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For some time it has struck me that man is a rough-hewn and woman a finished product.

tagore There is an unbroken consistency in the manners, customs, speech, and adornment of woman. And the reason is, that for ages Nature has assigned to her the same definite role and has been adapting her to it. No cataclysm, no political revolution, no alteration of social ideal, has yet diverted woman from her particular functions, nor destroyed their inter-relations. She has loved, tended, and caressed, and done nothing else; and the exquisite skill which she has acquired in these, permeates all her being and doing. Her disposition and action have become inseparably one, like the flower and its scent. She has, therefore, no doubts or hesitations.

But the character of man has still many hollows and protuberances; each of the varied circumstances and forces which have contributed to his making has left its mark upon him. That is why the features of one will display an indefinite spread of forehead, of another an irresponsible prominence of nose, of a third an unaccountable hardness about the jaws. Had man but the benefit of continuity and uniformity of purpose, Nature must have succeeded in elaborating a definite mould for him, enabling him to function simply and naturally, without such strenuous effort. He would not have so complicated a code of behaviour; and he would be less liable to deviate from the normal when disturbed by outside influences.

Woman was cast in the mould of mother. Man has no such primal design to go by, and that is why he has been unable to rise to an equal perfection of beauty.

Rabinranath Tagore, PATISAR,Pabna, Bangladesh, 26th (Sraven, bengali month) August 1893


My necklace is unhcoked and taken away,
O Beauty!
Why would I wear the necklace again?
When my bosom friend is away from the world.
(You) Tell my friend, when she comes
Radha has lost her life
In agony of separation from Krishna.

  • Amar Galar Har Khule Ne, Music and Lyrics by Jasim Uddin, Singer: Sabina Yesmin
  • Amar Har Kala KorlamSinger Mostafa Zaman Abbasi


    The tragic fact of life is that women, in most parts of the world, are second-class citizens and they still face inequality in all spheres of life. They are discriminated against at birth, subordinated and exploited throughout their life despite their valuable and noteworthy contributions to society and national development process, and end their life as being dependent on their sons. This fact has been eloquently noted by the author when she writes that 'the index ranking of 151 countries on gender inequality in addressing poverty, education, basic health, employment, violence, political participation' contained in various Human Development Reports prepared by the United Nations Development Programme between 1995 and 2003.

    Bangladesh being a Least Developed country is no exception in this regard. Women in Bangladesh constitute 50% of the population but in terms of life expectancy, participation in the work force, economic empowerment, legal protection (against male desertion, divorce and physical abuse) women in Bangladesh are most severely affected. In spite of the fact that there have been some improvements in certain indicators such as mean age at marriage, and female participation in the labour force, the condition of women, according to the population crisis committee, is the worst in the world.

    Women get less pay than men and face difficulties in owning their own property or land. This is reflected in health and social indicators that are frankly appalling. Bangladesh's maternal morality rate is still one of the highest in the world: every year 320 women for every 100,000 die in childbirth. This means that in Bangladesh a woman dies from childbirth every hour of every day. Baby girls are more likely to die in their first year than boys. Girls in Bangladesh are five times more likely to drop out of school in grade one than boys, and one out of every two women in Bangladesh is illiterate. These inequalities of opportunity are reflected in the fact that one in every five households headed by women in Bangladesh earns less than Tk 28 (1 US Dollar= Tk. 70) per person per day.

    The last five years has seen a dramatic rise in the numbers of women in the workforce, particularly in urban areas in the export processing industries, notably the ready made garment (RMG) sector. The work of these women has brought in much needed foreign exchange for the country and has contributed to well-being of millions of poor families in villages and towns across the country. But it is not only in the garment sector that women are increasingly contributing to both their own household economy and the national economy. Currently one in ten of all entrepreneurs in Bangladesh is a woman. While this is low compared to advanced economies, where one in four entrepreneurs is a woman, it signals a welcome change from the past (C. Austin, March 8, 2008).

    Country Profile:

  • Area: 143,998 sq km (55,598 sq mi)
  • Population: 129 million
  • People: 98% Bengali, 250,000 Bihari, tribal less than 1 million
  • Religion: 88.3% Islam, 10.5% Hindu, 1.2% other
  • Economy supported by agriculture
  • Average annual income = US$300
  • 35.6 % live below poverty line
  • 35% unemployment rate
  • 74% of women are illiterate (vs. 50% of men)
  • Jonmo Amar Dhono Holo Mago Sabina Yesmin
  • Ami banglar gaan gai
  • Old Bangla Song

  • hasem khan

    life in village- emb. quiltAt the current rate of poverty reduction, Bangladesh will require 135 years to eliminate poverty in rural areas and 43 years to achieve the prime target of the Millennium Development Goals, a report prepared by a research organisation, Unnayan Onneshan, claims. ‘Overall poverty eradication in general would, however, take 81 years at the current rate and 24 years to reach the Millennium Development Goals,’ the Bangladesh Public Policy Watch 2005 report, presented at a press conference on Tuesday, stated. It said the current rate of poverty reduction ‘is about 0.52 percent on average per year while the rate is only 0.32 per cent per year for the rural economy’.

    Recent Preliminary Report of the Poverty Monitoring Survey 2004 by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics shows that the incidence of poverty by head count ratio on the basis of Food Energy Intake was 42.1 per cent in 2004, which was 44.7 % in 1999. The poverty rate declined by 2.6 per cent in the last five years, amounting to an annual poverty reduction rate of about 0.52 per cent.

    According to the Direct Calorie Intake method, the household income expenditure survey of 2000 shows that poverty declined from 47.52 per cent in 1991/92 to 44.33 per cent in 2000. Trends, in accordance with Food Energy Intake method, show that it will take about 81 years to eradicate poverty completely and 24 years to achieve the target of the millennium development goal. In rural areas, it would take 135 years to eradicate poverty and 43 years to achieve the target (New Age, September 14, 2005).

    street childrenProf. Yunus, the Nobel Laureate and champion of micro-credit, believes that if his schemes are followed poverty will be completely eradicated by 2025. Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed, the head of the caretaker government, envisions reduction of poverty to half the present level by 2015. But the million-dollar question is, are these rosy projections mere wishful thinking or their proponents do understand what all it will take to eradicate poverty from our soil.

    Poor are those who are deprived of the very basic wants of life: a safe and durable living quarter, a minimal consumption of nutrients (balanced food) and utilities (drinking water, gas), a threshold level of health and hygiene facilities (sanitation, medical care), basic educational facilities, and measures of protection against epidemics, natural calamities and man-made accidents and disasters: the rich do not suffer any of these wants. Thus poverty can be equated with pervasive deprivation (want of materials, resources and security measures). It will therefore be naďve to measure poverty in terms of per capita income because income only relates to material and services purchasing power, but does not take account of the deprivation for want of resources and security measures that the state or society must provide.
    Therefore, those who claim to bring reduction in poverty (which virtually equates with deprivation) must take full cognizance of challenges ahead, lest political dynamics may change radically at the cost of the privileged class and the incumbent social and economic order (M Shadman , May 16, 2007).

    The benefits of the growing trend in economy the country has witnessed this fiscal year failed to reach the rural poor mainly due to city-centric development, the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) observed yesterday (03. 06. 04).

    The growing trend is reflected in the 5.5-percent increase in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the current fiscal year (FY), which was 5.26 percent last year. But, the major contributors to the growth were urban sectors -- 20.8-percent contribution made by manufacturing, 15.8 percent by wholesale trade, 12.5 percent by construction and 11.3 percent by transport and communications -- an interim report of the CPD, an independent think-tank, pointed out. In comparison, the contribution to the GDP by agriculture sector, which is directly related to the rural poor, was only 11 percent.

    4- poor girlsPoor girls here are compelled to earn a living due to abject poverty when other girls of their age group attend schools. Nilufa, Shirin, Rahela, Afroza and Marufa, all aged between 12 to 15 of Morishbunia village in Patuakhali Sadar upazila are a few of such girls. Shirin is their team leader. Each of them earn Tk 800-1,000 per month by making soap. But they are not complacent because they are being deprived of education. Their place of work is 15 kilometre off the district town. A local NGO named Centre for Mass Education in Science (CMES) runs the factory at Khaserhat in Sadar upazila is manufacturer of soaps.

    Nilufa who was seen busy in packing soaps told this correspondent, 'My father is a rickshaw-puller. I stopped attending school due to poverty. Five of the girls now realise that education is necessary for decent living but now they do not have the scope (S. Hossain, Daily Star, November 9, 2004).

    It shows that the economic growth was 'discriminatory' and biased towards urban areas rather than improving the condition of the rural poor(CPD Executive Director Debapriya Bhattacharya , 4. 06. 04).

    Small farmers, businesses fail to play due role for lack of fund

    Rural small businesses and farmers are unable to play their due role in growth and employment generation due to limited access to rural finance, says a joint study carried out by the government, world Bank and DFID.

    A joint study on Access to Rural finance by the Government of Bangladesh, the World Bank and the Department for International Development (DFID) has found that for every taka deposited or collected in rural areas by banks, only half of it is on lent in rural areas. Besides bank lending to agriculture and rural small businesses have been decreasing significantly in recent years. In addition while microfinance plays a very important role in rural Bangladesh, small enterprises and small and medium farmers are not microfinance's traditional clients and there are only limited products targeted at this market segment (Holiday, May 11, 2007).


    zainulBangladesh, predominantly an agricultural economy with a high population pressure of 834 residents occupied per square kilometres, has a population where most rural Bangladeshis are dependent on rice cultivation for survival. In Bangladesh in the crop sector rice dominates agriculture. As staple food, rice provides 75 per cent calorie and 55 per cent protein which occupies about 77 per cent of the countries total cropped area and contributes about 71 per cent output value of other sectors. In recent reports it is found that rice production has achieved great success, in fact, the highest during the past 30 years. Rice production was 11.82 million metric tons in 1969 to 70. Now (1999 to 2000) it is 23.08 mt. But this self-sufficiency in rice production is not reflected in minor crops, cereals, oilseeds and vegetables. In addition rice crops dominates our agriculture in terms of both cropped area (75 percent of the cultivated area) and crop production.

    Area coverage of other crops are pulses: 4.64 percent, wheat 3.92 percent, oilseeds 3.77 percent, jute 3.71 percent, sugarcane 1.23 percent, potato 1.11 percent, fruits 0.84 percent and vegetables 1.39 percent.but also the other sectors like fisheries and livestock, where an estimated 1.2 million people are directly employed. In addition, about 12 million people indirectly earn their livelihood out of the activities related to fisheries. This sub-sector alone contributes about 10.67 percent to the agricultural GDP and is also positioned third in the country's export.

    Landlessness structure in rural Bangladesh can be classified in five categories. The first category is households without household land and the second category without any cultivated land but homestead. The third category is households with homestead and cultivated land (upto 0.50 acre) while the fourth category is household with homestead and cultivated land (0.51-1.00 acre). Finally, the fifth category is households with homestead and cultivable land up to 1 acre or more.

    Extreme landless (Poverty) has reduced to some extent but functional landless i.e. without cultivable land has increased sharply at the rate of 5.23 per cent per annum.Functional landlessness, i.e. marginal farmers has increased from 12.32 per cent to 13.99 per cent and finally, the functionally landless people with one acre of cultivable land has reduced in some extent from 37.82 per cent to 27.91 per cent.

