes while specifically stipulating in article 29 that 'No citizen shall, on the grounds of ... sex ... be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect of, any employment or office in the service of the Republic. The declared intention was to enhance women's participation at the national level politics and tap women's potential leadership capabilities. In the light of the existing socio-economic and cultural matrix of Bangladesh a constitutional provision empowered the Jatiya Sangsad to create reserved seats for women in the Jatiya Sangsad to be elected by the elected members of the legislature.
The debates regarding women's reserved seats in the legislature again is not a new phenomenon. It can be traced to the discussions of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, which had only two women representatives. These two ladies had previously demanded 10% quota of reserved seats for women at the legislatures at the Franchise Committee of the Round Table Conference in 1935, but managed to get the assurance of only 3% quota. Once Pakistan became independent, quest for increased reserved seats for women became an issue. But the demands for increased number of reserved seats for women went unheeded and at the final meeting of the Constituent Assembly when the draft bill for the charter of women's rights was discussed 3% quota for the women in the national and provincial assemblies were kept in tact. However, the 1956 Constitution of Pakistan, in order to guarantee more space and scope for women's participation, accepted dual voting rights of the women, thus accepting the principle of female suffrage for women's reserved seats on the basis of women's special territorial constituencies as well as their rights to vote for the general constituencies. Women's interest in legislative politics were also evidenced by the fact that in the provincial election of the then East Bengal three women got elected to the provincial assembly.
But the gradual deterioration of the democratic order and imposition of martial law in 1958 left only a few avenues for the women to press forward their demands for democratic representation in the legislature. And all throughout Ayub era ie between 1958 and 1969 the scope of women's legislative politics was tightly kept within the gambit of state patronage. The 1962 Constitution of Ayub Khan abolished female suffrage for women's reserved seats on the basis of women's territorial constituencies, which was granted under the 1956 Constitution, and provision was made for only seven reserved seats for the women to be indirectly elected by the male members of the legislature. The mode of election of women from the reserved seats made them dependent on their male counterparts. That was the beginning of women's token representation at the national legislature of the country. Its manifestations are still being felt in the post-independence period of Bangladesh's history.
In the context of the prevailing socio-economic conditions of women, the Constitution of Bangladesh made provision for continuation of reserved seats for the women to be elected by the elected members of the Jatiya Sangsad. The number of such seats was increased to 15 although, however, the Constitution says, the provision is to be withdrawn once the condition of women will improve.
Thanks to the mode of election, these seats act as a 'vote bank' for the majority parliamentary party. Naturally questions have been raised as to genuine effectiveness of women's representation in the Jatiya Sangsad. Despite such misgivings, the government raised the number of seats from 15 to 30 for another ten years just days before the parliamentary election of 1979. Intense debates concerning women's quota in the legislature and its mode of election continued both inside and outside the Sangsad following the lapse of the provision. Women's organisations, especially a coalition of 17 women's organisations called Oikkobaddha Nari Samaj in its 17-point demands asked for the increase of number of reserved seats to be directly elected. But the system of 30 reserved seats for the women to be indirectly elected was incorporated in 1990 for another ten years through a constitutional amendment.
Devolution of power to the local self-government is fundamental in any functioning democracy. The union parishad, the lowest tier of the government, thus, plays an important role in this endeavour. But women's representation at this important local self-government has been intermittent and ineffective. During the British rule in 1946 the union parishad consisted of both elected and nominated members but there was no specific provisions for the nomination of women per se. As a matter of fact women for the first time got the right to vote at the local bodies in 1956 when the election was held on the basis of adult franchise and not depended on the possession of property, tax payment and educational qualifications for voting in local bodies. Following the independence, for the first time in the history of the land, statutory representation of women was provided for at the lowest tier of the local government. So far six union parishad elections (1973, 1977, 1984, 1988, 1993, 1997) have been held and the number of elected female chairmen has risen from 1 in 1973 to 24 in 1993 and 20 in 1997. Provision for nominated women members were made mandatory by 1976 and 1984 ordinances ie one-third reserved seats for women are to be nominated by the upazila parishad, and women members of upazila parishad are to be nominated by the government.
Participation of active women in the local government units opened an opportunity for them to be associated with the power structure. The method of indirect election of the women by their elected male counterparts, (similar method followed at the national level) proved to be effective through the induction of women from influential and powerful local elite families. A parliamentary amendment in September 1997 has made the provision for one-third reserved seats for women subject to direct election, which has far reaching impacts on women's active participation in politics. According to the Election Commission source some 46,000 women out of a total of 2,04,908 candidates contested in the union parishad election in December 1997. About 44,421 contested for 12,954 reserved seats while the rest fought against male opponents. Since their constituencies are larger than those of their male counterparts they have to work hard and put in long hours. One hundred women have won from the general seats and there are now 20 elected female chairpersons. For the first time women belonging to landless or marginal farmers have been elected instead of women from the influential families.
Neither Bangladesh Nationalist Party (bnp) nor Awami League had put any woman candidate from the general seats during parliamentary election of 1979. Out of 2125 candidates only 17 were female contesting from 15 general seats and came out elected. But women's participation in mainstream electoral politics rose from 0.3% to 0.9%
Women's credibility as candidates was further enhanced during the election of 1986. Ruling Jatiya Party, for the first time, put up two women candidates from general seats. Awami League put up 8 candidates, including the party leader Sheikh Hasina from the general seats. Four other political parties also put up women candidates. In all 20 candidates contested from the general seats and 5 got elected. Women's participation enhanced from 0.9% to 1.3%. The term for the constitutionally guaranteed reserved seats for women expired in December 1987. The 1988 Jatiya Sangsad, thus, had no reserved seats. Women's electoral politics in general seats instead of intensifying declined sharply. Their participation rate came down from 1.3% to 0.7%. It was even lower than the rate of participation in 1979. A major reason for such trend was the boycott of the election by all major opposition parties.
The number of political parties that contested in the elections of 1991 was 75, of which 16 gave nominations to 47 women candidates. Only 8 of them got elected. In the seventh 1996 parliamentary election seven women, including Begum Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina got elected. This is a remarkable shift from the situation in 1979. At present, the percentage of women's mainstream electoral politics is 1.5% which is certainly an improvement compared to 0.3% in 1973. But it is still a far cry from women's mainstreaming into country's electoral politics.
Mobilisation of women through women's organisations had largely begun during the Pakistan era through voluntary social services for the rehabilitation of the refugees flowing into the country following the partition of 1947. Women's Voluntary Service was the first attempt to organise women outside the then ruling Muslim League. This organisation was the forerunner of the subsequent women's organisations like All Pakistan Women's Association, Federation of University Women and Karachi Business and Professional Women's Club. Subsequently, other professional women's organisations also came into being, but almost all of these organisations' main thrust had been welfare oriented and creation of social awareness among women like women's education, development of skills and income generation and setting up of child and mothercare centres. The All Pakistan Women's Association, however, played a significant role in pushing for the Family Laws Ordinance of 1961 and was in favour of reservation of seats for women in the national and provincial assemblies. But since APWA (All Pakistan Woman Association) was aligned with the government of the day its activities failed to highlight women's demands for creating their greater participation in politics. Only organisation with specific women's rights was the United Front for Women's Rights but it too could not successfully create any platform for pushing women's agenda.
