Equality makes sense no matter how you look at it
The first time I came to know about the concept of feminism, my first notion was that obviously every literate and self-respecting woman and every open-minded man must understand and believe in feminism.
Unfortunately, most people in our society do not. One reason for that may be that most believe women are getting almost every right and privilege they could need. They have access to primary and higher education, to the job markets, and most importantly, to the highest political positions of our country. Hence, to them, feminism is bogus and feminists are just perverse man-haters.
In fact, we have come a long way since Begum Rokeya wrote Sultana’s Dream in 1908. The World Economic Forum announced Bangladesh as first in gender equality among the South Asian nations for the second consecutive year in 2018.
It took a century for women to get access to higher education and to get financial independence, but this is true for only a privileged part of society. Still, a lot more needs to be done, and for that, people should accept feminism as an obvious concern rather than a cause for controversy. Most importantly, we have to stop demeaning women.
The mentality of treating women as weak, dependent, subordinate, and ignorant is so deeply rooted in our society, that I myself had to hear it from a senior university teacher that analytical jobs are not suitable for women. He further explained that since working women had to juggle responsibilities of home and work, analytical jobs are too much for them.
Such perceptions are pretty common throughout all generations, which I have realized over my short professional career so far. At one time, I overheard someone (an educated and professionally well-established person) ask “who puts a woman in a strategic position of a big company?” as a comment after a woman got a job in such a position of a multi-national company.
I know about a top management individual who replied to a woman’s demand for increment saying that women do not need increments as they do not have to support families. I also witnessed working mothers getting criticized by family and friends for not taking proper care of their children. In addition to that, I bet all conscious women who use public transport on a daily basis have felt a common rage against women among most of the people -- as if they are angry at us for leaving our houses and taking the bus, or maybe for having those reserved seats.
Then again, some are extra happy to have women on public transport, but those examples will lead to another topic of sexual harassment, which most choose to ignore. Some even get “philosophical,” stating things like women should not take public transport if they cannot accept the consequences. Such stories are plenty in our day-to-day lives.
As a result of such mentalities and perceptions, women often face discrimination. Since there is no formal mechanism to lodge complaints regarding these problems, we have nothing else to do but remain silent. Gender-friendly and co-operative environments have to be established in workplaces. Management should take steps to make a healthy and conducive working environment for women, and also ensure equal distribution of responsibilities and wages without gender discrimination. Moreover, the government should have a specific policy on gender issues equally applicable to all working sectors, in order to ensure equal rights for everyone.
True equality makes sense scientifically and socio-economically. For example, it has been shown that children of working parents are more independent. Besides, women having voices of their own can ensure effective and fair decision-making in every aspect of society. Socio-economic prosperity cannot be ensured by suppressing the voice and financial independence of half the population.
Amazingly enough, all these facts were pointed out in a substantial manner more than a century ago by Begum Rokeya. Still, most of us do not get it.
I keep wondering how women are categorized as feminists and non-feminists. It reminds me of the term “manoshik dashotto” or “mental slavery” used by Begum Rokeya in her writings to describe the core problem of women in our society. Recently, to my surprise, one of my female friends posted a cartoon on social media, implying that feminists get aggressive on the topic of equality but retreat whenever it comes to the topic of taking responsibilities. And that got me thinking, is she accusing her mother and other such women as irresponsible?
Soon, I realized that such accusations have seeped into our society -- that women want equal rights, but they are unwilling to take equal responsibilities. At first, I could not understand the basis of such controversies, as women can be seen to be responsible and caring all the time.
Moreover, the struggle of working women to perform her responsibilities both at home and the workplace is also well known. In our society, working women require validation of their financial independence through ensuring her ability to take care of her family as well.
For men, it is not even a question. If a man chooses to take part in taking care of his family, he is considered to be sweet and even saintly. If he does not, no one would blame him, as that is not his responsibility in the first place.
Nevertheless, women are expected to take equal financial responsibility of the family if they want true equality. Financially independent women are thought to be wasting their earnings in fulfilling their personal needs, whereas men end up spending all their hard-earned money on the family.
Feminism should be a topic beyond controversy. So much can be said to describe the struggles of women that cannot be pointed out in writing, but can be realized with an empathetic mind. I sincerely wish, over time, people’s minds become more open, even if a tiny bit at a time, to make room for a smidgen of feminism, to make the world a better place for all.
Quazi Naureen Ahmed currently works in LankaBangla Securities Ltd.