    The percentage distribution thus indicates that increasing tendency of landlessness and marginalization has reflected the unequal distribution of land ownership in the rural economy of Bangladesh.

    People of Bangladesh affected by floods, cyclones, and river- erosion every year and deprived by a few corrupt people gobbling up everything. More than 45% of the people in Bangladesh live below poverty line. The definition of poverty line is the minimum amount of income that a family needs for food, clothing, shelter, and other necessities. As the world's most densely populated country we should think about how to alleviate poverty.

    Mr. Saifur Rahman ex Finance Minister, accused a section of NGOs of deliberately not alleviating poverty to attract better credit programmes. "They (NGOs) are keeping the poor marginally alive and mired in poverty merely to get more funds from abroad. Their works are limited within seminar rooms or in the Press Club," he maintained. "Alien models of development will not be applicable in the Bangladesh context, be they from Harvard or MIT." Apart from the NGOs, a number of ministries run micro-credit programmes for poverty alleviation and social development. And as a lender, the Employment Bank focuses on small employment-generating projects to which other state-owned banks also give loans (New Age, January 14, 2004).

    Despite the overall increase in income and welfare, the gap between the richer and poorer countries and between the richer and poorer segments of the population within countries has probably widened. In this context, it needs to be recognised that while globalisation is likely to benefit overall those countries that are able to participate in it, it does create problems for certain categories of the population.

    There also remains a group of very poor countries that are less integrated into the global economy and that continue to be largely excluded from the benefits of the globalisation process. South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa lag far behind regions such as East Asia and the Pacific. Their share in world trade has fallen, their terms of trade have deteriorated and they continue to be unable to attract foreign capital. Improving living standards and the economic situation in these countries is one of the major challenges for the global economy.

    rural woman collecting water
    Ancient history of Bengal shows that Bangladesh is the only country in the Indian-Subcontinent that accepted several religions but the root of the social philosophy was the ancient "Kuamo Society" that accepted god as a human being (Mukhopadhya, 1983). The society was based on "see" and emotional "feel" in a simple peaceful environment. These strong sustainable elements of the society can be seen as weakness as it could not resist foreign invaders (Mukhopadhya, 1983). Mainly four streams mingled in this social thought process - tribal anthropomorphism, Buddhist nihilism, Hindu vaiishnavism and Muslim sufism. Bangladeshis believe in simple life - this has been achieved through past association with Budhism, Boishnivism, Baulism, Simplism and Sufism. Perhaps these are the elements rooted in the nation that worldwide survey by the London School of Economics (1999) found that "Bangladeshis are the happiest nation" live on this earth.

    Sebastien Manrique in 1640 wrote a very impressive account of prosperity of Dhaka, Bangladesh:

    Many strange nations resort to this city on account of its vast trade and commerce in a great variety of commodities, which are produced in profusion in the rich and fertile lands of these regions. These have raised the city to an eminence of wealth which is actually stupefying, especially when one sees and considers the large quantities of money, in a such quantity indeed that, being difficult to account, it used commonly to weighed.

    nakshi katha by surayaAfter the take over of Bengal by the British East India Company in 1770 about 10 million Bengali, about one third of the population died due to famine as a result of revenue collection. The Permanent Settlement law was imposed in Bengal in 1793 by the British East India Company to collect the revenue. The architects of this settlement were not only to secure a higher revenue but also to facilitate the flow of agricultural products for the British industries. The permanent settlement law altered agrarian Bengal from a traditional self-contained, motionless, egalitarian society to a new class of landlords

    The rural society was locked into the expanding world system, in which it was forced to act as supplier of raw materials of Britains and elsewhere. From 1830 onward the demand of indigo increased tremendously in the textile factories in Europe. Indigo was introduced as a commercial crop by the administration, and Dhaka became the main centre of distribution. However, those who performed the labour did not share the benefits. .and a serious food shortage occurred.

    From the middle of the nineteenth century the farmers were pushed to grow another cash-crop, jute. Rice was increasingly replaced by cash crops and the subsistence level of many peasants was threatened. The price fluctuation of jute in the local market and lack of control over the market by the peasants caused to become bankrupt and more dependent on land lords for credits. The shortage of food resulting from the cash-crop production created social disruption and a large number of peasants were forced to migrate.

    Inspite of poverty the population of Bangladesh is the "happiest nation of the world" because of still existing traditional values. In Bangladesh the traditional shared community feels:

    I built a home for he or she
    Who has broken mine,
    I cry to make my own,
    Who has forsaken me.

    Our ancient religion based on the principles of nature worship with extremely sophisticated manifestations of spiritualism. One of the characteristics of these rituals is the worship of forest or tree god. Tree worship was a part of the religious faith in the prehistoric Indus Civilisation. In the Buddhist religion, tree-worship had a special place as is evident from the discoveries in places like Sanchi, Barhut, Amravati, Budgaya. The ancient India also considered that the force behind flowing water was a god, and so the worship of rivers, streams and fountains became widespread. mother Ganges or Ganga Mai was originally a water goddess worshipped by the non-Aryans. In no other part of the world has any Muslim community assimilated so many alien rituals and customs with those of its own religion as in this sub-continent.

    Three great religions of Bangladesh, i. e., Hinduism (Modern hinduism is the result of a blending orthodox Brahmanism with non-Aryan materialistic superstitions) which came earliest, Buddhism second and Islam. There is no denying the fact, the oldest inhabitants of Bangladesh known as Australoid, then the Dravidians, Aryans and the Muslims made a chequered history of this region and the Nakshi Kantha (An embellished quilt embroidered in traditional motifs and innovative style by rural women of Bangladesh) found a unique character as a multi religious product and also a multiracial expression.

    A few hundreds years ago Bangladeshis become muslim through liberal (the essence of Sufi practice is quite simple. It is that the Sufi surrenders to God, in love, over and over; which involves embracing with love at each moment the content of one's consciousness (one's perceptions, thoughts, and feelings, as well as one's sense of self) as gifts of God or, more precisely, as manifestations of God."The body senses are wavering and blurry, but there is a clear fire inside, a flame like Abraham, that is Alpha and Omega. Human beings seem to be derived, evolved, from this planet, but essentially humanity is the origin of the world (Jalaluddin Rumi,(a prominent, thirteenth-century mystic and poet). ), who accepted traditional culture. But now the priciples of Sufism is disintegrating through new approach.

    Bengalis are the inventors of the fabric called bathana muslin: an ultra fine cotton fabric that resembles woven air. Scientists are still puzzled over the question how people were able to spin an exteremly delicate and fine cotton yarn like 100s 0r an 80s by hand.

    traditional  embroidered quilt by  women   Traditional embroidered quilt by women

    Some people have seen at late night
    an embroidered quilt in the fields
    and the sound of bamboo flute
    its sad music touching the village.
    Thus the village has been known as
    the field of the embroidered quilt.
    Jasim Uddin

    From time immemorial, Bangladesh has earned a reputation as the high quality producer of handloom, especially muslin. Poets of the Mughal Durbar (court) likened our muslins to Baft hawa (woven air), Abe rawan (running water) and Shabnam (morning dew). So fine was its texture and quality that it was said to be woven with the thread of the winds and the Greek and the Roman texts mention the Gangetic muslins as one of the most coveted luxury items.

    The art of weaving in Bangladesh was a routine affair since the last several centuries among the simple laborious villagers . For a present day layman enthusiast of the item, it has become a matter of great surprise to observe how skillful were those uneducated yet dedicated weavers, who, without any direction or supervision created fine, intricate designs solely out of their sophisticated imagination. In the days of medieval era, Satranjis( mats) were usually used as floor mats.. Since the later half of the previous century, production of rural handicrafts lessened to a great deal mainly due to modern technological advancement and hence brought misery to the fate of Satranji.

    traditional weaver - a dyeing profession

    Hinduism spread throughout India and surrounding areas, including the region known as Bangladesh today, between 1500 and 500 B.B.C. In the literature it is argued that from this time forth Hindu Manuscripts scriptures teach life-long obedience for women to their male relations. Ma-tsui (1989, 93) insists that Hindu religion strengthens discrimination and inequality between men and women. To be born a woman is said to be a punishment for bad behaviour in a previous life. “[...] Drums, idiots, untouchables, cattle, and women should always be beaten to make them work ” (Matsui 1989, 92, 93).

    Women have been and still are considered to be impure in Hindu religion. The idea about women’s ritual impurity which arose, along with the physical constraints on their activities, stressed that women’s menstrual, reproductive and sexual aspects (Wichterich 1986, 96), made them inherently impure.

    It's worth noting that the Bangladeshi pride in ancestry is balanced by the Islamic slant of the country's intellectual life which tends to deny the achievements of the preceding Hindu and Buddhist cultures.

    But in reality it is still different. Prof. Dinesh Chandra Sen (1866-1939) describes (Folk Literature of Bengal, Calcutta, 1920.) :

    In the treatise I have for the first time brought to the notice of the scholars considerable materials about Bengali folk-tales chiefly those current amongst the Mahmedans of Lower Gangetic Valley. it has been a surprise to find that stories of Rupanala, kanchammala, Madhumala, puspamala etc. are not only the heritage of hindu children but also of their Moslems cousins who have been listening to these nursery and fairy tales, recited to them by their grandmothers, from a remote historical period .. The Hindu Buddhistic convert who gave their faith in the older religions did not forego their attachment to these folktales in which legends of Buddhist and hindu gods are sometime closely intermixed.

    1. Traditional Social Dynamics in Bangladesh
    2. Pat and Patua important audio-visual mediums in Bangladesh in educating the masses since immortal

    Pat and Patua important audio-visual mediums in educating the masses since immortal

    Many muslim poets wrote poems based on the folk belief of both muslims and hindus and tried to prove that the heroes of both communities Rustam, Hazrat Ali and Bhim, Krisna, Arjun etc. are in reality the various manifestations of the same person(S. Sen, History of Bengali Literature V.1, Calcutta, Bengali Year 1355)

    There is a reference in charya geeti about the Buddhist drama and the big box containing the performance materials. But nothing has been specifically known about the Buddhist dramatic performances. The first known dramatic writing in Bengal is Shrikrishnakirtan and the first great Bengali performer was the author of Shrikrishnakirtan, Badu Chandidas himself. Shrikrishnakirtan was a song drama written in dialogues and trialogues. Badu Chandidas modelled it after the Sanskrit speech-plays. He divided the whole work into several cantos. Each canto was like a pala in later vaishnava dramatic sense which Badu Chandidas and his troupe would act in their open-air shows. So ever since its inception Bengali dramatic performance was music based.

    Jatra, the Bengali folk dramatic stream, which followed from the Shrikrishnakirtan tradition, remained thoroughly musical. The dramatic performances in the urban stream were rather a mix-up of song and non-song parts. The Western influences worked well in shaping the urban dramatic movement in Bengal and many of the pioneers of professional Bengali drama were educated in the Western dramatics. They looked continuously for developing the text material and the performance manners, but could not shift away from the application of music in abundance. The influence of yatra continued to prevail on dramatic activities of every kind. Moreover, most of the major dramatists of the professional theatre in Bengal were the major Bengali poets and composers who employed songs in their plays.

    Now Jatra, the most popular ballet drama of Bangladesh is fobidden by the fanatic priests.