Following independence of Bangladesh in 1971 the women's movement basically remained centred around welfare activities. It should, however, be mentioned that women had begun to take part in agitation politics as evidenced by their participation during the anti-Ayub movement of 1968-69 and formation of organisations like East Pakistan Mahila Sangram, which attempted to mobilize women in people's struggle against martial law and East Pakistan Mahila Parishad in 1970 with political and social demands specifically geared towards women's needs. They demanded election of sovereign parliament, direct election for the reserved seats for women, equal payment for the female workers (though the percentage of female workers were insignificant at the time), establishment of mother/child centres and shishu hospitals etc. But the growth of the nascent women's movement in Bangladesh was stunted due to steady deterioration of the democratic order of the country and the ideological inclination of the emergent women's organisations which were aligned with the then ruling party and sought to resolve women's issues within the gambit of socialist transformation of the society.
Women's participation in politics, however, remained peripheral despite state interventions to enhance their participation. But the impacts of worldwide consciousness among the women activities about the persistent inequality in gender relations created a new direction and impetus to women's movement the impact of which were felt in Bangladesh as well. In 1980s there emerged women's movement in Bangladesh, which many apprehended would be a replica of the West, but the movement soon was founded on indigenous feminists issues, roots, new leadership, new organisations and new modes of organisational behaviour. As the decade of 1980s rolled on there also emerged a new breed of women's organisations and leadership in Bangladesh besides hundreds of existing ones delivering social services and skill training. The new brand has more specific programmes in order to end discriminatory practices against women. Issues like violence against women, rape, dowry and fatwa deaths, trafficking of women, unequal wages, exploitation of women in labour intensive industries like garment, apathy of the traditional trade unions towards women labours' needs, rights of access to credit and means of production like land, unequal political and social right became rallying points for the women's organisations. Both urban and rural women were mobilized significantly, on the issues of violence, rape, dowry and fatwa deaths, acid throwing and the like which indicate the powerlessness, subordination and vulnerability of women in the society.
Violence against women has, thus, become the most emotive issue around which women came together on non-partisan basis. However, neither large-scale policy initiatives from the government have come forth to alleviate the situation for the women nor the women's organisations have been able to organise large-scale help, support, and shelter and provide alternative ways of living for the victims. At present, various women's organisations are working for the strategies adopted at the Platform of Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference in Beijing in 1995.
The role of United Nations in the context of internationalism has also helped intensify women's movement in Bangladesh. The Decade of Women (1975-85) helped increase women's consciousness about their rights as enunciated in the convention on Political Rights of Women in 1952. Subsequent adoption of Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination in 1979, three World Conferences in Mexico (1975), Nairobi (1985), and Beijing (1995) gave impetus to coalition building activities in Bangladesh. In late 1980s a coalition of about 20 organisations called Oikyabaddha Nari Samaj put forward far-reaching 17-point demands. This included among other things equal rights, ratification of CEDAW without any reservations, uniform civil code, increase of quota in the civil service, equal pay for the female garment workers, implementation of ILO legal rights like maternity leave with pay and other facilities, employment opportunities for landless and urban destitute women, and minimum pay for domestic helpers. The agenda of the coalition was successful in articulating the social and economic needs of the women. Mahila Parishad, the most organised one with its own legal aid cells and dedicated cadre, has successfully created platform to highlight women's agenda, and has claimed that the ratification of CEDAW in 1985 by the government of Bangladesh was done mainly due to their activities. The growing awareness of the women is evidenced by their concerted demonstrations when a women political activist was manhandled in public and her democratic rights were violated.
There is no doubt that women's movement in Bangladesh has played a commendable role in creating awareness and political consciousness among the women population of the country. Women's organisations have acted as forums for women's leadership training as well as channels to bring women's voices to proper perspectives and to the fore. Through seminars, workshops and writings they have highlighted the alarming lack of women's participation in shaping the public policy, which affect their everyday lives. But their consistent demand for power sharing and decision making process of the country has been met with intermittent and slow responses from the male dominated political system. There is not yet any Women's National Coalition, which can put women's issues on the national agenda.
Integration of women into the mainstream of the democratic order in Bangladesh has been slow, intermittent and difficult. The ideologies of classical democracy, and patriarchy, which shape the dispensation of the state discourse, make women's political participation difficult. As such women being poor and disadvantaged remained at the periphery of the system. Women's participation in politics in Bangladesh, no doubt, has made progress thanks to initiatives taken by the state. [Dilara Choudhury]
Women in the War of Liberation Women had played glorious roles in the War of Liberation. They very spontaneously participated in the Sangram Parishads (Resistance Councils) which were formed in various parts of the country prior to the beginning of the War of Liberation. Their participation further expanded during the course of the war. In camps of freedom fighters, many women also joined and took training alongside men in the guerilla fighting and use of weapons.
In various forms women fought in the War of Liberation. Women like Taraman (Bir Pratik), Kakan Bibi, Rahima Begum directly participated in the liberation war and fought in the field. The participation of many others took the forms of nursing the wounded fighters, giving shelter and hospitality and care to fighters in the field. Many women collected money, clothes and medicines for freedom fighters.
About two hundred thousand women, innocent and liberation activist, were raped by the enemy forces and many of them were burdened with war-babies. In recognition of their role in the liberation war, they were later declared by government as Birangana or heroines. Due to social and cultural constraints many of these women refrained themselves from declaring their fate and accepting the honorific title. Though government announced to give state support to war-babies, most raped mothers handed their babies to foreign adopters.
Until now, there is no dependable public account of the activities and fate of the women freedom fighters. In 1990, a private association called Nari Grantha Prabartana was established with the objectives of highlighting the activities of women freedom fighters. Another organisation, Mahila Muktiyodha Samsad (Council of Women Freedom Fighters) was established in 1997. Currently, the Ministry in charge of the affairs of the War of Liberation is planning to record the role of women in the War of Liberation. [Sahida Begum]
Women in literature and culture From the late nineteenth century series of contribution of woman is witnessed in Bangla literature. Their writings are distinctive in view of literary excellence and originality. Social discrimination against women and autocracy of men induced the women-folk to float movement for asserting their self respect. At the initial stage though pathos was witnessed in their literature rather than the spirit of resistance, later it turned to be an attempt for asserting their self respect. Following is an evaluation of the contribution of the noted women writers and cultural activists in literature and culture.
