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Feminist activism: Towards gender equality

  • Published at 05:13 pm March 2nd, 2017
  • Last updated at 05:48 pm March 6th, 2017
Feminist activism: Towards gender equality
Voicing Demands: Feminist Activism in Transitional Context is a collection of essays from some of the leading academics and practitioners of development and gender studies and interdisciplinary experts from the “Global South”, seeking to link “voice, feminist activism and transitional contexts.” Edited by Sohela Nazneen and Maheen Sultan, this book is part of a larger series and has a total of seven essays, spanning 256 pages. The overarching theme of the book relates to fundamental questions such as: What is feminist voice? What strategies or organisational ways make feminist voice effective and legitimate? What are the challenges and constraints feminists face in exercising their voice? Brainchild of the series editor Andrea Cornwall, the ideas behind the book evolved over three years prior to its first publication in 2014 by Zed Books in London, UK. Joining in the big global collaboration, the two editors from Bangladesh represent both academic excellence and first-hand working experience. A leading researcher in development studies in Bangladesh, Sohela Nazneen is a professor of international relations at Dhaka University and a researcher at the BRAC Development Institute of BRAC University. Maheen Sultan is one of the founders of the Centre for Gender and Social Transformation at the BRAC Development Institute. Sultan is a development practitioner with over 25 years of working experience with national and international NGOs and global organisations.
Bhasin very precisely addresses how gender identity is formed and how  lower gender status for women is rather a culturally manufactured construct than a natural phenomenon
Apart from contributions from the editors, the book features essays by Ana Alice Alcantara Costa, coordinator of masters and PhD programs at the Federal University of Bahia; Gertrude Fester, professor at University of Kigali; Eileen Kuttab, tenured assistant professor at Birzeit University; Rabea Naciri, former faculty at University of Rabat and current executive director of DEMOS consulting; Alexandra Pittman, researcher on women’s rights and movement; Cecilia MB Sardenberg, faculty at Federal University of Bahia; Mariz Tadros, research fellow at the Institute of Development Studies; and Afiya Shehrbano Zia, independent feminist scholar. This is a must read for both academics and professionals working in the gender development sector. 05Gender Proshongey is a translation of Understanding Gender by Kamla Bhasin, an Indian feminist activist and author. Translated into Bengali by Fawzia Khondokar and Shah Newaz, the first Bengali edition was published in 2016 from Pragroshor Publication in Dhaka. Kamla Bhasin, known for her decades-long activism, is the main woman behind Sangat, a South Asian feminist network. She is also the South Asia Coordinator of One Billion Rising. Since 1984, Sangat has developed the capacities of more than 650 women activists from South Asia and offered a greater understanding of concepts related to gender, justice, poverty, sustainable development, peace, democracy and human rights. To ensure effective communication with readers, the book is designed in the Question-Answer format. The language of the book is flowing and easy to understand, which must have been the original intention of the writer and the translators. Clearly aimed at the general public, the book explains and elaborates on difficult academic notions and thoughts in a language that is easy to follow and digest. The questions are about the fundamentals of gender identity. They slowly build up to address a myriad of related concepts and ideas. In the answer section, Bhasin very precisely addresses how gender identity is formed and how lower gender status for women is rather a culturally manufactured construct than a natural phenomenon. Answering the question about how to translate the word “gender” in South Asian languages, as many of these do not have different words for “sex” and “gender,” Bhasin says the problem can be solved by referring to “sex” as the “natural gender” and referring to “gender” as “social gender.” She further adds that this may even be more meaningful as the expressions carry inherent definitions. The answers naturally delve into philosophical considerations by examining relations between the sexes, and how different roles and codes are prescribed and enforced for men and women in matters of dressing, and family and social responsibilities etc. Bhasin’s answers are always lucid and factual, and the Bengali translation is precise. The 94 page-book can be an effective preamble to a deeper understanding of more complex theoretical issues of gender.
Saqib Sarker is a sub-editor at the Features Desk, Dhaka Tribune.