    The Koran advocates the ideology of men and women as being equals but reflects the historical and social conditions of those early days by imposing polygamy and purdah ( the practice of hiding women from the view of men and strangers]. Later men interpreted the Koran from a sexist point of view, and this discriminatory interpretation became well established. As a result, women are neither allowed nor expected to be independent, and are kept in subjugation[...]” (Answar 1980 quoted from Matsui 1989, 96).

    Globalisation to hit womenfolk hard

    South Asian Network of Gender Activists (27. 09. 03) criticise the developed countries for widening the gap between the rich and the poor, the speakers opined that poor countries would be poorer and small scale industry which already started closing down would be hard hit because of the impact of globalisation.

    They said that the male-dominated globalisation system was ignoring the women around the world by abusing them sexually or paying them low wages. Migration, trafficking and sexual harassment have increased remarkably in last few years due to the globalisation which has made millions of female garment workers in Bangladesh jobless, they said adding rape, migration, trafficking and sexual harassment became widespread. A large number of NGO, HR activists, sex workers, eunuchs from India, Pakistan, Srilanka, Nepal and Bangladesh participated in the conference (The Independent, 27. 09. 03).

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    In a society where the good is defined in terms of profit rather than in terms of human need, there must always be some group of people who, through systematized oppression, can be made to feel surplus, to occupy the place of the dehumanized inferior. Within this society, that group is made up of Black and Third World people, working-class people, older people, and women.
    — Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider

    The ‘legal’ situation of the Bangladeshi women is far better than the actual situation. Legally, women are not to be discriminated against in any sphere of familial, social, political, economic and cultural life, and specific legal provisions are in place to deal with any infringement of the equal rights of women. Still, women are subjugated and discriminated against by men in almost all the spheres of human activity in Bangladesh, which is projected by the political elite as a democracy. The problem lies in the paradigm of democracy that Bangladesh’s political elite, spread across the political divide, is committed to. The paradigm is plagued with patriarchal, and therefore, male-chauvinistic components.

    The original Western perceptions of classical democracy have undergone a sea change, for the better, over the centuries — albeit in the face of ceaseless struggles by the oppressed classes, particularly the black and the women. Bangladesh, which has accepted democracy as a way of life, needs to realise that the country should not have to undergo the same painful, as well as suicidal, process of suppressing women in the political course of our development — social, political and economic. But the Bangladeshi elite’s discourse on democracy, as noted earlier, is devoid of many things, particularly the understanding that modern democracy envisages equal rights of both the male and female citizens of a country, and by that token, the females’ equal, and effective as well, participation in every sphere of life — familial, social, political and economic. The consequence is obvious: a pervasive patriarchy remains the order of the day, despite the fact that Bangladesh has at its disposal an adequate number of instruments, legal and constitutional, to uphold the equality of women in all spheres of life.

    Women came in huge numbers from villages to work in the readymade garment factories in Dhaka and Chittagong. They were recruited not because they could be liberated but because they could be exploited as cheap labour. Everyone knows what working in a garment factory means. The demand to raise the minimum wage has not been accepted by the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers’ Association (BGMEA). The labour organisations demanded Tk 3,000 as minimum wage, but BGMEA proposes only Tk 1,300 per month.

    A UBINIG study (2004) on the health conditions of the garment factory workers showed that if a woman works in the factory for a period of 10 to 15 years, she develops eye sight problems, back pains and urinary tract infections. Many workers lost their jobs not because they demanded higher wages, but because they were not fit to work for health reasons. The garment workers are treated like disposable workers. Use them for work as long as they are physically fit, otherwise throw them out of the factory!

    2.1. Discrimination

    The work on acid violence had the power to stir one's imagination…we did the work because it moved us. It was the work of creativity and imagination. In the beginning that is what mobilised us. We did not have resources, or support, but we had the imagination. Yesterday, March 2nd, 2008 , I read a pathetic story in Daily Star of an 18 years old girl. Her name is Nila and she is a victim of an acid attack, and the criminal is her husband. Nila was married to one Akbar Hossain, an ex-expatriate from Saudi Arabia. He did not demand any dowry and there was no quarrel for which Akbar, the horrendous monster, attacked Nila with acid in the middle of the night. Today, March 3rd, I read another sad story in the Daily Star, about a 22 years old housewife, with a 3 year old, child who died at Dhaka Medical College hospital on February 22. Her name is Rupa Begum and she died after her husband and in-laws allegedly set her on fire as her family refused to give dowry. Action against dowry is also over-due. Girls from Bangladesh's Hindu community were the victims of this crime for centuries. Now it has become a norm even among the Muslims (T. Hossain, Daily Star, March 8, 2008).

    Four thousand four hundred and forty-four incidents of repression against women took place in Bangladesh in the first nine months this year(2004), according to a report made by Bangladesh Mahila Parishad.The number of such incidents was 20,134 in the last seven years since 1997, the report says adding some 1,690 incidents took place in 1999, 1,974 in 2000, 3,149 in 2001, 5,792 in 2002, and 5,618 in 2003.
    “Women have no security in their families, workplaces, institutions, and even on roads, they always have to lead an insecure life". Types of repression against women include abduction, acid throwing, rape, forced prostitution and suicide, physical harassment, killing for dowry, killing after rape, fatwa, trafficking, and torture in police custody. (New Age, Dec. 1, 2004).

    Most women in the rural areas are forced to sell their goods (often rice or milk) through a male wholesaler or with the help of their husbands or sons. Women are not allowed to buy or sell goods in the haats and bazaars (village markets). Although women are not usually in control of their profits, their contribution to the products sold may serve to increase their household status and earn the respect of their husbands and his family.

    Women in Bangladesh live in an unequal society. Violence against women is widespread inside and outside the home. Nutritional levels are lower for females than for males. A recent Human Development Report estimated that 59% of girls suffer chronic malnutrition and the number of girls dying before age 5 is 11% higher than the number of boys. The United Nations Development Programme estimates that 58% of pregnant women (15-49) suffer from anemia and only 5% of births are attended by a healthcare professional.

    Because of legal discrimination and high illiteracy rates, women have little access to credit and few inheritance rights under the law. Rural women face even worse conditions in Bangladesh because of the little access to land, which is key to economic and political power (only 5% of government positions are held by women). Because of illiteracy, women's opportunities for improving their status are extremely limited

    Only 26% of nearly 62 million women are literate. Rural women have even greater difficulty because of ongoing floods, which can have devastating effects on already fragile lives.

    Curse’ still there on girl child

    Babli, five years and three months old, will never be able to talk. Not because of she was born deaf and dumb, but because her father decided that was the way it would be! Only because she is a girl. Her father, Bakhtiar Rana, poured acid on the Babli’s mouth, the nails on her 10 fingers, and her rectum when she was only seven months old. His apparent aim was to kill the baby, as she was born as a girl, and not a boy. ‘He wanted to be a “proud” father of a son,’ says Parul Akthar, Babli’s mother, as she attends to her daughter who is undergoing treatment at a privately-run treatment centre in the capital.

    While narrating Babli’s story at Jibantara, the specialised hospital run by the Acid Survivors Foundation, Parul broke down in tears saying it all happened because of the preconceive notion that the female child is a burden for the family, and the society as well. Bakhtiar was arrested for his action, but managed to post bail soon after, and traverses the streets a free man today. Three female babies were killed by their fathers between October and December last year, according to a report of the NGO Manusher Jonno. Also, a man killed his wife for giving birth to a girl child n Akkelpur village in Jaipurhat.

    According to statistics available with UNICEF’s Steps Towards Development and the Bangladesh Shishu Odhikar Forum, in 2002 alone 686 female children were raped, 83 murdered after rape, 32 murdered for dowry, 69 victims of sexual harassment, and 358 trafficked. The convenor of the Female Children Advocacy Forum, Badiul Alam Majumder, told New Age on Sunday that the nature of repression on female children mainly includes physical torture, acid burn and murder.

    Female children are regularly deprived of their rights in the family, society, country, and fall victim to inequality in food division, medical facility and education facility, he said. He said there are many more cases than are reported of parents abandoning, aborting or killing the girl child. The government, with the assistance of national and international NGOs, has conducted many campaigns to stop the brutality. The minister for women and children affairs, Khurshid Jahan Haque, told New Age on Saturday that the government is conscious in its efforts to eliminate violence against the girl child.

    ‘To make people aware of violence against the girl child, the government runs a programme, Jagaran, in several districts. The message is disseminated through through music, theatre and rallies,’ she said. MSI Mullick, associate professor of psychiatry at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, told New Age however, ‘It is not easy to dispel age-old beliefs, especially in rural areas, that only the son will be a productive member of the family.’

    Steps to improve awareness, important as they are, can only go a certain distance. Perhaps deterrence through greater enforcement of laws against dowry, child repression and acid crimes would go a long way. And perhaps then Babli’s father would not be traversing the streets a free man today (A. Arzu, New Age, March 8, 2005).

    Top of page

    Islam for world peace

    Muhammad (SM) promulgated a charter, sometimes called the Constitution of Medina that set out the rights and duties of all citizens and the relationship of the Muslim community to other communities. The Quran emphasises the social dimension of service to God, for it is on earth and in society that God's will is to govern and prevail. As humankind came from a single pair of parents, so too God "made you into nations and tribes" (XLIX:13). Similarly, as God had sent His Prophets and revelation to the Jews and then to the Christians, He declares in the Quran that the Muslims now constitute the new community of believes who are to be an example to other nations: "Thus We made you an Ummah justly balanced, that ye might be witness over the nations" (II:143).

    Muslims see Muhammad (SM) as recapping the messages of all the previous Prophets, just as the conclusion to a book recaps the themes of the whole book. He manifested the absolute submission and monotheism of Abraham, the dream-interpreting ability of Joseph, the spiritual warrior-Kingship of David, the wisdom of Solomon, the law of Moses, and the spirituality of Jesus. He was a Prophet and spiritual guide: a head of state and leader of community; supreme judge and arbitrator of dispute; reformer of society; a family man, loving husband, and father. In the way that Muhammad (SM) discharged these rule.

    In his book What Is Right With Islam Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf observes: "The truth is that killing innocent people is always wrong -- and no argument or excuse, no matter how deeply believed, can ever make it right. No religion on earth condones the killing of innocent people; no faith or tradition tolerates the random killing of our brothers and sisters on this earth. God does not want us to kill each other: "Do not kill the soul which God has made sacred except by right (of justice)" VI; 151). And God has certainly prohibited killing the most defenceless members of our societies."

    We should stress that all civilisations have an equal right to exist side by side. Instead of domination, accommodation should be the spirit of each one of them. Coexistence and cooperation, rather than clashes and conflicts should be the motto of each. No country however powerful should try to impose its system on others by dint of its arms might. In a multicivilisational world, the constructive course is to renounce universalism, accept diversity, and seek commonalities.

    Danger from Outside

    Some religious groups in SE Asia are trying to import idealogy from Middle East.

    Second-Class Citizen

    At present, women throughout the region are second-class citizens, being excluded from the rights, privileges, and security that all citizens of a country should enjoy. Unjust laws, discriminatory constitutions, and biased mentalities that do not recognize women as equal citizens violate women’s rights. A national, that is, a citizen, is defined as someone who is a native or naturalized member of a state. A national is entitled to the rights and privileges allotted to a free individual and to protection from the state. However, in no country in the Middle East or Northern Africa are women granted full citizenship; in every country they are second-class citizens. In many cases, the laws and codes of the state work to reinforce gender inequality and exclusion from nationality.