Literature Swarna Kumari Devi's (1855-1932) noted books of verse' are Gatha (1880), Kavita O Gan (1895). Best book of verse of Mankumari Basu (1863-1943) is Kavya-kusumanjali (1884). Her poems relate to society, nature, devotion to motherland, current affairs, juvenile issues and mythology. Kamini Roy's (1864-1933) poems are free from complexity and are absolutely imitation free. Her noted books are Alo O Chhaya' (1889), Pouranikee (1897), Deep O Dhup (1929), Nirmalya (1891), Ashok-Sangeet (sonnet, 1914), Jiban-pathe (sonnet, 1930) etc. Saralabala Sarkar (1875-1961) was a Vishnava poet. Her two books of poetry, Prabaha (1904) and Arghya (1951) are rich in rhythm, vocabulary and patriotism. Uma Devi's popular poetical work is Batayan, an anthology of fourteen sonnets. Her poems represent a picture of day to day life of the people. Mahmuda Khatun Siddiqua's' (1906-1977) three books of poetry are Pasharini (1931), Man O Mrttika (1960) and Aranyer Sur (1966). Sufia Kamal (1911-1999) was a poet, litterateur, social activist and organiser. She was all through vocal against autocracy, bigotry and communalism. Most notable of her books of poetry are Sanjher Maya (1938), Maya kavya (1951), Mon O Jiban (1957), Udatta Prithibi (1964), Prashanti O Prarthana, Diwana, Swanirbachita Kavita Samkalan etc. The subject matter of her poem includes love, nature, personal feelings, painful memory, national festivals, patriotism, War of Liberation, and religious feelings. Her poems represent emotion and simplicity of language. Her poems written during the War of Liberation in 1971 were later published as an anthology as Mor Jaduder Samadhi Pare. During the war she urged upon the women-society to do something for the sake of the native land through her poem Benibinyas Samoyto Ar Nai. The poems of Maitrayee Devi represent her thought on nature and life. Udita (1929), Chittachhaya (1938) are her noted works. Notable among Jahanara Arju's books are Neel Swapna (1962), Raudra Jhara Gan (1964), Crandasi Atmaja (1984). The noted works of Taslima Nasrin are Sikoray Bipul Ksudha (1986), Nirbasita Bahire Antare (1989), Atale Antareen (1991), Nirbachita Naree (1992), Nirbachita Nareer Kavita (1996).
Swarna Kumari Devi is mostly known as a prose writer and novelist of mid nineteenth century. She was the editor of monthly Bharati. Notable among her novels are Bidroha, Kahake, Swapnabani, Milanratri, Snehalata Ba Palita, and historical novels Phuler Mela, Mibar-raj, Huglir Imam Bari. Two novels of Nirupama Devi (1883-1951) are Annapurnar Mandir (1913) and Didi ((1915). Love and internal conflict of conjugal life are the main subject matter of her novels. The theme of her novels, style of writing and expression are simple. Anurupa Devi's (1882-1954) novels Poshyaputra (1911), Jyotihhara (1915), Bagdatta (1914), Mantrashakti (1915), Mahanisha (1919) are based on daily life activities and historical events. Her plot of novels are influenced by western theme. The literary works of Roquiah Sakhawat Hossain (1880-1932) represent a protest against the misuse of provision, reference to contemporary political events, social prejudice, education for women, social repression on women, women's rights, their mental and physical condition and also her progressive views for women's awakening. She also criticised the secluded and depressed condition of women in the male dominated society. Her most noted novel is Padmarag (1924). Nurunnessa Khatun Vidyavinodini Sahitya Swaraswati (1894-1975) was the president of Vangiya Moslem Mahila Sangha. Her notable novels are Swapnadrasta (1923), Janoki Bai (1924), Atmadan (1925), Bhagyachakra, Bidhilipi, Niati. In her novels she depicts historical events, a vivid picture of Muslim family and domestic tale based on reality and in very simple term. Daulatunnessa Khatun's (1918-1997) novel Pather Parosh (1957) is not only the protest against the contemporary immorality and deception but also describes the eternal characteristics of vested interest. Prabhavati Devi Saraswati (1905-1972) wrote more than one hundred novels such as Amba (1922), Ayusmati (1923), Bijita (1923), Jagaran (1333 BS), Samsar Pather Yatra etc. Sarasibala Basu's novels represent simple and lucid language. Pryashchitta (1919), Shibali (1921), Shuktara (1922) and Rekha (1922) are her notable novels. Shekh Andu, Mishti Sarbat (1920), Abak (1925), Namita (1918), Janma Aparadhi (1920), Janma Avishapta (1921), Mangalmath (1327 BS), Imandar (1922), Mahimadevi (1923) are the noted books of Shailabala Goshjaya (1894-1974). Nilima Ibrahim's (1921-2002) novels Bis Shataker Meye (1958), Ek Path Dui Bank (1958), Keyabana Sancharini (1958) and Pathasranta are based on the problems of contemporary life. Her notable book on War of Liberation is Ami Birangana Balchhi. Jahanara Imam (1929-1994) wrote her diary Ekattarer Dinguli (1986) based on liberation war. Her other novels include Anya Jiban (1985), Jiban Mrtyu (1988), Buker Bhitare Agun (1990), Nataker Abasan (1990), Dui Meru (1990). The novels of Selina Hossain mainly deal with liberation war, 1952 language movement and the events that occurred before the partition of India in 1947. Her noted novels are Hangar Nadi Grenade (1976), Japita Jiban (1981), Nirantar Ghantadhwani (1984). In addition, her novels Pokamakarer Gharbasati (1986), Neel Moyurer Jauban (1983) narrated the life style in Bengali society between 7th and 12th century. Mukti (1992), Nilimay Neel (1992), Hridaye Bangladesh (1993), Russeler Juddha Jatra (1994) are the noted novels of Panna Kaiser. The novels Battolar Upanyas (1959) and Anukalpa (1959) of Razia Khan are based on triangular love and represent the artistic analysis of mental agony, individual feelings and complication of nineteenth century human life. Her novel Hey Maha Jiban represents the transition of depressed conjugal life of the progressive character Amina to abnegation in amorous love. Nasreen Jahan's novels Udukku (1993), Ishwarer Bam Hat (2007), Mrtyusakhigan (2006) describe inner wailing of men,, conflict of life, socio-economic crisis and instability of the third world. Rabeya Khatun's notable novels are Ananta Anvesa (1969), Madhumati (1963), Mon Ek Shveta Kapotee (1965), Baanna Galir Ek Gali (1984). The backdrop of her well known novel Feraree Surya (1974) is the black night of 25 March, 1971. Her novel Neel Nishit (1984) presents the sequence of revulson of feelings consequent upon the depression from unsuccessful love, and her novel E Vadar Maha Vadar (1988) is based on illegal conjugal relation. Mahasweta Devi's works are primarily on the Munda aborigines. Her noted books are Natee (1957), Hajar Chaurashir Ma (1975), Tarunyer Adhikar (1977), Agnigarbha (1978), Kagojer Nauka, Jani Tumi Asbe, Priyer Kanthosar, Lekhoker Swapna, Sonali Sandha, Harano Manik are some of the novels of Romena Afaz. She is popular for her detective novels. Razia Mazid's noted novels are Tamasa Baloy (1966), Diganter Swapna (1967), Meghe Jaltaranga (1985), Naksatrer Patan (1982), Dandaye Achhi Eka (1987). Ar Ek Jiban (1968), Jal Rang Chhabi (1984), Baishakhe Shirna Nadi (1983) Abasanna Gan (1982), Kaler Mandira (1997) are some of the novels of Mokbula Manzoor. Rizia Rahman's novel Ekal Chirakal (1984) depicts the picture of well and woe, expectation and achievement, religious faith and superstition, exploitation and deception, jealousy and selfishness of the Santal life. Her novel Bang Theke Bangla (1987) depicts the life of the Bangalis, neglected and deceived for centuries and inspired by the spirit of Bangali nationalism. Dilara Hashim's novel Ghar Man Janala (1965) portrayed the urban life style. Besides, she wrote Ekada Ebong Ananta (1975), Stabdhater Kane Kane (1977), Amlakir Mau (1978), Anukta Padavalee (1998). Aparpaksa (1992), Shodh (1992), Lajja (1993), Vandini (2008) are some of the novels of Taslima Nasrin.
