Bangladesh Mahila Samiti

Bangladesh Mahila Samiti an association (est) for women of Bangladesh. At origin, it has been a non-political, non-profit making, secular and voluntary women organisation. Originally it was called 'All Pakistan Women Association'; (APWA) and it was originally established by Lady Rana Liaquat Ali (Prime Minister of Pakisten) in 1948. The organisation opened its branch in Dhaka, in 1949 with the help of Lady Viquarunnesa Noon, Begum Shamsunnahar Mahmood and Principal Hamida Khanam.

After independence All Pakistan Women Association was renamed 'Bangladesh Mahila Samiti' and an adhoc committee was formed with Begum Noorjahan Murshed MP as its president by a government notification of 28 February, 1972. On 12 June, 1972 the Government of People's Republic of Bangladesh abolished the earlier adhoc committee and formed a new one with Dr. nilima ibrahim as president. It had been registered under the social welfare act and NGO Bureau. Its key principles are secularism, women empowerment, social welfare, cultural development and dramatic performance.

The mission of the organisation is to raise consciousness of women about their own identity and rights, make them free from all social and political constraints and promote development of women sector in general and poor women in particular. The vision of the organaisation includes working for the welfare of women, raising awareness of women about their legal, social, political and economic rights, providing assistance to women in resolving their personal, social, cultural, economic and health problems, setting up schools, health care centers, small cottage industries, training centers, child care centers, libraries, ration shops and residential houses for women, exploring income generating activities for the poor and disadvantaged women and creating avenues for marketing and fair price of women's products.

Bangladesh Mahila Samiti works through a 27 members executive committee, elected for a three years term. The Committee comprises- one President, four vice-Presidents, one Secretary, one Joint Secretary, one Treasurer and 19 general members. The central office of Mahila Samiti is located at 4 Natak Soroni (New Bailey Road), Dhaka. It has 15 branch offices all over the country. Bangladesh Mahila Samiti operates its programmes by financial supports, donations and contributions from government, civil society, commercial enterprises, national and international agencies and its own members.

The organisation has its own auditorium and a permanent stage established in 1973. The auditorium is known as Nilima Ibrahim Auditorium. Tailo Sonkot (The Oil Crisis) was the first drama performed by Bangladesh Theatre group 'Nagorik' in the stage of the Samiti. The auditorium and the stage are open to local theater groups. The auditorium and permanent stage are the main source of income of the organisation.

The organisation provides legal support to the oppressed women to resolve disputes like divorce, alimony, guardianship, dowry and trafficking of women and children. A panel of lawyers render voluntary service to the organisation. Besides, Bangladesh Mahila Samity organises seminars, symposium, conferences and workshops for the benefit of women and protection of their right. Through its legal aid cell the Samiti works for the protection of women right. It receives establishment of trusts and foundations for the welfare of women and children.

The organisation operates two free primary schools for underprivileged children in Dhaka. The organisation also runs a girls' high school and a male orphanage in Chittagong. In Rangpur and Mymensingh, Bangladesh Mahila Samiti is also running primary schools. Moreover, the Samiti implements two non-formal education programmes in Dhaka. Besides, it has a number of family planning and healthcare centers in and outside Dhaka. In collaboration with Dhaka Community Hospital, the organisation provides regular free health service to the students of the schools. All the students of the schools are regularly participating in the national programmes organised by the Samiti. With the support of Bangladesh National Society for the Blind, Bangladesh Mahila Samiti arranges an annual eye check-up programme for the school children. Bangladesh Mahila Samiti offers woman groups training on tailoring, knitting, embroidery, block printing, commercial cooking and different crafts. The organisation provides marketing facilities through its two shops, one is for entrepreneurs'; product sari at Bailey Road and the other for jewllery at Sakura Market, Dhaka.

'Falguni' and 'Bhaishaki' are the two mothers club which were established by Bangladesh Mahila Samiti with 60 mothers of primary school students. The mothers are provided with functional literacy, health care, legal aid, child welfare, vocational training, and knowledge on environment, secretarial practices, family planning, nutrition, community leadership and sanitation. In association with the Evens Group of Industry, it also conducts computer training, english language and spoken english courses to support young women to build up their working capacity. Under this programme the organisation imparts training to the nurses of National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases. The Samiti has carried out a project to help the poor and meritorious girls students to continue their studies at intermediate level. It publishes books and magazines on the rights of women and gender issues. Dipannita and Swaronika are two major publications of the organisation.

The organisation has a medical centre at its central office for Breast Cancer and Hypertension check up. It provides free treatment to the women in three days per week. It also organises regular meetings, discussions and free medical camps at different places and branch offices to raise awareness on Breast Cancer. In its move to resist Breast Cancer the organisation is financially supported by the Country Women Association in Tasmania, Australia and the Associated Country Women the World, UK. Bangladesh Mahila Somity arranged sponsorship for higher training for the nurses of Child Intensive Care Unit and the officials of the disabled organisations. During the natural disasters members of The Somity undertake relief programme with their own initiative. The Somity has first observed the international women's day in 1975. Along with the bangladesh mahila parishad and Women Players Association it formed a national committee under the leadership of Dr. Nilima Ibrahim.

Bangladesh Mahila Samiti has established international contacts through participation in the preparatory meeting for International Woman Summit in Hungary in 1974, Mexico International Conference in 1975. The tie further strengthened with its affiliation with the Associated Country Women of the World (ACWW) and the International Alliance of Women (IAW). Dr. Nilima Ibrahim the former President of Bangladesh Mahila Samiti was the Chairperson of Beijing NGO Plus Committee and Begum Ivy Rahman was the Area President of Associated Country Women of the World from 2001 to 2003. The General Secretary of the Organisation advocate Sahara Khatun was the active member of International Alliance of Women from 1999 to 2002. [Nibedita Das Purkayastha]