    State discrimination against women in the family is expressed through, among other things, unjust family laws that deny women equal access to divorce and child custody.

    Family laws based on Sharia frequently require women to obtain a male relative’s permission to undertake activities that should be theirs by right. This increases the dependency women have on their male family members in economic, social, and legal matters.

    Political Islam

    The political Islamic movement started to gather real power and to spread in the 1970s. During the 1980s it was supported and nurtured by Western governments, which found it useful in Cold War conflicts and in opposing progressive movements in the region. Key features of political Islam included opposition to women’s freedom and civil liberties, and to their freedom of expression in the cultural and personal domains. It supports the enforcement of brutal laws and traditions, including beheading and genocide. In Iran, the Sudan, Pakistan, and Afghanistan under the Taliban, Islamic regimes transformed societies in general and women’s homes in particular into prisons. For women confinement, exclusion from many fields of work and education, and brutal treatment became the law of the land. In addition, the misogynist rhetoric of political Islam in the social sphere implicitly sanctioned male violence towards women.

    Key to women’s liberation is secularism and the establishment of egalitarian political systems. Secularism has been and continues to be a prerequisite for women’s liberation (Azam Kamguian,Bangladesh Observer, November 30, 2004):

  • the complete separation of religion from the state;
  • the elimination of all religious and religiously inspired concepts from laws;
  • definition of religion as the private affair of individuals;
  • removal of references to a person’s religion in laws, on identity cards, and in official papers;
  • a ban on ascribing any religion to people, whether individually or collectively, in official documents and the media;
  • elimination of religion from education; and
  • a ban on teaching religious subjects and dogma and on presenting purely religious interpretations of secular subjects in schools.

  • Madrasas mushroom with state favour

    No sport for women?

    Women in this country have always taken part in different athletic events which were part of life and reality. Now-a-days as sport is becoming more organised and women are increasingly coming out of their ruts it is natural that such events will increase and women's athletics will take newer directions. This indeed is part of women's empowerment and represents progress itself. Unfortunately the forces of obscurantism which are out to put the clock back are becoming stronger. A 15-kilometre long-distance swimming competition for women had been arranged on the river Dakatia at Chandpur which created great enthusiasm among the women and four of them were ready to compete.

    But a few bigoted elements thwarted the effort creating confusion in public mind. A further irony is that these people are known as religious leaders who are expected to be exponents of the principles and values of Islam, a notably dynamic and progressive religion. Under the banner of 'Anti-Islamic Activities Resistance Committee' a procession of one thousand ulema and musallis of Chandpur was brought out to register protest against female swimming competition. The competition was due to be held yesterday (The Independent, November 1, 2004).

    Women groups decry fatwa on women's swimming

    Women's rights organisations on Wednesday condemned the fatwa of an Islamist group on women's swimming which led to the cancellation of a competition scheduled to be held in Chandpur on Tuesday. The leaders demanded women's rights to sports in Bangladesh, saying that the fundamentalists never wanted to ensure women's rights in all spheres of life.

    The Islamist group, Anti-Islamic Activities Prevention Committee, protested against the competition, organised by the Bangladesh Swimming Federation, and threatened with shutting down the whole area.

    The Chandpur district administration on Monday agreed to cancel the event after more than 1,000 demonstrators had taken to the streets in the town, saying that the event is "un-Islamic." The swimming federation general secretary, Sahabuddin Ahmed, said the Chandpur administration decided to cancel the event in the face of threats. This is the third such incident when a women's sports competition is suspended in the face of opposition of the Islamist group

    Another Islamist group, led by Mohiuddin Khan of Jamiatul Ulema Islami Bangladesh - along with like-minded organisations such as the Islamic Constitution Movement, Nezam-e-Bangladesh and the Islamic Party - threatened with foiling the competition by sacrificing the lives of its members.

    Condemning the move of the Islamist group, the women leaders said they failed to understand why there should have been a prejudice against women's swimming or athletics when women are in the policy-making process. "Women have no right to sports in Bangladesh and they should only play a role in family," Bangladesh Mahila Parishad general secretary Ayesha Khanam told New Age on Wednesday.

    She criticised the role of the government in ensuring women's rights in society. "It is wrong to reduce the women's exercise of power when the government has limited initiatives to empower women." Women exercise their franchise and become prime minister. But when they want to move in all the spheres freely, they are intimidated by the fundamentalists, she said.

    The Karmajibi Nari president, Shirin Akhter, on Wednesday told New Age, "While the world is moving towards modernity and development, the fundamentalists in Bangladesh want to tarnish our image." She said women in many Islamic countries formed women's swimming team, "but women in Bangladesh have threatened against joining sports of any sort." Sammilita Nari Samaj and Karmajibi Nari issued a statement on Wednesday condemning the fatwa of the Islamist group (New Age, December 2, 2004)

  • Mdieval Savagery: Young girls, women and children
  • Blasts rock every corner of country , AUGUST 18, 2005
  • Women representatives unable to work

    Madrasas for Females Where life is under lock and key

    It is a privately-owned residential madrasa along with an orphanage for 306 girls aged between three and fifteen. It is a single-room bamboo-made house, where all the students are herd together to sleep, eat, play and study. In the centre of the crowded neighbourhood of Chantek in Demra, the madrasa is kept under lock and key round the clock. Inside, helpless children cram the handful of windows to wave to passers-by. Most children show visible signs of malnourishment and anxiety. Their only ambition is to learn how to read the Quran and become religion instructors. "We will do what Allah wishes," Sajeda, a 12-year-old girl said when she was asked about her plans on completion of her studies in the madrasa established in 1988.

    The Jamia Islamia Ashraful Ulam Mahila Madrasa teaches only Arabic. Students receive no education in Bengali, English, Science or Mathematics, which is contradictory to the national education policy.

    Other female Qawmi madrasas in Dhaka also offer similar 'education', not officially recognised. The head of the madrasa, Mohammad Abdur Rahman, explained the principle behind this kind of education and said it is based on gaining 'access to paradise' after death and not aimed at gaining anything earthly. "We teach children how to lead a religious life and gather maximum spiritual wealth for eternal life," the principal said. He, however, did not explain his failure to address the problems that include unhygienic conditions in the madrasa. Of the 25 teachers of the madrasa, most are males. The principal stressed that he maintained strict segregation between the male teachers and the students by installing a curtain between them during class.

    In March 2002, seven students were burnt alive and a hundred others injured inside this madrasa as it was under lock and key when the fire occurred.

    The thatched house was burnt to ashes. Most of the students could not come out during the fire as the principal kept the key. "The bodies were so severely burnt that they could not be identified," said a student who was injured in the fire. "I am an orphan, where will I go? The madrasa at least offers me shelter," the girl said. The situation in Rashidia Ibrahimia Mahila Madrasa at Shanir Akhra about 500 metres away from this madrasa is more or less the same. With 210 students crammed inside two floors of a six-storey building, the children are confined to rooms under lock and key. On July 13, when the Star City correspondent visited the Rashidia Ibrahimia Mahila Madrasa established four years ago, the third floor was found to be opened, while the fourth floor was locked. Around 50 juveniles on the third floor surrounded the correspondent to meet her. "We rarely meet new people. The entrance and exit to this place are restricted," said eight-year-old Tania. "I was admitted here one and a half years ago and never had the opportunity to see outsiders." As Tania talked to the correspondent, a boy around 13 screamed seeing a female visitor inside the madrasa. He rebuked the correspondent and also the students for entertaining an 'outsider'. "You will be punished later," the boy threatened, locking the door (Morshed Ali Khan and Sultana Rahman, Daily Star, July 25, 2005)..

    The Shariah, Mullah and Muslims in Bangladesh

    2.2. Trafficking of Bangladeshi women

    Bangladesh is a country of origin and transit for women and children trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation, involuntary domestic servitude, and debt bondage. An estimated 10-20,000 women and girls are trafficked annually to India, Pakistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.). A small number of women and girls are trafficked through Bangladesh from Burma to India. Bangladeshi boys are also trafficked into the U.A.E. and Qatar and forced to work as camel jockeys and beggars. Women and children from rural areas in Bangladesh are trafficked to urban centres for commercial sexual exploitation and domestic work.

    Police officials are known to facilitate trafficking of women and children, though none has ever been charged or arrested. Bangladesh should take greater steps to address government corruption and prosecute officials who are involved in trafficking.

    Traffickers have lured the women and children to migrate on false promises of employment. Ninety percent of women victims are illiterate and only five percent have primary education. A survey conducted recently in 10 villages found that 33 out of 51 victims were still missing. Others returned home on their own or with help from human rights organisations. Estimates are that about 25,000 women and children are trafficked out of the country every year and many of them remain missing, according to the Women Lawyers Association.

    Lack of enforcement of proper prosecution, use of children as commodities, powerlessness and vulnerability of women, corruption and bribery at all levels are the main causes of trafficking of women and children.

    bangladeshBangladesh is a source and transit country for men and women trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and involuntary servitude. It is also a source country for children - both girls and boys - trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation, bonded labor, and other forms of involuntary servitude. Women and children from Bangladesh are trafficked to India and Pakistan for sexual exploitation. Bangladeshi women also migrate legally to the Gulf for work as domestic servants, but often find themselves in situations of involuntary servitude when faced with restrictions on movement, non-payment of wages, and physical or sexual abuse. In addition, Bangladeshi men and women migrate to Malaysia, the Gulf, and Jordan to work in the construction or garment industry, but sometimes face conditions of involuntary servitude, including fraudulent recruitment offers; debt bondage may be facilitated by large pre-departure fees imposed by Bangladeshi recruitment agents. Internally, Bangladeshis are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, and bonded labor. Some Burmese women who are trafficked to India transit through Bangladesh.
    - U.S. State Dept Trafficking in Persons Report, June, 2007.

    Children are trafficked internally, externally, and through Bangladesh for purposes of domestic service, marriage, sale of organs, bonded labor, and sexual exploitation. The problem of child trafficking is compounded by the low rate of birth registration, since children without legal documents have no proof that they are underage, and the lack of enforcement at the borders. India and the Middle East are the primary destinations for trafficked children. Children are trafficked from rural areas of Bangladesh to its larger cities, and to countries in the Gulf region and the Middle East. Young boys are trafficked to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar to work as camel jockeys. However, some progress has been made in stemming the trafficking of children to the region.
    U.S. Dept of Labor Bureau of International Labor Affairs.

    The minor girl, Mallika, hailing from a poverty stricken family, was approached by a 'sympathetic-looking' Bangladeshi woman, who offered to take the girl to Mumbai with the promise that the family would see a change in their fortunes. At Apna Ghar, Mallika narrated her woeful tale of being bought in from Bangladesh and being forced into the prostitution trade, to the counselor appointed by the government.

    Tens of thousands of women and children are trafficked out each year from Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world. Poverty provides traffickers with people who have no alternatives for survival. They trust the offers of work or marriage abroad, which promise security but lead them to slavery.