Nabakahini is a Swarna Kumari Devi is a noted book of short stories; Indira Devi's (1889-1912) Nirmalya (1912), Ketaki (1915) and Phuler Toda; Suruchi Bala Roy's Marmasmrti (1919), Jhara Pata O Ahuti; Sarasi Bala Basu's short story Shreyasee (1921) and Milan; Jotirmayee Devi's (1894-1988) Sona Rupa Noy (BS 1376), Rajghotak (1941), Ababallir Adale (1955), Band Masterer Ma (1961), Ababallir Kahini (1965) are noted book of stories. Sufia Kamal's short story is Keyar Kanta (1937); Razia Mahbub's Khapchhada (1958), Dur Bhashini (1969), Swanirbachita Galpa (1962); Mokbula Manzoor's Sayahna Yuthika, Diba Ratri; Rizia Rahman's Agniswaksar; Iffat Ara's Rodan Bhara Basanta (1989), Nona Swader Jiban (1990), Ekaki Andhakare (1994), Sukh Jakhan Sesh Belai (2000); Selina Hossain's Utsa Theke Nirantar, Khol Karotal, Manusti; Nazma Jesmin Chowdhury's Megh Kete Gele, Anya Nayak, Bari Theke Paliye; Jharna Rahman's Kalthunti, Anya Ek Andhaker, Jibaner Jal O Anal; Nasreen Jahan's Sthabir Yauban (1984), Bichurna Chhaya (1985), Surya-tapasi (1989), Path Hay Path (1989) are some of the noted books.
Jnanadanandini Devi wrote two dramas, Sat Bhai Champa and Thak Duma Dum and were published in 1910 in the journal Balak. Swarna Kumari Devi's noted dramas are Nibedita, Dibya Kamal, musical drama Basanta-Utsab (1801), Bibaha Utsab (1892), poetical drama Yuganta, Kautuknatya O Bibidha Katha, Deva Kautuka and satire Kane Badal, Pakchakra. Amala Devi's drama Bhikharini (1914), Sarjubala Dasgupta's' Trivenee Sangam (1914), Devottar Biswanatya (1915), Annapurna (BS 1322) are worth mentioning, Devottar Biswanatya is an allegorical drama based on the conflict between the lobourer and the upper classes. The picture of contemporary society has been reflected in Nilima Ibrahim's dramas Duye Duye Char, Naba Meghadut, Manoneeta, Je Aranye Alo Nei.
Among the essay writers mention may be made of Roquiah Sakhawat Hossain, Nilima Ibrahim, Begum Samsunnahar Mahmud, Sanjida Khatun, Hosne ara Shahed, Begum Akter Kamal, Siddiqa Mahmuda, Monwara Hossain, Siddiqa Kabir, Selina Hossain, Razia Khan, Razia Mahbub, Razia Sultana, Shahida Akhter, Mahbuba Siddiqi and Nasreen Jahan.
Song Indira Devi Chowdhurani (1873-1960) obtained diploma in music from the Trinity College of Music and received lessons in classical music (vocal) from Badridas Mukul. Subsequently, many of her writings on music were published in magazines like' Bamabodhini, Bangalaksmi, Sadhana, Parichay and Sabujpatra. Her most important contribution is the making of Swaralipi of two hundred Tagore songs including Mayar Khela, Bhanusingher Padavali and Kal Mrigaya. She was a teacher of Rabindra song in Sangeet Bhaban of Santiniketan. Sati Devi (1911-1979) was a famous singer of Tagore song and song of Atulprasad. She taught song at Indian Cultural Centre established by Uday Sankar in Almora. Besides, she was associated with the Pritthi Theatre of Bombay and was the director of musical school 'Surbitan'. In addition, she recorded many songs of Himangshu Datta and of Dwijendralal Roy. Firoza Begum is mostly known as a singer of Nazrul song and composer of its musical notation. In 1393 BS, His Masters Voice Company of Kolkata released 11 record of songs of Firoza Begum. For her contribution towards the development of songs and music, she was awarded Swadhinata Padak (1976), National Television Award (1976), Ekushey Padak, and Shilpakala Academy Award (1979). Gita Datta was a playback singer of films. She sung a number of popular songs in films and Gramophone records. Khaleda Manzoor-e Khuda was a regular singer of Dhaka Radio from 1951 to 1955 and sung Tagore song, modern song, folk song and religious songs. At that time as a Rabindra singer she was popularly known as Khaleda Fency Khanam. Sanjida Khatun is a Rabindra singer and Rabindra-researcher. Besides, she was the president of Gana Shilpi Sanstha and a singer of Muktijoddha Sangitshilpi in 1971. Chhaya Ahmed is a song composer of Radio Bangladesh. Ferdausi Rahman is a regular singer of Bangladesh Television since its inception. She sings thumri, gazal, Nazrul geeti, modern song, bhawaiya, bhatiyali and folk' song. She is a play back singer too. She tuned about two hundred songs in film. Anjuman Ara Begum was a singer of Radio-television and cinema since 1969. She studied the art of music at Hawaii University in 1965 under a scholarship. She was awarded Tarakalok medal 95. Kalyani Ghosh is a famous singer of radio, television and cinema. During the War of Liberation in 1971, she as a member of the Bangladesh Tarun Shilpi Goshthi presented songs in different town and refugee camps in India in favour of the war. Moreover, she worked with Calcutta Youth Care, a famous music team of Kolkata. Abha Alam (1947-1976) was a classical singer and teacher. She was a principal of Atiq Sangeet Academy, vice' principal of Senanibas Sangeet Academy and the examiner of classical song of Dhaka University and Dhaka Education Board. In recognition of her significant contribution to music she was awarded Ekushey Padak in 1978. Lily Islam completed a diploma course on Rabindra song and classical song and also got Bachelor and Masters degree in Rabindra songs from Santiniketan. She was a teacher of Jhumur Lalitakala Academy. Nilufar Yasmeen (1948-2003) regularly contributed classical music, Nazrul songs and songs of Atulprasad, Dwijendralal and Rajanikanta in Bangladesh Television. She was a teacher in the Department of Drama and Song in the Dhaka University. Runa Laila is a prominent singer of international repute. She has numerous playbacks for movies in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan during the late 1960s,1970s and early 1980s. Pakistan television broadcasted a popular series programme as 'Bajme Laila' in honour of Runa Laila. She earned great reputation at home and abroad for her significant role in music. She was awarded the Graduate Niger Film Critic Award in 1968, Swadhinata Award in 1977. Sabina Yasmin is one of the most popular singers of Bangladesh. She has reigned supreme in the realm of Bangladeshi music for the last 40 years. She is one of those few vocalists who is equally sought after in Bangladesh as well as in India. She has recorded more than 10 thousand songs and established her position in the late 1970s and early 1980s with numerous patriotic songs and folk songs. She was awarded the Independence Award, Ekushey Padak and National Film Award. Haimanti Sukla is a famous singer both of Bangladesh and India. She permanently settled in West Bengal after the partition of India. She had numerous long play and disk records. Rezwana Chowdhury Banya is a famous Rabindra singer and now serving as a teacher in Sangeet Department in Dhaka University. Mita Haq is a noted artist of Rabindra sangeet and now serving in the musical department of Chhayanaut, a cultural organization set up in 1961. Other Rabindra singers of this institution include Laisa Ahmed Lisa, Elora Ahmed Sukla, Nilufar Jahan. Shahin Samad, one of the most popular singers of Nazrul song, has now been serving in Chhayanaut. Other noted singers of Chhayanaut include Nasima Shahin Fancy, Sharmin Sathi Islam, Masuda Nargis, Nabanita Chakrabarty, Roksana Hossain Munni, Farhana Akter Sharley, Afroza Khan Mita and Anindita Chowdhury. Besides,' Ferdaus Ara, Shahnaz Rahmatulla, Shabnam Mushtari, Fauzia Yasmin, Fatematuzzohra, Dilruba Khan, Shammi Akhter, Momtaz Begum, Kanak Chanpa, Samina Chowdhury, Fahmida Nabi, Farida Yasmin, Abida Sultana, Sumana Haq, Doli Sayantani' are noted artistes in different arena of the musical world.
