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Dhaka Tribune

OP-ED: Does equality remain an illusion?

Why women need to break their shackles, both from the inside and the outside

Update : 15 Sep 2020, 09:47 PM

It has been a refreshing sight, to some eyes, to see newspaper pictures of Bangladeshi women performing catwalks in fashion shows or taking part in beauty pageants. Equally heartening is the sight, during rush hour traffc in the morning, of the army of women workers going to work in factories. It reminds one of similar pictures that may be seen in any town or city in the industrial world.

But unlike their sisters there, here their footsteps are a lot more nervous, far less assured, and undoubtedly ten times more vulnerable -- all apparent from their demeanour. This is because, for many, taking this bold step to fend for oneself in the wider world outside home is like revolting against a society to cross a demarcated line within which they must remain and do the chores which for centuries were assigned to them -- sometimes with divine sanctions.

Women police constables, engineers, judges, and others, novelties even in the 70s, are now a reality. Yes, indeed, it has been a long, slow, and tumultuous walk from the veil-clad days when women’s justification for existence was their function to produce male heirs. But nevertheless, progress it is by all measures.

Of course, Bangladeshi women have a long way to go before they can attain true emancipation. Like pie in the sky, equality remains an illusion -- to be hoped for, chased after, and cherished, but never to be found. To many, it may even be a concept in abstract, not fully understood.

Some may even question: When a large portion of our male population leads a life of somewhat sub-standard existence, is it at all worth asking for equality with that? Perhaps equality is not what we should go for, but equity. Women’s esteem in society should be the same as that of men’s.

This is a society that condemns its members to death even on the suspicion of being cattle lifters or muggers. Criminals committing condemnable acts, undoubtedly, but we hardly come across any news about society’s rough justice to protect a woman when a crime is committed against her.

Laws are designed to protect both property and person, but enacted more to protect property because the concept of fundamental human rights is still largely chimera. Women fare better as chattels than as persons. Sometimes her abductors sanctify the crime by marrying her, and prolong a systematic rape of her mind and body, with society’s sanction, as long as he wishes.

Marriage is seen as a sanctuary for women, and as the ultimate solution for her inability to protect her honour. Otherwise, how can getting the victim of a rape or abduction married to the perpetrator be considered a just solution? How sickening it is when men resort to nothing other than brute force.

In a liberal society, a girl’s command over her body and mind are recognized with surprising ease, and for young males, one of the pains of adolescent learning is how to suffer rejection with grace. Here, however, girls get acid thrown in their faces for simply being assertive or rejecting a suitor; kidnapped and married to their attackers against their wishes; or raped. Law or society seem little able to help.

There is not a single day when we don’t read a story in the newspaper of a woman being tortured or killed, either for dowry or sexual harassment. What do we expect from our government -- wishful thinking or mere passing of laws? We have had enough of both. What we need now is an overall social shake-up to create awareness and empower women through devising opportunities for education, jobs, and entrepreneurship, and those should mostly be initiated by women themselves.

Women should break their shackles in their own minds, for strength should come from within first, and then from without -- that is, from the community they live in and the nation they belong to.

Nasrin Pervin is a doctoral candidate at the University of Glasgow, Scotland. She is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of English and Modern Languages, North South University

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