    2. 3. Children, subjected to inhuman treatment - Children Trafficking: Game to adults in UAE was death to Bangladeshi children

    As for Bangladesh it is poverty that puts the children's fate in jeopardy. The sheer prevalence of poverty kills off quarter of a million children annually with fifty per cent of the entire child population remaining malnourished or undernourished at any given time. Thirty-six per cent of the babies are born underweight. They are victims of trafficking and repression. The floating children, in particular, are vulnerable to juvenile delinquency and crime.It is hardly any solace to see Bangladesh ranked 130th among the 192 countries evaluated for the state of the global children.
    There are about 40,000 blind children in Bangladesh and more than two-thirds of blindness in children could have been prevented, 36 per cent of the cases is still treatable, which means over 12,000 blind children can see the light of the world through cataract surgery. About 32 per cent of the cases went blind due to corneal scarring caused from vitamin A deficiency, which means over 10,000 children went blind because of lack of primary health care and community awareness.

    Children are wrongly collected from Bangladesh villages with false promises.

    childCamel jockeys are often kidnapped, sold by their parents or relatives, or taken on false pretences from their own country. Most are taken from Pakistan, India or Bangladesh, though there are also reports that children are trafficked from the Sudan for this purpose.

    The use of children as jockeys in camel racing is itself extremely dangerous and can result in serious injury and even death. There is also evidence of mistreatment and torture of camel jockeys by traffickers and employers. However, the children's separation from their families and their transportation to a country where the people, culture and usually the language are completely unknown means that the children are not in a position to report incidents of abuse.

    The trafficking of children for use as camel jockeys is prohibited by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and by the International Labour Organization's (ILO) Conventions No.29 on forced labour and No. 138 on minimum age - all of which have been ratified by the UAE. The rules of the Emirates Camel Racing Federation also specifically forbid the use of riders under the age of 14, or weighing less than approximately 45 kilograms. Nevertheless, there is strong evidence that children under 14 are still being used as camel jockeys and that the UAE Government has not taken adequate measures to tackle the problem.

    An article in Gulf Times earlier this year included interviews with a camel jockey in Qatar who was recovering from a broken arm and a former camel jockey who confirmed that "There are many injuries to child jockeys. Bleeding due to constant pressure… and smashing of genitals is common and indescribably painful." Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim, President of the race organising committee in Qatar, was also quoted as recognising that the use of child camel jockeys "has sullied Qatar's image abroad". The Supreme Council for Family Affairs and the Interior Ministry in Qatar are currently reviewing the practice.

    .Thirty-six Bangladeshi children, subjected to inhuman treatment while being used as camel jockeysAbout 500 children, who had long been used as camel jockeys, in the United Arab Emirates living in a dreadful stage. The number of Bangladeshi children may increase as there is no exact figure, said the official on Thursday. He also said children, who had grown up, might choose to stay back, but minors would be repatriated with the assistance of UNICEF in phases. Child rights organisations say children are usually kidnapped and sometimes even sold off by their poor parents. Traffickers posing as parents take children out on family passports and visas, often travelling to India. UNICEF and non-government campaigners say children often die or are severely injured as they are tied to the camel's back. The camels apparently become scared and run faster when these children begin crying out loud. This is an old traditional sport in the emirates.

    The government of United Arab Emirates banned use of children below 45kg in weight or 14 years in age, but the law is often violated, said sources. Rescued jockeys, after their repatriation have recounted their traumatic experiences. A survey conducted in 1997 by the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association, found that more than 7,000 children are trafficked out of the country every year (New Age, August 6, 2005).

    Expressing their grim condition back in UAE, they said they had to work there as jockeys.

    just returned from UAEThe sickly and skinny children aged between four and 15 described their ordeal. "I was regularly put on a camel in the race where 60 to 150 camels would run. I had to whip the camel so that I can go first. If failed to be first, second or third, my employer would beat me up," said Abdul Samad, 13, of Noakhali whom his maternal uncle and aunt took to the UAE eight years back.

    "I could not cope with the strong and speedy camel, but I had to suffer for that," Samad, slender and thin boy told The Daily Star at the ZIA.
    Samad's uncle and aunt Nurunnabi and Ratna Nobi, who took him to the UAE, had promised his parents in Noakhali that the boy would live well and go to school every day.
    Samad said he was entitled to get a package of 500 dirham (Tk 8,500) a month, but he never received it. He even does not know if his uncle sent his parents at home any money.
    Meanwhile, interviews with a number of guardians revealed that many of them were not mothers of the children.

    Many of the children cannot recall how they went there and where their home villages were. They cannot recall anything associated with their homes as they were taken to UAE when they were infants.

    The parents of some other children said they had gone to UAE through middlemen in exchange of large amounts of money.
    Nurul Islam (7) and Saddam (5) went to UAE with their mother Shefali Begum in 2000. Shefali Begum is a divorcee who went to the desert-country through a middleman to change her lot. She is an inhabitant of Bancharampur of Brahmanbaria district. She said she used to serve as a housemaid in UAE and her elder son Nurul Islam worked as a camel jockey. She was paid only 300 dirhams a month.

    What was game to adults in UAE was death to Bangladeshi children there. And this has been going on for years, despite protests by human rights and child welfare activists and some interna-tional agencies. Use of children in camel race was cruel in itself while it also created an interna-tional ring of child smugglers and extended a crime network that exploited the poverty of the igno-rant rural people. After intensive lobbying this cruel involvement of children in the sport was banned only recently. But many of the more than 200 children have nothing left of their childhood.

    Return of Camel Jockeys

    returned camel jockeysChildren between five and 12 years used as camel jockeys along with their parents totalling 132 were brought to Dhaka in four phases, are now kept at the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers' Association (BNWLA) shelter home. On a visit to the home, some of the children were playing, a few sleeping and others trying to fit into the new environment. They were talking in Arabic, Urdu and Hindi, Bangla being unfamiliar as they left Bangladesh as babies or toddlers. The shelter workers are struggling to locate their roots. Seventeen-year old Obaidullah Hossain who spent his teens in the heat of the desert in United Arab Emirates (UAE) narrated his story. He was taken to the UAE by his own parents about nine years back, along with his younger brother who was 18 months.

    "I lived with my family six months where my brother and I were marked by a Kafil (sponsor) who later became our owner. A Kafil turns Arbab (owner) when he takes complete charge. My parents got back to Bangladesh at the end of six months and we started our training," he said. "We started with 400 dirhams and two days holiday a month. At the end of two years, we received an increase of only 200 dirhams. We witnessed how fractures were caused as children fell off and run over by camels. I was afraid, but had to go on," Obaidullah added.

    "An average weight of a jockey was 25 to 30 kilograms. The younger the kid, the better it was as the camels could run faster with lightweight on their backs. As I grew older I was made caretaker where I had to feed, exercise and take care of the animals," he continued. "The owner treated us well. We had enough food, medicines and other facitilities we required. My life was at a risk, but the benefits were plenty, and I never wanted to return," he said.

    Shamim, a seven-year old said those who posed as his parents were not real. He lived in the UAE for five years. He fell off the camel twice and had each his hands fractured. He is now acquainting himself with the culture here. Only at the Shelter, he found that he was trafficked as a child. The children said they were given hormone injections to hinder growth and keep their weight within limit to continue as jockeys. Digging into their roots, it was found that most children were trafficked from Cox's Bazar. Many came from Narshingdi and Comilla and a large number from Chandpur.

    Mominul Islam Shuruz, senior investigation officer of BNWLA said: "It is trying job to trace their actual kith and kin. Dishonest people pose as their parents. The risk is that once a child is handed over, he may be sent back to UAE." "We received information that about 600 Bangladeshi camel jockeys are in UAE, and along with their parents, almost 1,600 Bangladeshis are waiting to return home," said Mominul. Those in the business are unaware that the use of children as a jockey in the sport has been banned in the UAE, said sources involved in bringing the children back.

    Passport office officials who are aware of this business issue passports to the children and 'make-shift' parents while those in the police department supply verification knowing well that the process is illegal. Traffickers transport children by bus and air. The outward journeys begin from the Zia International Airport direct to UAE, or to Kanthmandu via Jalpaiguri and from Benapole to Dubai via Kolkata. Transit visas are issued in Nepal. On reaching UAE, the boys face a lot of trouble including sexual harassment, as sources revealed.

    Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Al Ain and Ras Al Khaimah airports see these children arrive and it is here that the Kafils, who plan the entire immigration process, choose which of the children to employ. It has also been pointed out that a fraction from the Bangladesh High Commission in UAE is also involved, including clerks and drivers. With only four BCS cadres in the high commission, the lower level staff employed locally renew passports. The Bangladesh government took the initiative to bring these children back home with the assistance of United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) and International Organisation for Migration (IOM). The UAE government signed an agreement with Unicef in May this year, which banned the employment of children under 16 and weighing less than 45 kilograms in camel races (Daily Star, August 31, 2005).

    Harrowing tales of Azad's 10 years as camel jockey

    The horrifying memories of life as a camel jockey for the last 10 years in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) still haunt Azad Alam. "I often have nightmares that I am on the back of a camel and fall on the ground," says 20-year-old Azad, who returned to Bangladesh recently. "...The employer beats me and then I wake up and, I am now in my own country," he says in Bangla mixed with an accent of Arabic and Urdu, languages he speaks fluently. Azad is now staying at a home of Bangladesh National Women Lawyers' Association (BNWLA) in the city with 65 other camel jockeys who returned home on August 11 and 23. Azad along with his fake parents--Nurunnabi and Ratna Nabi of Noakhali--and their son went to the UAE in 1995 via India as transit.

    Azad does not know if his real parents handed him to Nurunnabi and Ratna for taking him to Abu Dhabi. Only he was directed to call them "Abba" and "Amma' (father and mother), Azad recalls. The BNWLA authority is yet to discover whether Azad's real parents gave their son willingly or he was trafficked. Nurunnabi and his wife along with Azad and some other children and their parents first went to India and stayed there for a few days. Azad, however, cannot remember the name of the state. Azad, his fake parents and their son went to Abu Dhabi separately and stayed at a room of Ratna's sister. More sisters of Ratna had been living in Abu Dhabi since long, according to Azad. A few days later, an Arab man named Ali Diliti--as Azad pronounced it--took him to his house by a car. The man handed Azad over to another Arab, who put him on the back of a camel as soon as he arrived his home.

    "I was very happy to sit on the camel's back, but the accident took place when the animal started running. I fell down. The Arab man beat me and again put me on the camel's back, but I was so frightened that I fell down again," Azad narrates his first experience on a camel's back. "He then tied me with a tree and beat me severely. Blood oozed out the cut skin," he says. "At one stage my employer Ali Diliti took me to his house where I was in bed for two weeks to be cured." Azad says the Arab man also used to beat him if he failed to become first in a race and gave him very little food to keep him light. There were more children from Pakistan and Sudan with Azad. They had to take part in camel races for different competitors--the employer and his friends. "I also had to look after the camels, train them by running them for 20-40 kilometres. I had little time to sleep," Azad recalls his days of camel jockeying that became quite a habit within a few months.

    But crueler was racing against a speedy car. "Some Arabs would drive cars and force us to race against them. We had no choice as they would whip us mercilessly if we disobeyed," Azad says. Overwork and lack of nutrition have taken its toll on the little boy. In his sickly-looking, skinny frame, 20-year-old Azad hardly looks more than 15. The authorities working on human trafficking say boys are often injected drugs to hinder physical growth in a bid to prolong their work period. A camel cannot run fast when boys become heavy. Azad worked under Ali Diliti for four years. "I could not control my tears whenever I went to Amma's residence and would urge her to send me back home. But she wouldn't listen to me," Azad narrates in tearful eyes. Moreover, the monthly salary of 400 dirham he was supposed to get was given to his fake parents, he notes. One day Azad collected a mobile phone number from Ratna's house to contact his mother in Bangladesh. Annoyed by his constant appeal, Ratna sent him to another employer.