Acting Sultana Zaman (1935-2012) is the first Bangali and Muslim actress who acted in numerous films both in Bangla and Urdu such as Matir Pahar (1959), Sonar Kajal (1962), Chanda (1962), Zoar Alo (1962), Satrang (1965), Mala (1965), Uzala (1966),' Abar Banabase (1966), Rupban (1966), Mayurpankhi (1968), Natun Diganta (1968), Maner Mato Bau (1969), Trisna (1978) and was awarded the Chitrakash Award, National Film Award (2009). Anwara is one of the most popular actresses in film industry, acted in more than fifty films. Her notable films are Nayan Moni, Golapi Ekhan Traine, Nawab Sirajuddaula. She was awarded National Film Award, Bangladesh Journalist Society Award etc. Atia Chowdhury acted in the main character of Nawab Sirajuddaula (1967), 'Arun Barun Kiranmala (1968), Sat Bhai Champa (1968). Kabari Sarwar acted in Lalan Fakir, Sujan Sakhi and Sareng Bau; She was awarded National Film Award and bachsas Award. Champa acted in drama Shahjadir Kalo Nekab, film Tin Kanya, Bheja Chokh, Padma-Meghna-Jamuna, Padma Nadir Majhi, Moner Manush. Doli Ibrahim (1948-1991) was the best actress of the film Surya Dighal Badi. Natun acted in Pran Sajani, Rajlaksmi Srikanta, Ora Egaro Jan, Pagla Raja, Maheshkhalir Banke, Fakir Majnu Shah and was awarded BACHSAS Award in 1983 for her performance in the film Pran Sajani. Babita was awarded National Film Award in 1985 for her performance in Ramer Sumati, Basundhara Award in 1977 as best actress and BACHSAS Award in 1985 for her performance in Dahan film. Rawshan Jamil (1931-2002) acted in Ali Baba, Jiban Theka Neya, Maner Mato Bau, Titas Ekti Nadir Nam, Golapi Ekhon Trane, Ebar Tora Manush Ha, Ora Egaro Jan etc. Rozina acted in a lot of films and was awarded BACHSAS Award in 1984 and in 1985 as the best actress. In addition, she was honoured by Indian Kalpa Mandir in 1986 and from Pakistan in 1987. Shamim Akhter Rozi was awarded Razu Ahmed Gold Medal in 1974, National Film Award, Sequence Award in 1975, BACHSAS Award in 1977, Chitrali O Bangabandhu Award in 1389 BS in recognition of her contribution to film industry. Sabana was awarded National Film Award for the films Sakhi Tumi kar (1980), Dui Paiser Alta (1982), Nazma (1983), Bhat De (1984), Apeksa (1987) and was awarded BACHSAS Award twice for her performance in Lal Kajal in 1987 and Rajlaksmi Srikanta in 1987. Suchitra Sen came to the lime light for her acting in the film Pathe Halo Deri, released in 1957. In 1961 she acted in the central character in the film Saptapadi which was adorned as best film by Bengal Film Journalist Association. She was awarded as the best actress in the International Film Festival for her performance in the film Sat Panke Bandha,' released in 1963.'
Tripti Mitra, the pioneer of drama movement in the 1940s, came to the lime light for her extraordinary performance as actress in the drama Nabanna of Indian Gananatya Sangha. As one of the leaders of the Bahurupi Natya-gosthi, Tripti Mitra contributed to the excellence of the art of drama for more than four decades. Dilara Jaman was an eminent drama actress of Television and vice president of Radio and Television Shilpi Sangsad. Ferdausi Majumder is a popular drama artist of radio and television. In 1975 she was awarded National Television Award for the first time as the best actress and Sequence Award of Merit in the same year. In addition, she was awarded Shilpa Kala Academy Award (1977), Kazi Mahbubullah Gold Medal (1981), Bangladesh Medal (1985), Manik Mia Memorial Medal (1987) and Bangabandhu Award. Lucky Inam, a member of the Nagarik Natya Dal acted in more than one hundred dramas and was awarded Sequence Award in 1984. Subarna Mustafa is a prominent drama artist both in stage and in television. Her first stage theatre is Jandis O Bibidha Beloon and television drama Baraf Gala Nadi. Others noteworthy artists of this genre are Shabnam, Sharmili Ahmed, Banani Chowdhury, Doly Jahur, Ayesha Akter, Laila Hasan, Jahanara Ahmed, Keya Chowdhury, Tamalika Karmaker, Rokeya Prachi, Trapa Majumder, Shami Kaiser, Afsana Mimi, Bipasha Hayat.
Sculpture Novera Ahmed (1930-1989) was the first noted artist of sculpture in Bangladesh. She assisted Hamidur Rahman in drawing the design of' the central Shaheed Minar. In October in 1958 when Marshal Law was promulgated in the country, the work of the construction of the central Shaheed Minar came to a stand still, and' Novera Ahmed restarted the work at her own accord. In 1961 her bust 'Child Philosopher' got the best sculpture award at the All Pakistan Painting and Sculpture Exhibition. Most of her sculptures were made of bronze. In her sculptures she made a synthesis between the' European concept and the' indigenous subject and technic. Notable among Shamim Shikder's sculptures are Swaparjita Swadhinata (TSC, Dhaka University), La-gayenika (In front of Foreign Ministry), sculpture at state guest house 'Padma', sculpture in front of Prime Minister's residence, Police Club, and in Comilla cantonment. Besides, she made the bust of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Siraj Sikder. In addition she made calligraphy art in front of secretariat of Prime minister, Third Gate of Dhaka Cantonment, Hazrat Shahjalal Biman Bandar, and Foreign Service Academy, Sugandha.
