Wednesday, June 26, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

Breaking on through to the other side

Celebrating women's contributions and their pioneering leadership

Update : 09 Mar 2024, 11:35 AM

Yesterday, March 8 was International Women’s Day. On this day, it's imperative to reflect not only on the strides women have made in shaping societies worldwide but also on the persistent gender injustices that continue to plague many corners of the globe. 

Most of the readers are familiar with the phrase misogyny which involves hatred or prejudice against women, but few may know the opposite word of misogyny, which is philogyny. Philogyny is the love, admiration, or respect for women.

I will plead guilty to practising philogyny, the roots of which go back to my early schooling days at Bagerhat where my father served as a civil servant, and I was privileged to attend the mixed-gender elementary section of Bagerhat Girls High School. All my teachers were women. I particularly remember the Head Mistress Mrs Jahanara Begum, who we feared and her sister Rowshan Ara madam who we adored. We also had Geeta Didi Moni, a disciplinarian. 

In my formative years at Bagerhat Girls High School, I was fortunate to be surrounded by strong female role models.

However, as I grew up and delved deeper into history, I realized the glaring absence of recognition for the accomplishments of women. All too often, the contributions of women who have shaped the course of history are overlooked or marginalized. From Marie Curie's ground-breaking discoveries in science to Florence Nightingale's transformative impact on healthcare, women have played pivotal roles in advancing human knowledge and well-being.

There are many incredible women who have made significant contributions throughout history. Marie Curie was awarded the Nobel prize in physics in 1903 and in chemistry in 1911. Not only was she the first woman to win the Nobel Prize, but she was also the only person to win Nobel Prizes in two different scientific fields. Florence Nightingale (1829 – 1910), known as the founder of modern nursing, revolutionized healthcare practices and is remembered for her work during the Crimean War.

In the political realms, Catherine ll, also known as Catherine the Great, was one of the most significant rulers in Russian history. She came to power in 1762. Catherine implemented numerous reforms, including the modernization of Russia's legal system and the promotion of education and the arts. Catherine was known as an enlightened despot who embraced the ideals of the Enlightenment, such as reason, tolerance, and progress. She corresponded with prominent Enlightenment thinkers like Voltaire and advocated for religious tolerance and educational reform. 

Although Catherine's reign was characterized by achievements and progress, she also faced criticism and controversy, particularly regarding her treatment of serfs and her harsh suppression of uprisings. Nevertheless, Catherine's legacy as one of Russia's most influential rulers is undeniable, and she remains a prominent figure in Russian history.

In English history, Queen Elizabeth I who ruled from 1558 to 1603 was known for strong leadership and political savvy, during a period known as the Elizabethan Era. Elizabeth is remembered for her shrewd diplomacy, successful navigation of England through turbulent times, and promotion of the arts and culture. 

Her reign saw the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, which secured England's naval dominance and marked the beginning of its rise as a global power. Elizabeth's patronage of writers, playwrights, and artists, such as William Shakespeare, contributed to a flourishing of literature and culture known as the Elizabethan Renaissance. 

In South Asia, some of the pioneering women leaders include Sirimavo Bandaranaike who in 1960 was the first female prime minister in the world and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). In India, Indira Gandhi became prime minister in 1966. Pakistan and Bangladesh got their first female PM in 1988 and 1990 respectively. Bangladesh was somewhat unique because in 1990 both the PM and the leader of the opposition were women.

The history of women in modern Indian politics goes back to the pioneering role of Annie Besant, a notable Irish woman who played an important part in the Indian national movement and the formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885.  Born in Ireland in 184, Besant was a prominent social reformer, women's rights activist, and supporter of Indian self-rule. 

As a journalist and public speaker, Besant advocated for Indian independence from British colonial rule. In 1917, Besant became the president of the Indian National Congress, making her the first woman to hold the position. 

Annie Besant's influence extended to Sarojini Naidu, another prominent Indian woman who played a significant role in the Indian National Congress (INC). Born in 1879 Sarojini was educated at Cambridge, a poet, activist, and key figure in the Indian independence movement. 

Like Besant, Naidu held leadership positions within the Congress Party, becoming the first Indian woman to be the president of INC in 1925. She used her platform to advocate for women's rights and social reform. 

Both Besant and Naidu were trailblazers in Indian politics and made significant contributions to the Indian national movement and were known for their unwavering commitment to the ideals of freedom and justice.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us not only honour the achievements of women past and present but also reaffirm our commitment to dismantling the barriers that still obstruct gender equality and justice.


Habibul Haque Khondker is a sociology professor at Zayed University, Abu Dhabi who previously taught at the National University of Singapore.

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