    One day in 2000, the young lad fled this second employer's house and started working under another person. "But somehow my fake mother came to know of my whereabouts. She came to me and threatened me saying she would tell the police if I don't go with her." Ratna, however, had to go back as Azad lashed back at her that the police will not arrest him but her.

    One and half years later, Azad went back to his second employer as he had assured him of a better salary of 500 dirham. "I began sending money to my mother," he told The Daily Star at the BNWLA home on Monday. There he only looked after the camels and did not take part in the race. "I used to spend rest of the money on talking to my mother in Bangladesh," he says.

    This year after the UAE government directed all its citizens to release the Bangladeshi camel jockeys, his employer sent him to a deportation cell in Abu Dhabi from where he was flown back home. The youth, who never went to school before going to Abu Dhabi, now dreams of being educated and a free life. "I am happy mother came to visit me here. I will be with my parents very soon and go to school," Azad says. "I want the people, who took me and others for employing as camel jockeys, be punished for our sufferings."(Porimol Palma , September 03, 2005)

    Between fortune and fate

    rokshenaReksona Begum has returned from Saudi Arabia last month with painful memories and nightmares, she never expected in a place where she fled in hope of well paid and decent jobs. ‘It was unbearable!’ says the lady when she recalls the ruthless torture under the guise of household work, and not surprisingly, she was just another victim of sexual exploitation. As hard as it is to believe, this is the case of thousands migrating to Gulf States and countries like Jordan and Spain, where Bangladeshis not only starve for days and weeks but live in dreadful conditions. For women the realities are worse. A divorcee and a single parent, Reksona, somewhere in her 30s was unemployed and living with her parents after divorce. However, life proved to be difficult as the financial burdens of a joint family where high and hard to keep up with.

    In case of Reksona, she was lured with a well-paid job abroad. The offer was placed by Islam, a trusted neighbour. Islam, a rickshaw puller, convinced Reksona that she could go to Saudi Arabia and earn good money for her family only if she could arrange Tk 30,000 for her migration. Agreeing to the terms, Reksona was introduced to the Royal Associates International Limited at Banani. The agency managed her legal formalities and sent her to Saudi Arabia. Reksona, a recent returnee after a few months stay at the desert kingdom, now alleges that in the guise of a well paid job described to her as household work, she was brutally tortured and sexually exploited. Many women like Reksona are reported to have often encountered with similar situations at the Gulf States and mostly in Saudi Arabia.

    ‘They beat me up mercilessly for not understanding their words,’ says a tear-choked Reksona. Like Reksona, a number of returnees from Saudi Arabia accused the recruiting agencies like Royal Associates of being involved in the sex business, run through a nexus between countries of origin and departure. Those who give in are kept abroad while the rebels are abandoned and left stranded, Reksona told Rights Jessore, a local non-government organisation that rescued her. It is estimated that more than 10,000 to 20,000 women who are trafficked every year for work mostly in Gulf States meet a similar fate.

    Experts and human rights organisations allege that a criminal network of local recruitment agencies and recruiting organisations abroad conspire to recruit women with the promise of well paid jobs abroad and force them into hard labour, sex work, as well as physical and mental abuse. They are charged inflated rates by the agencies here and are also at times cheated of their payments once they go abroad. The government meanwhile has done little to protect woman migrants- a section who reportedly contribute a much higher percentage of their remittances than their male counterparts.

    According to the State of World Population 2006 released by the UNFPA, migrant women’s contribution to the country in the form of remittance is more than men. The study unveils that Bangladeshi migrant women in the Middle East send 72 per cent of their earnings back home. The study further reveals that 56 per cent of female remittances were used for daily needs, health care or education—a pattern which reflects the spending priorities of migrant women. This is largely because women are more inclined to invest in their children than men. However, all this is not taken into consideration when these women are ruthlessly exploited by recruitment agencies. Moreover, these agencies, owing to their financial might, are well protected by elements in the government

    There are at least 740 recruitment agencies licensed by the government but hardly any law or measure is in place to check their activities, say sources at the Bureau of Manpower Employment and Training (BMET). Recruitment agencies meanwhile are also accused of depriving migrant workers most of their income alongside failing to secure their human rights.

    The south-west border is the safest route for illegal trafficking of women and children. However, illegal trafficking of manpower complying with the legal formalities is not much behind the by-road system. A section of recruiting agencies, travel agencies and brokers are closely involved with the whole mechanism of illegal trafficking through legal means (New AgeXtra. 6-12 October, 2006).

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    2. 4. Marriage

    Haldi Marriage Ceremony

    Wedding: Biyah Shajoni Shajo
    My marriage
    Fara Halud
    Haldi Ceremony Bidhir Badhon Katbe Tumi (Tagore song)
    Abhishek's Haldi

    rural marriage ceremony

    Muslim Marriage Customs and Laws: The joutuk or dowry plays a key role in the arrangement of marriages in Bangladesh. The dowry is an agreement between the bride’s and the groom’s family whereby the bride’s family agrees to pay a certain amount of money and/or goods in kind to the groom’s family [Aziz and Maloney 1985].

    Violence against woman on rise in Kushtia

    At least 19 women were killed in Kushtia district last month due to alleged domestic violence. Most of the victims were housewives and demand for dowry was the main cause.

    Of them, eight were allegedly tortured to death by their husbands or their family members and the rest 11 committed suicide, according to records with police, NGOs and women's rights activcists.

    The death toll from violence against woman in the district was 14 in the previous month. Six of them were killed allegedly by husbands or their families and the rest were incidents of suicide, the records showed. Torture by husbands or their families forced the victims to commit suicide, police sources said.

    Of the murders last month, five were in Kushtia Sadar upazila, two in Khoksa, three in Kumarkhali, five in Bheramara and four in Daulatpur upazila. Talking to this correspondent, police at the five police stations in the district admitted that death of women from violence increased alarmingly in the district. As per records, 32 women were killed in previous four months in the district. This was the highest number of death of women in the 10 districts in Khulna division.

    Violence against women and deaths are increasing, said a doctor at Kushtia General Hospital where autopsy of victims are done. In most cases, husbands were responsible for violence leading to death of housewives or incidents of suicide, an official of Mollah Foundation, a research organisation in Khoksa upazila, told this correspondent. Other family members were also found involved in physically or mentally torturing housewives, he claimed. Demand for dowry was the main reason for torture, he said.

    In a number of cases, poverty was behind family feuds leading to torture by husbands, according to findings by Mollah Foundation. The actual number of deaths from violence would be far more as many incidents were not reported to police deliberately by the victim's relatives and cases were not filed to avoid hassle.

    In such cases, police have no alternative to recording unnatural deaths, said a police official in the district. NGOs working on violence against women said in many cases, victim's families did not lodge case fearing retaliation by the killers and apprehending harassment by police. "Poor families of victims also want to avoid trouble and spending money on legal battle," said Dewan Aktheruzzaman, executive director of FAIR, an NGO in Kushtia (Daily Star, June 11, 2007).

    Dowry and deaths

    12These are the normal but vicious scenario of rape, dowry and acid violence against women in Bangladesh. Violence against women is a universal phenomenon, exists all over the world as well as in Bangladesh. Our socio-cultural structure, so called traditional views, lack of education, non application of laws and justice and many other factors are involved in violence against women. From 2002-2006, over the last 5 years, as per statistics of a human rights organization, Odhikar, total 5128 women and girl children were raped, 1683 were the victims of dowry related violence and 855 women were the victims of acid violence. The ratio of rape, dowry and acid violence against women are 63 percent, 20 percent and 17 percent from 2002-2006, respectively (Taskin Fahmina, March 10, 2007).

    dowryThe dowry culture is largely responsible for domestic violence. It is a curse for our social life. Women become victims of unbearable harassment due to the force of dowry system in society. Most of the time the sufferers are housewives. Many innocent women fall victim to this brutal system and their lives become miserable. Illiteracy adds to the miseries of these women. Dowry is a serious problem that hampers the normal marriage of young girls. Sometimes the guardians are unable to provide dowry fully and so the new brides are tormented by their husbands. Though almost fifty percent of our population is women, they are not being given their rights and are seriously mistreated by their family members. The family members are torturing women psychologically and physically. The violence against women is increasing rapidly.

    I felt disturbed when I read the report 'Violence against women on the rise in Kushtia' in The Daily Star on June 11, 2007. At least 19 women (most of them housewives) were killed in Kushtia district alone last month. They were allegedly tortured by their husbands and their family members. In most of the cases husbands were responsible for violence leading to death of the housewives. Oppression against women is increasing everywhere and the victims' families keep mum, declining to take any legal support. How long will this continue? (R. Islam, June 21, 2007).

    Marriages as well as divorces can be registered with the government through the civil registration system, but most of those events are not registered. In cases where they are not, they are enacted through marriage ceremonies following existing religious and social customs and procedures.

  • Anti Dowry Drama in Bangla. This is funny but subject is not funny, the video is given a message against dowry on the occation of wedding in Bangladesh. All performers live in Bangladesh but not Bangladeshi. They are from America, England, France, Japan, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Sweden.

    Muslim Divorce Customs and Laws:

    Divorce of a Muslim marriage is an option which is available to spouses. The process of divorce is usually lengthy and hazardous starting with quarrels followed by mental and physical insults to women, followed by separation and, finally, leading to divorce. Divorce in Muslim marriages is governed by the laws of Islam which traditionally grant more opportunities to men than to women.

    A British Bangladeshi girl was saved from a marriage

    Sajeda comes from Sylhet and though she is just sixteen, marriage proposals for her pour in everyday and although she is not old enough to understand the implications of marriage and the responsibilities that come along with it, at the back of her mind she feels that somehow her red British passport has something to do with it. Still in school, getting married is not in her list of priorities at the moment because when she brought the topic up with her ‘mates’ at school, in London, they were appalled. ‘No one gets married that early, you have to finish education, see life, get work and then think about marriage,’ she is told by a friend, but though Sajeda is willing to come out of a very stereotyped lifestyle that makes it a point to confine women within a boundary at a very early age and often against her will, she knows deep in her heart that unless she relents to a proposal deemed a heavensend by her parents, she faces the risk of being beaten, shunned and even ostracised.

    Sajeda’s tale is not an isolated one; in truth, her issue reflects the perennial predicament faced by many young expatriate Bangladeshi women growing up in England. And, sociologists looking for root causes as to why people from Asian communities cannot integrate within the multicultural British society will find that, to a large extent, the answer lies in the undying custom of forced marriages. Of course, this is not a new discovery. We have known for quite some time that young British born Bangladeshi women are often forced to come back to the country and get married against their will.

    But that is as far as our knowledge goes because once these marriages are solemnised — often in remote parts of Sylhet — the bride and the groom are sent to the UK thus making it difficult for local reporters to look for follow-up stories. However, in the UK the tales of the woes faced by the women are common. Reportedly, Bangladeshi women in London and in other parts of the UK work but they have not managed to break their status which is restricted and move onto socially respectable employment from where social assimilation becomes easier.