Painting In 1920 Meher Banu sent two of her paintings to the monthly Moslem Bharat in Kolkata. Kazi Nazrul Islam was inspired by one of the paintings and wrote the poem Kheyaparer Tarani after it. Meher' Banu's painting were published in the Shravan 1327 BS (July-August 1920) issue of the Moslem Bharat. This was the first painting by a Bengali Muslim woman to be published. In a yearly exhibition of Dhaka Charu O Karukala Maha- Vidyalay Meharun got Category Award in 1978 and Best Award in 1980 for her oil painting. Besides, her photography 'Concern' was published in Bangladesh Memorandum (1972-1982). Farida Zaman emerged as an artist with original characteristics at the end of the seventies. She selected river, fish and fishing nets as her subject matter which are very familiar in Bangali life. She created her painting by mainly adopting the composition of waves, scribbles, texture fine or thick lines, slight interplay of light and shade that is within the structure of the net. She divides the pictorial through horizontal and vertical curved lines and shapes through which the composition of the fishing net is expressed. Even she uses oil paint, applies the colour like a light wash, which is mingled with layers of light and shade. Recently Farida zaman's art work projects a few different subjects. Nasreen Begum chose water colour as her key medium. Though at first she created painting in water colour in the conventional oriental style, later her work began to display her distinctive style. Through an open door in the middle of the canvas the world on the opposite is seen through this form. She represents the post-marriage tragedy of ruined dreams as against the pre-marriage hopes and desires of a woman life. Through her selection of meaningful symbols and measured application of colours, the dualistic life of woman is manifested. Rokeya began as a printmaker, but later she is known as an artist inclined to experiment in various media of painting. The world of woman was the subject to her interest at the beginning, especially the mother and child (Myedona) which may be a reflection of her individual feelings. Gradually her interest went beyond the limits of the world of woman, and began to spread into the wonder of the universe and of the existence of man and woman. Rokeya wished to capture the form of universal nature in abstract composition by using exceptional media such as tempera and by capitalising on the somewhat suddenly created surface of the canvas. Nazlee Laila instead of representing the form of injustice towards woman through a few familiar symbols of protest, which the woman artist generally do, has chosen a manner of expression completely distinct. Though her style is representative, she gives a multi-angular dimension to her paintings by varying realistic perspective and by freedom in the selection of colours. Niloofar Chakma, one of the youngest artists of the 1980s, had her compositions strongly distinctive. At the beginning she used her skill of creating realistic figures, bringing simplicity to figures, two dimensionality and geometric composition to the picture plane. Her paintings are virtually monochromatic. Later she brought further changes to her style and also brought the shapes down to composition as well. Atia Islam Anne sometimes represents, with horrific reality, the position of a woman in a male dominated society, woman who faces outrageous brutality of man driven by carnal passions and woman who is chained by the same society. Her paintings are a direct expression of a society. Kanak Chanpa is most probably the first notable artist who created the mainstream art. The interest, conflicts and sorrows within the inner being of tribal people were somewhat manifested for the first time in Kanak Chanpa's paintings. The conventional method of paintings and the romanticism of sensitivity have influenced her artworks as well. Sometime the hilly atmosphere and many things linked with the people of that region is being manifested in Kanak Chanpa's paintings with a different connotation. Tayeba Begum Lipi emerged as an artist mindful of the entity of woman. Gradually she moved towards mixed and installation art. She represents the condition of the secluded woman in purdah in our society. She expands the boundaries of her contemplation and uses suggestive metaphors indicating the overall inconsistencies of society. Sulekha Choudhury's paintings express that position in almost straightforward language. Her paintings primarily depict of sufferings and loneliness of woman in domestic life rather than in society.
Photography Sayeeda Khanum is the pioneer among the women photographers of the country. In 1961 she started photo journalism through the weekly journal Begum. Later, she got many awards and recognitions at home and abroad including first prize in the All Pakistan Photo Contest of 1960. Dolly Ibrahim got United Nations Organisation Award in photo contest. At the beginning Shirin Sultana was a amateur photographer, but later she took photography as a profession and worked as photo journalist for weekly Begum and Sachitra Sandhani. In 1986,' Munira Murshed Munni completed Basic Photography Course from Dhaka University Photography Academy and honours course from Pathshala in 1998-2000. From 1996 she took photography as profession. The contemporary photographers are Farjana Khan Godhuli (AFP), Momena Jalil (New Age), Kakoli Pradhan (Samakal), Laila Anwar Bindu (BD News), Snigdha Jaman, Juthika Hawladar, Sanjida Shaheed, Samara Haq etc. On 8 March 2005, on the occasion of International Women's Day, the senior and junior photographers of the country held a group exhibition as a program of Biksubdha Nari Morcha under the banner 'Jvale Uthi Sahasi Nari'.
Dance Before the partition of Bengal, Amalasankar Nandi and Menaka Chowdhury were the most notable dancers. Amalasankar was popular for dance theatre and Menka for chhayanatya, and subsequently Maleka Pervin Banu and Lulu Bilkis. In 1948 Gauhar Jamil founded a dance institute named Shilpakala Bhaban. At that time a number of Dance Dramas, such as Shakuntala, Meghadut, Sonar Nupur were staged in which educated young women including Laila Samad, Rokeya Kabir, Rawshan Jamil, Jaharat Ara, Muminunnessa, Kulsum Huda, Naima Ahmed, Lily Khan, Rozy Majid, Momtaz, Meher Ahmed, Zeenat Ahmed, Selina Bahar Zaman took part. From Jago Art Centre, Nikkan Lalita Kala Kendra and Music College, several dancers completed their degree cource on dance namely Rahija Khanam Jhanu, Dalia Nilufer,, Mandira Nandi, Nargis Murseda, Alpana Momtaz, Lily Khan, Minu Haq, Dolly Iqbal, Selina Muhsin, Zinat Barkatullah, Lubna Marium, Sarmila Bandopadhyay, Dipa Khandaker, Selina Hossain, Mili Kazi, Sharmin Hasan and Laila Hasan. Lubna Mariam, a dancer of Bharatnatyam, completed a training course (1960 to 1972) from Bulbul Lalitakala Academy. Besides, she was instructed by Ustad Prahlad Das on Bharatnatyam. Anwara Bahar Chowdhury (1919-1987), one of the founders of Bulbul Lalitakala Academy, established a music and dance institute named Surbitan in 1941. Folk and modern dance artists are Rawshan Jamil, Jinat Barkatullah, Laila Hasan, Alpana Mumtaz. Prominent dance artistes of Bharatnatyam of' 1980s include Sukla Sarker, Sharmila Bandopadhyay, Soma Momtaz, Tamanna Rahman, Munmun Ahmed, Tabassum Ahmed, Baby Rozario, Prama Abanti, Benarjee Salam Sumi, Subhra Sengupta, Munni, Arna Kamalika, Lily Islam; Manipuri dancers include Sharmila Bandyopadhyay, Lily Islam, Tamanna Rahman; Kathak dancer Munmun Ahmed and Odissi dancer Minu Haq. Some of the dance institutes are Udayan-Mamatasankar Dance Academy directed by prominent dancer Mamata Sankar, daughter of Amlasankar Nandi, Nritya Nandan directed by Sarmila Bandyopadhyay, Nrityanchal directed by Shamim Ara Nipa, Dhrupad directed by Sukla Sarker, Natraj by Laila Hasan, Rewaj Performing Acadeny by Munmun Ahmed, Kathakali at the beginning by Alpana Mumtaz and later her daughter Soma Mumtaz, Divya by Dipa Khandaker. [Shamima Akhter]
Bibliography Jogendranath Gupta, Banger Mahila Kavi, Kolkata, 1953; Brajendranath Bandyopadhyay, Bangiya Sahitye Naree, Kolkata, 1950; Srikumar Bandyopadhyay, Bangiya Sahitye Upanyaser Dhara, Kolkata, 1372; Sukumar Sen, Bangala Sahityer Itihas, Vol-5, Kolkata, 1958; Bangiya-Sahitya-Parisat, Sahitya-Sadhak-Charitamala, Kolkata, 1946; Farida Sultana, Bangladesher Upanyase Jiban Chetana, Dhaka, 1999.
'Women's Movement an action directed towards ensuring trust in women's rights and equal status of man and woman, as well as ensuring women's right in family, society and state. The objective and programmes of women's movement differ in different situation. In the Indian subcontinent especially in undivided Bengal, the women's movement was initiated and carried out as part of reformist movement and modernisation. The progressive leaders of social reforms movement like raja rammohun roy (1774-1833), ishwar chandra idyasagar (1820-1891), British scholar d' rozario, leaders of Brahma Samaj and other noted personalities initiated an extensive movement in order to protect the women from social and religious oppression. During the period they developed a revolutionary environment and created a positive impression in the mind of the people on the equality of men and women. The women's movement although initiated by the male folk, included also the women at a later stage. Women's status had undergone a change at the end of the twentieth century and that was made possible under the influence of greater movement of the women.
Women's Movement in undivided India: Era of emancipation and self consciousness:' Women's movement was initiated in the nineteenth century by Raja Rammohun Roy as a part of social reforms and through the propagation and activities to abolish the practice of Sati. In 1815 Rammohun Roy established the Atmiya Sabha for curbing, along with others, social and religious oppression towards women. In 1928, Rammohun Roy with cooperation of the progressive Brahmas, established Brahma Sabha in order to stop the practice of Satidaha. He wrote some books on Satidaha such as Sahamaran Bishaye Prabartak ebong Nibartaker Sangbad: Prothom Prostab (1818) ebong Dvitiya Prostab (1819) ebong Sahamaran (1829). In the backdrop of continuous movement the practice of Sati was somehow relaxed during 1815-1817. On 4 December 1829 Lord William Bentinck codified the Satidaha Prohibition Act. Rammohun Roy protested against caste discrimination, polygamy and child marriage. According to him, oppression on women was the outcome of prevailing social, cultural and religious practices. He emphasised and urged upon the Bengal women to accept the good aspects of western culture which was compatible with their own culture.
With the abolition of the practice of Sati the reformers of colonial Bengal gave priority to the execution of remarriage of widows. Although women got rid of religious oppression with the enactment of law on Satidaha, the problem became acute as the number of widows was gradually on the increase. Due to practice of polygamy by the elderly kulin Brahmans and the ban on remarriage of the widows led the widows to follow strict code of life. The strict restriction on day to day life, provision for limited and controlled food, heavy household duties, restriction on exposure of one's beauty before the male folk, and such other preventive measures sometimes led the widows to escape from home and indulge in prostitution. Although widow marriage was not prohibited in the Muslim society, the socio-cultural practice discouraged the remarriage of the women in aristocratic families.
The widow marriage was first supported by the members of the young bengal. Opinions in favour of remarriage of widows were published in the newspaper Jnananveshan in 1833-1834 and later in Bengal Spectator. Ishwar Chandra Bidyasagar played a vital role on this issue. He tried to augment public awareness on this issue through the newspaper Sambad Provakar. In his book titled Bidhoba Bibaha Uchit Kina Etodbishayak Prostab (1855) (A discourse on the question whether widow marriage is permissible or not), he highlighted the correct interpretation of scripture in support of widow marriage. On 4 October 1855 he submitted a memorandum to the Legislative Assembly. His movement made so much impact on the society that the Widow Remarriage Act was passed in the Assembly on 19 July 1856. At the early stage after the enactment of the law, the remarriage of widow took place sporadically among the progressive members of the Brahmas. Statistics show that between 1856 and 1911 only 500 widow marriages took place among the high caste Hindu women. Majority of the women remained beyond this legal coverage. Inspite of the codification of Widow Remarriage Act, the cruelty of the society towards the widows became a matter of concern in the Hindu society. However, new step towards social reformation gave rise to many controversies.
Dissention between the conservative and reformer groups revived when with the enactment of Age of Consent Bill in 1891 child marriage was brought into control by prohibiting intercourse with girls below twelve years of age. Contemporary newspapers turned more and more critical of unwarranted interference on religious and cultural values through this bill. At the same time reformation and development in the women society became a sensitive issue beyond question in the nineteenth century.
A major part of women's movement covered the question of emancipation of women from religious and cultural oppression. But the principal stride of women's movement was the movement for education which ushered into being the new awakening of women. In the nineteenth century the movement for education of the Bangali women started through the efforts of Christian missionaries. In 1818, London Missionary Society established the first school for girls at Chinsura (Hooghly). There was no ample opportunity for female education before the drawing up of the Wood's Despatch. With the objectives of the expansion of female education Female Juvenile Society was established under the leadership of Miss Marie Anne Cook, and with the initiative of this society thirty schools were established for girls between 1826 and 1836. In these schools majority of the girls came from poor families since at the beginning of the nineteenth century not much opportunity for female education was open for the upper class for fear of decadence of religious values. Pyari Charan Sarkar established the first school at Barasat in 1847 for girls from upper class Bangali families. Moreover in 1849 John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune established Bethune School (later Bethune College) for girls from all stratas of the society. This initiative was a way to influence the guardians belonging to upper class in providing formal education to the girls.
After the atmiya sabha of Rammohun Roy, the role of brahma samaj (1828) established by him was significant in social reformation. The members of Brahma Samaj took steps for promotion of female education, widow marriage outside caste, abolition of the practice of confining women within four walls, limited participation of women in social and public life for improvement of their status in the society. Brahma Samaj was established in East Bengal (Dhaka) in 1846 and later in different parts of Bengal which played a role in spreading female education and in creating positive image of women. At the end of the nineteenth century the question of advancement of women assumed importance in various parts of Bengal. The organisations like Antahpur Stree Shiksha (1870), Hitokari Sabha (1872), Brahmika Sava (1877), Musalman Suhrid Sammilani (1882), Kanyapan Nibarani Sabha (1889) etc worked for widow marriage, bringing an end to the system of selling daughter, prohibition of dowry and advancement of female education in East Bengal. It is notable that at the end of the nineteenth century women themselves became involved in the movement for their emancipation on their own initiative. swarna kumari devi established Sakhi Samity in 1896 for promoting female education and providing for self employment of women. This organisation was amalgamated with Bidhaba Shilpasram of Hiranmoyi Ghoshal in 1906 and started functioning as a hermitage and vocational training institute.
In Bengal, a solid foundation of female participation in women's movement was laid by the initiative of Begum roquiah sakhawat hossain. She created an important background of women's movement both theoretically and practically. She established Sakhawat Hossain Memorial Girls School in 1911. Roquiah Sakhawat played a vital role in changing inferior condition of women and in their over all advancement. The major movement launched by Roquiah was aimed at creating opportunity for female education as well as against the practice of seclusion by keeping the women confined within the four walls. Lady Abola Basu from East Bengal formed Nari Shiksha Samity for the promotion of female education and at the end of nineteenth century, women from both wings of Bengal had access to higher education. The establishment of bethune college (1849), lady brabourne college and eden college (Dhaka) was a vigorous step towards women's movement. The focal point of women's movement was the expansion of female education, and for this reason schools for women were also established in various places of East Bengal on personal initiative.