    This information may sound irrelevant here but in fact there is no denial that once a girl is forced to marry at an early age, her will to choose anything for herself is summarily strangulated. And, the biggest casualty is often the education of the girl because it stands to reason that a family which endorses marriages under pressure will also apply force in the matters of pregnancy. Now, all this may not paint a very heartening picture of the desi community in the UK but a recent report of a forced marriage that was foiled at the last moment by the intervention of the British High Commission, only opens a deep social scar that we have tried to conceal (New Age, July 27, 2007).

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  • Mass Islamization occurred under the Mughals and followed by British Colonization

    2. 4.1. Teenage Mothers

    Bangladesh ranked highest among nations in South-Central Asia for the number of teenage mothers, the current rate being 125 per 1000 women aged between 15 and 19. The State of World Population Report 2002 released by UN Population Fund presented this report recently, giving the statistics of other countries as well. According to UNFPA Report the number of teenage mothers per one thousand in Nepal is 124, Afghanistan-111, Bhutan-57, Pakistan-50, India-44, Iran-28 and Sri Lanka-23. The report further elaborates that 22 per cent of girls in Bangladesh give birth before reaching the age of 15 and 40 per cent become pregnant against their will because of lack of knowledge regarding various family planning methods and services

    Another disconcerting news is that though the current contraceptive prevalence rate in the country is 54 per cent, nearly 63 per cent of the married couple are reported to have never used modern family planning or contraceptive methods.

    The alarming state of teenage pregnancy in Bangladesh becomes outrageously obvious from even a cursory glance at the above figures, and we desperately hope the people entrusted with the responsibility of taking care of the matter had a look at them and accordingly will plan their next moves toward bringing down the rate to an acceptable level. What is perplexing is the realisation that though the programmes of family planning have more acceptability in the rural societies in this country compared to those in the other conservative societies, and despite having better rate of female education and empowerment, the rates of early motherhood is tolerably low in India and Pakistan than that in Bangladesh.

    The need of the hour is to undertake and implement vigorous educative and behaviour change communication programmes on health and family planning, with special emphasis on reducing fertility rate and promoting better health, among the rural and urban population who are not covered under the presently run programmes. There has to be more social investment in the health sector today to ensure better health of the population tomorrow. No doubt this will require greater social mobilisation, commitment and political will (Editorial,The Independent, 9. 12. 02).

    2. 4. 2. Unsafe abortion causing deaths of women

    When Deepali (not her real name) was admitted to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) with gangrene in her private parts, she was in psychological disorder. A traditional birth attendant aborted her pregnancy using herbs that caused serious internal injuries, which eventually turned into gangrene. The 20-year-old unmarried woman from Bogra, who was admitted to the abortion ward of DMCH on June 16, is still struggling for life. Her pregnancy was the result of an affair with a young man who works in a garment factory in Dhaka. "I lost my senses when I found myself pregnant," Deepali mumbled lying in the hospital bed. "My father arranged a dai (birth attendant) to remove it," she said.

    Her father was crying, sitting beside his daughter's bed at DMCH. "I did not know the dai would kill my daughter," the poor father said. DMCH's Obstetrics and Gynecology Department everyday receives two or three patients like Deepali, most of them are criminal abortion cases, doctors said.

    Seventeen-year-old Nilu of Kurigram district died at DMCH last month after fighting for life for 12 days. Her family members said Nilu had been involved with a young guy in her village. Her father Akkas Mia said: "We went to a dai to abort her pregnancy but did not know we will have to lose Nilu." The dai doctored her five months pregnancy and left her in utter pain. After a week, Akkas Mia went to a quack who gave some herbal treatment. But Nilu's condition deteriorated further and she lost her senses. "When Nilu was admitted here, there was nothing left for us to do," said a physician.

    Most patients presently admitted to the abortion ward of DMCH have serious infections in the vagina and birth passages, said Associate Professor, Obstetrics and Gynecology department, Dr Farhana Dewan. "These patients usually come here at a critical stage -- when they are about to die. The unskilled traditional birth attendants are solely responsible for this," she said. "The cases we receive are mostly unwanted pregnancies. The families of the victims try to terminate the pregnancy secretly in fear of social stigma," Dr Farhana said.

    It is estimated that 780,000 unsafe abortions are performed annually in Bangladesh. Of these 8,000 result in mother's mortality. Poverty, cultural practices, lack of reproductive health education and gender inequality are major factors that contribute to these tragic deaths. Dr Farhana said strategies to decrease maternal mortality should include provision of quality post-abortion care, health education and awareness of unsafe abortion (Source: 10 July, 2005, The Daily Star).

    Women’s Position in the Family:

    In rural Bangladesh, the husband is the breadwinner and the wife is the primary home-keeper. She depends on her husband for livelihood, and there are hardly any other possibilities for her to make a living. Moreover, divorced persons are looked down upon in the society with an obvious gender difference. Divorce of a woman damages her as well as her family’s prestige. It may lower prospects of marriage of her younger sisters with the most eligible grooms. Chances of remarriage after divorce are usually lower for women than for men and this holds for Bangladesh as well as elsewhere [Shaikh 1995, Chamie and Nsuly 1981].

    The practice of the dowry is a social curse to women contributing to marital tensions and divorce. It reflects women’s economic dependence on men. In a number of cases the bride’s party fails to pay the dowry demanded by the groom’s party.

    Men were prominent in the early struggles to improve the condition of women in Islamic society, but from the beginning women, too, were involved. For the first time in the history of Islam, the veil and other issues such as polygamy, divorce, and segregation were openly discussed in Middle Eastern society. Advocacy for women’s rights became widespread in the twentieth century. Modernization further improved women’s position. As women’s economic and social situation improved, ideologues struggled with how to reconcile the changes with Islamic law. Women figured more prominently in public life and took a role in the history-making nation building of Turkey and Tunisia, which led to further secularization and economic modernization.

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    2. 5. Attacks against Women

    mother and daughter attacked by acid A phenomenon in Bangladesh is acid attacks against women. Sulfuric acid is thrown on a woman's face, forever scarring her and revoking her chance to get married and have children. Attacks can come from "rejected suitors," or be motivated by family feuds or the absence of a dowry. Men can access acid easily, and attacks have been on the rise: an attack is reported every three days. There were 233 recorded cases from 1995 to 1998. Few women seek justice because of limited legal help, fear of perpetrators, police corruption, and a discriminatory legal system - although there is now death penalty for acid attacks. We need a social change.

    Mobility of Unmarried Adolescent Girls

    rescue from child marriageGenerally, in rural Bangladesh, the mobility of girls is restricted after they reach menarche, and our data supports this generalisation. However, there was a range in the mobility of girls.

    Interestingly, despite restrictions, some girls had effective strategies to negotiate greater mobility and gain access and exposure to the wider world. In the majority of cases, girls were not allowed to go very far beyond their villages, and they nearly always needed reasons and permission to go out. Their spatial mobility was often determined by where relatives lived.

    The most common reasons for the mobility of girls were social visits, attending public events, and shopping. When girls needed to access healthcare treatment, their mobility depended in part on the type of illness; however, families often consulted providers and brought medicines home, markedly limiting mobility for healthcare seeking in several cases. Often, conditions were applied to mobility: many girls had to be accompanied by family members and were allowed out only during the daytime.

    Although mobility restrictions were common, their extent or degree varied by household. Some families were very strict and controlling, whereas others were more flexible with their rules. Socio-economic status seemed to influence mobility: all of the non-poor girls had medium or high mobility. The individual personal characteristics of the girls also played a role.

    Some were more successful than others at negotiating freedom, and some seemed more able to instil trust in their parents that they were “good girls” and sensible. Those personal characteristics are likely part of the complex dynamics of family interactions, from which some girls emerged empowered relative to others.

    These findings are important in several respects. They suggest that although gender discrimination and restrictions are widely prevalent, at the community level, there are opportunities for change because not all families adhere strictly to the rules of social expectations.

    Moreover, in some cases, girls are skilled at challenging existing social practices and at negotiating for more freedom. These insights may help inform efforts to encourage parents to allow their daughters to continue their education, delay their marriage, and develop life skills critical for their well-being in the future(R T Naved, S Chowdhury, S Arman, K Sethuraman, 2007).

    Sexual harassment

    Sexual harassment comes in all forms, and in all spheres of a woman's life. From ogling, winking, passing comments in the form of sexual innuendos, to touching, groping, 'eve-teasing', stalking, sending lewd text messages, 'prank' calls, display of pornography, threatening and intimidation, acid attacks, and unwanted 'love' proposals. Most women in our society have been subjected to some form of sexual harassment at some point in their lives. Women who have to be in public places grimly 'accept' harassment as part of their daily lives, facing it as soon as they are out of the house. Instead of demanding a change in male behaviour women are segregating themselves from their male counterparts, sometimes by wearing hijab, as a defence mechanism. In spite of this horrific climate, there are no national laws against campus and workplace sexual harassment.

    It was in 1998 that a series of rapes and incidents of sexual harassment by a group of students with political backing came to public view. The administration proved how nonchalant they were about such atrocious crimes by showing a complete reluctance to take action against the known rapists. The first report in the media came out on August 17 in the Daily Manobjomin where it was reported that three female students of JU had been raped by student cadres of Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL)of the university. On August 19 the first demonstration against rape and sexual harassment was brought out by students of the university. A fact-finding committee later reported (The Daily Star, September 26, 1998) that a total of 20 JU students were raped in different locations on campus and 300 were sexually assaulted by members of this group.

    Ever since the movement in 1998 students of JU have been demanding that a code against sexual harassment be implemented. A section of the teachers of JU have supported this demand. A Draft Policy was first presented to the university administration in 1999. In 2000, 17 teachers from JU forwarded a revised policy to the administration. From then on it has become a ritual to demand the approval of the policy on Women's Day (March 8) every year. A formal committee was formed under the university authorities and with the help of lawyers (Sultana Kamal of Ain O Salish Kendra was also placed on this committee), legal technicalities were further brushed up and the new draft was presented to the authorities in April 2007.

    Having a policy against sexual harassment will not mean that harassment will stop. But not having such a policy does not mean that harassment does not exist. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) Education Foundation conducted a study on sexual harassment on campus in 2005. This study ('Drawing the Line') revealed that nearly two-thirds of university students in the US experience some type of sexual harassment and less than 10 percent of them report it (Hana Shams Ahmed, Daily Star, August 1, 2008).

  • Schoolgirl, family burnt in acid attack
  • Repression on Women
  • Fundamentalists ask govt to stop all women sports
  • A Devil in Pir's (socalled religious/spiritual leader) Clothing

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    2. 5. 1. Violence against women still high

    earning about half a dollar, She does not know today is International Women's Day as the event makes little difference to her. The incidence of violence against women remains significantly high despite a downward trend in the past few years.

    Dowry continues to be the major reason for violence against women. According to the human rights coalition Odhikar, 138 women were killed and 47 tortured while 13 committed suicide in dowry-related incidents in 2007. The number of dowry-related violent incidents in 2006 was 320, with 243 being killed and 64 tortured. The Odhikar report put the number women and children raped in 2007 at 456. Fifty-six women and 23 children were killed after rape. In 2006 the number of rape victims was 639 – 412 women and 227 children.

    According to the Acid Survivors’ Foundation, 2,627 men, women and children were victims in 2,060 incidents of acid violence between 1999 and 2004.