Beginning from nineteenth century till the first two decades of twentieth century women's movement were conducted from a non-political platform, and its goal was to bring a change in the social condition of women. But after the movement for education and from the beginning of the second half of twentieth century women themselves started movement for the first time demanding their participation in politics. With this end in view National Council of Women in India (NCWI) was formed in 1925 demanding their right to vote, and in 1926 All India Women Conference (AIWC) was floated with representation of sarojini naidu, Kamala Devi Chowdhury and Jahanara Shahnewaz from Bengal. In 1928 branch of the All India Women Conference was opened in Bengal.
On 18 December 1917, a delegation of women from various organisations of the subcontinent submitted a memorandum to the viceroy Montagu Chelmsford demanding their right to vote. But the demand was refused in the Congress meeting in view of the objection raised by Congress members with the lone exception of Annie Besante. In the same year Indian Women Association was formed, and Sarojini Naidu, Kamala Devi Choudhury and Begum Hamida Ali and others associated with the Association started movement giving priority to their demand. In 1918, All India Muslim League and the Indian National Congress supported the demand for women's right to vote. Lady Abala Basu formed the Nari Samaj in East Bengal and enlisted public opinion in support of the demand. Women achieved right to vote in Madras in 1919 and in the whole of India in 1935. The participation of women in political arena consequent upon their right to vote probably imbued the women in their participation in national movement as well as in anti-British movement.
Women Movement in Pakistan period' After the partition of India in 1947 women's movement became more organised. New organizations emerged with the object of achieving women's right. But they were much involved with political movement than with women's movement. With the patronisation of the Muslim League government all pakistan women association (APWA) was formed in 1949. Although this organisation was run as a centre for free intellectual exercise, women at the grassroot level remained outside of its periphery. In 1948, women of East Bengal raised the proposal of making provisions in the Constitution for prevention of polygamy and child marriage and for seeking women's consent in marriage. But the proposal was not accepted. During this period women's movement confronted obstacles from the government in several spheres. On 26 May 1948 Mahila Atma Raksha Samity was formed. But it was banned on the plea of its anti-government activities. Later with the initiative of Begum Sufia Kamal, Hena Das, Leela Nag East Pakistan Mohila Samity was formed. But this organisation got currency more for its anti-government stand than its role in women's movement. The issue of Women's legal right assumed much importance immediately after the emergence of Pakistan. The demand for women's right to work and enhancement of such opportunities was raised at the budget session of the Assembly in 1948. In the backdrop of united demand from the women folk the Sharia Bill 1951 concerning personal law for Muslim women was passed and through it women's right to property was recognised. In 1954 Begum Club was established at the initiative of Mohammad Nasiruddin, the editor of Saogat, with a view to creating opportunity of literary activities for women. Later, through this club and the weekly journal Begum, wide spread activities started to uproot dowry culture, to achieve equal right to property for the women, and to spread female education. In 1955 under the leadership of Begum Jahanara Shahnewaz a united front comprising various organisations was formed to uphold the rights of women in marriage, divorce, guardianship of the offspring etc. In the same year a commission was constituted to frame law on the aforementioned matter and on the basis of the report of the commission Family Law Ordinance 1961 was enacted. Through this enactment polygamy was prohibited, registration of marriage was made compulsory, the age for marriage was fixed, the right of women regarding mahr or dower etc was recognised. Yet there remained a gap between enactment and implementation of the law, and later the opposition group termed it as anti Islamic and demanded for its reformation. But due to continuous movement of the women this law was passed in the National Assembly in 1963 without any amendment or change. This enactment was the outcome of women's movement.
In the later years, participation in the movement for annulment of National Education Commission Report, 1962, mass upsurge and freedom struggle turned to be the principal issues. In general, women's movement during Pakistan period did not take place directly on its own, rather was largely amalgamated with the national movement for emancipation. Hence the matters concerning women's right assumed very little importance.
Women's movement in Bangladesh' After the liberation of Bangladesh Women's movement instead of becoming collective endeavour assumed organisational character. Various Women's organisations came into being and they determined their strategies and methods of work in view of the prevailing situation. Initially the organisations emphasised on the rehabilitation of the women violated and tortured during the war and determining their position in the society. In the perspective of mass upsurge of 1969 the East Pakistan branch of All Pakistan Women Association (APWA) started its journey afresh with the new name of Pakistan Mahila Parishad by the initiative of Begum Sufia Kamal. Later Pakistan Mahila Parishad was renamed as bangladesh mahila parishad. The first and foremost agenda of Mahila Parishad was to augment the participation of women in politics. In 1972 Mahila Parishad demanded for fixation of reserved seats for women in the Jatiya Sangsad and local government, and direct election for those reserved seats. Besides, it made a drive for increased opportunity of female education, fertility health, constitutional and legal right and prohibition of violence against women.
Towards the end of the 1970s Mahila Parishad submitted a memorandum to the government with demand for preventing oppression on women on account of dowry. In 1980, Dowry Prohibition Act was passed. In the early 1980s Mahila Parishad put pressure upon the government for approval of the CDO Charter, an international document on Women's rights, and tried to co-ordinate its efforts with the government for proper implementation of its objectives. In 1980, the Parishad demanded framing of uniform family code or universal family law for the women belonging to all religions. The argument was that inspite of differences in religion all women are essentially on the same footing in terms of suffering of oppression. Females are inferior to male in respect of power structure prevailing above religion, caste and creed as well as the political and economic perspectives.
In the 1980s Nari Paksha was formed which by establishing network in different districts of the country directed its activities for augmenting awareness to violence to women, to get guardianship of children, to achieve right to property and to curb family oppression upon women. In most of the cases these women organisations have been rendering legal support to the victims. In 1987, oikyabaddha nari samaj was formed with the object of ensuring right of women. By holding a conference on 10 February 1988 this combined alliance highlighted their seventeen point charter of demand. The salient features of this seventeen point demand consisted of equal participation of men and women in national activities, implementation of dowry prohibition law, prevention of violence and traficking of women, formation of family court, ensuring political rights, stopping harassment to women in the work place, protection of rights of aborigin women, right of inheritance and increasing quota for women in the Jatiya Sangsad etc.
Women's movement in Bangladesh is mostly perspective based. It is directed on the basis of problems of women. In the 1990s the main theme of discussion of women organisations was the proper recognition to the female freedom fighters. In December 1990, UBINIG (Research for Determination of Principle of Development Alternative) organised the first gathering of female freedom fighters, and in 1995 sammilita nari samaj was formed to prevent violence against women and specially to stop the exercise of fatwa. But the prime protest of the Sammilita Nari Samaj was against violence by the state, paternal influence and against the exploitation of female and child labour. After the World Women Conference in Beijing in 1995 the government of all countries were urged upon to take step for women's development. Consequent upon the Beijing conference and the movement by different women organisations, the Nari-O-Shishu Nirjatan Daman Ain 2000 was enacted.
Women's movement in Bangladesh found its genesis chiefly from the efforts made by the progressive reformers in undivided India. In the nineteenth century strong movement started for the social emancipation and advancement of women as a continuous process of national feeling and awakening of Bengal. The necessity of women's movement in the nineteenth century was virtually for achieving social emancipation and self-development of women. In the present perspective although the position of women is much stronger than before, the nature of violence and discrimination against women have taken newer shape in the newly emerging situation. Hence women's movement is imperative for safeguarding the existence of women. Women's movement therefore is essentially a continuous process. [Lilyma Ahmed]