    The annual casualty of acid violence has continued to come down ever since – 272 in 2005, 221 in 2006 and 187 in 2007. Women continued to be the major targets of acid attacks, with the reasons ranging from dowry to property that my father had received,’ Tahura told New Age in Hatibandha, Lalmonirhat recently. She mentioned that she was pressured at the family level to accept the settlement. ‘I was not a witness as I was sleeping during the incident and taking advantage of this, my family refrained from depositing witnesses before the court.’

    Even then, she dared to spell out her story because she receives a certain amount of money from the Acid Survivors Foundation regularly. The status of many hundreds of thousands of women in Bangladesh, especially in the north, is even worse. Dowry, divorce, polygamy, early marriage, hillah [proxy] marriage, repression of women in family, and even rape are not uncommon in many backward villages.

    Radha Rani, a mother of four at village Telipara in Thakurgaon Sadar, was gang raped and the rapists gauged out her eyes when she recognised them. Two culprits – Rafiqul and Yusuf – have been sentenced to 27 years’ imprisonment. ‘Will they come out of jail during the voting?’ she expressed her suspicion. Asked about her demand to the state, she said, ‘I need justice in all cases like this and I also deserve some help as I cannot work. My life is meaningless.’

    Sakhina Akhter, who was once a nurse at a clinic, is now staying with two children at her parents’ home in Panchagarh Sadar after her husband deserted her after taking dowry on the pretence of borrowing money for running a business. A determined Sakhina, with the assistance from rights campaigners, is fighting for justice; she has filed two lawsuits.

    Mirza Nazmul Islam, a lawyer who helps legal patronisation of victims by the Rangpur-Dinajpur Rural Service, a non-governmental organisation, said sensitive cases could be taken up if they were brought to their attention. ‘The entire region is poor and violence is also a poverty syndrome,’ he told New Age in Panchagarh. Shahidul, a hawker in Kurigram Sadar, was forced to get married with Sujona after she became pregnant a few years back. Later, he claimed dowry from the family of Sujona and beat her whenever she raised voice.

    Asked why he assaulted her wife frequently, he denied and said she did not listen to her most of the time. ‘This is common in this backward region. I strongly believe, reconciliation is very important for making peace in family apart from making all social and official efforts to improve conditions of women,’ said Tajul Islam, a physician-cum-rights leader who runs an organisation called Unnota Paribar Gathan Mahila Sangstha in Kurigram. He mentioned that their ‘Male Coalition’ had vowed to show ‘zero tolerance’ to violence against women.

    Rasheda K Chowdhury, adviser in charge of women and children affairs and primary and mass education ministries, stressed the need for a social movement alongside legal measures to check violence against women, which, she observed, is present everywhere in the country even today (New Age, March 8, 2008).

    Violence against women runs high in North Bengal

    Tahura Khatun, an undergraduate student at the Hatibandha Women’s Degree College, has been bearing ugly marks of acid burns on her face since January 2006. Miscreants threw acid on her after she had turned down the marriage proposal from one of her cousins. Tahura hopes the spots on her face would go away after surgery but is aggrieved that the culprit, Faridul, is freely roaming about. Her father Tayeb Ali of Maddhyo Goddimari village took money for making an outside-the-court settlement with the family of the main accused.

    ‘I want justice not money. I did not even touch the money disputes to spurned marriage proposals. The legal aid wing of the Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, on the basis of media reports, pointed to an upturn in the incidence of violence against women, and children, this year.

    In February alone, there were 193 incidents of violence against women. Thirty-four women were raped, four abducted and 23 tortured. Besides, 44 women and children were killed. Meanwhile, there has been a significant rise in the incidents of violence against women at workplace and torture on domestic helps.

    A Bangladesh Institute of Labor Studies survey found out that 563 women were sexually abused at workplace between from 1998 and 2007. In 2007 alone 28 women workers were sexually abused and eight of them were killed after rape at workplace. Of the victims, 19 were garment workers, 6 domestic helps and 3 workers in other sectors.

    The BILS survey found domestic helps, mostly girls, faced violence at their place of employment. In 2007 63 such occurrences took place, in which 34 domestic helps were killed and 28 tortured. Women rights activists, however, believe that although the incidence of violence against women continues to be high there has been a general increase in the level of awareness across society.

    Women have become more vocal these days against violence, be it at home or workplace, they say. Sulatna Kamal, a former adviser to the caretaker government and executive director of Ain O Salish Kendra, told New Age that people are now more conscious about these issues than they used to be. ‘The intensity of violence at individual and familial matters is increasing because women now want to exercise their rights while their male counterparts are still not willing to break away from their patriarchal mindset,’ she said.

    The former adviser urged the government to use the state machineries for an end to all sorts of violence. Ayesha Khanom, general secretary of the Bangladesh Mohila Parishad, told New Age that women were now more vocal about their rights and in protest at violence against them.

    ‘Women now come forward to take legal aid if any violence against them takes place. Previously we had to convince them to take the support,’ she said. Ayesha suggested that the issues of equal rights and violence against women should be incorporated in textbooks so that schoolchildren develop awareness of these issues very early in their lives.

    Shirin Akhter, president of Karmajibi Nari, said strengthening of local government is important to curb violence against women. She said wage discrimination, sexual harassment and safety problems still pose major problems for women at their work place (New Age, March 8, 2008).

    Women remain forgotten- Public Toilets

     lack of suitable toilets both at workplace and public placesThe number of working and floating women is increasing in the city but none of the Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) public toilets is suitable for them. In absence of adequate number of public toilets in the city, men can respond to the call of nature in open spaces but women cannot take such liberty.

    According to doctors, women suffer from serious health complications due to regular practice of tolerating the pressure of urination for a long time. The absence of public toilets even prevented the traffic wing of Dhaka Metropolitan Police from deploying female police members at traffic points. A sergeant on duty at Bijoy Sarani said once some policewomen were deployed for traffic control the DMP was forced to withdraw them within a week. Lack of public toilet facility was the key reason behind the withdrawal, he added.

    This correspondent met Sanjida Wahid (not her real name), a High Court lawyer, at the chamber of a nephrology expert. She came to the doctor for treating urine infection. Sanjida said women suffer the most due to insufficient number of public toilets. Toilet facility is inadequate in their working place as well. “From my experience, I know the toilets at most of the offices in the city are not suitable for female staff's use,” she said.

    Merina Begum who works at a garment factory at Mirpur told this correspondent that at least 350 people, mostly women, work in a shift in the factory and for such a huge number of workers only two toilets are available on the floor. She said though the factory management cleans the toilets every morning, it is very difficult to keep them clean always due to excessive use by the workers.

    The toilets are engaged all the time, leaving little scope for cleaning, she added. “Actually I don't use toilets outside home -- neither at workplace nor while returning home as there is no such place for us,” said Merina. Shahidul Islam, associate professor of nephrology at the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) Hospital, said people who regularly tolerate the desire for urination for a long time usually faces recurrent Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). Stones can develop in their urinal bladder, Dr Shahidul said explaining the health hazards people have to face due to inadequate toilet facilities (Raihan Sabuktagin, July 30, 2008).

    On the democratic emancipation of women

    2. 6. Police Corruption

    bangladeshi police - the same attitude under all governmentsRecently the most circulated bengali news paper "Prathom Alo" wrote in an editorial, "Do we need Police Department ?" In Dhaka Metropolitan police collects millions Taka (Bnagla currency) each day from street shopkeepers. All governments have failed to control the police from bribery and other inhuman activities.

    The police, education, health, local government and communication sectors are the most corrupt, said a report of the Bangladesh chapter of Berlin-based corruption watchdog, Transparency International. The Corruption Database 2004, launched at the National Press Club on Thursday (15. 09. 05), found that in terms of corruption, the police secured the top position. The communication sector secured the top position in terms of the volume of corruption, Ordinary people suffer most from corruption and unless it is reduced, living standards will not improve (New Age, September 16, 2005).

    A survey conducted last year said that 78% people do not believe the police about their services. Is it not enough to prove the lack of confidence of the people on the police? The police think themselves as king and the public are their subjects. Showing reason they think it is their duty to persecute the people. As if the people are their permanent source of income. But we see from the newspapers that the policemen were stoical as and when crimes were taking place close by their location. Even in many instances, during the time of great danger men do not get the due assistance from the police. There are countless examples in our country that can be given. When a man inform the whereabouts of the miscreants to the police, the informer receive premature death letter from the hands of the miscreants because the police allegedly convey the same to them (miscreants). It is also a cause of no confidence upon police (The Bangladesh Observer, 22. 07. 03).

    Nevertheless, the fact remains that if all the incidents of corruption had seen daylight on being reported by newspapers, there would have been an infinitely more horrendous realisation about corruption: the extent to which economic losses are inflicted on the nation together with an infringement on civic rights, because corruption and abuse of power go hand in hand.

    Let's have the political will needed to carry out police reform, sweep away the regulatory cobwebs and introduce transparency based on accountability at all levels of decision-making

    Poilice Corruption in Bangladesh
    Schoolgirl 'killed' after rape, police allegedly record suicide case

    While working in rural ares, several poor family complained that because they are unable to bribe the police their husbands/family members are in jail for several year. We spent plenty of time in court and jail to release them from prison. After a long battle, we could set four cases free from jail. All four of them is now working for our project.

    Lawyers of Bangladesh are only available for those who can pay. We could not find any human right group in Faridpur. The haggard defeated looks that prisoners wear on their faces. The jail is bigger than the personality of individuals. The jail is also a murderer. It's a killer of souls. And perhaps this murder leaves its worst marks on children. Our jails like all jails may let the body survive but the person inside is always butchered.

    On 23 rd December, 2003 the Daily Star writes;

    Behind bars sans trial for years: 155 Dhaka Central Jail inmates languish with no witnesses to pin them down Chaitanya Chandra Halder and Shariful Islam. Mohammad Jahangir has spent the last 11 years in custody at Dhaka Central Jail without trial.
    Son of Abdur Rahman of Dholairpar under the city's Demra Police Station, Jahangir was arrested on September 9, 1992 on charges of robbery and murder. Three days later, he was sent to jail. Since then, he was produced before the Court of Second Additional Metropolitan Sessions' Judge, Dhaka on 78 occasions but trial was put off each time as prosecution failed to produce witnesses for deposition before the court..

    As many as 155 such inmates of Dhaka Central Jail has been incarcerated without trial for five or more years because prosecution witnesses did not show up for deposition. The cases against them involving charges of rape, murder, robbery, abduction, smuggling and possession of illegal firearms and explosives are currently pending with the Court of Dhaka District and Sessions Judge, the Court of Dhaka Metropolitan Sessions Judge and the Special Tribunal for Prevention of Women and Children Repression, Dhaka, court sources said.
    Preferring anonymity, an official of Dhaka Central Jail said a large number of such accused continue to languish in other prisons across the country without trial due to the same problem.

    "Why should I have to spend year after year in jail without trial. What if I'm acquitted of the charges or given a prison sentence less than 11 years. How can I get back those years lost in jail," said Jahangir while standing in the dock on October 21. Despite repeated reminders, the prosecution failed to produce their witnesses. These witnesses have constantly avoided giving deposition ignoring court orders mailed to their addresses, said a lawyer on condition of anonymity. He said the courts concerned refused to grant bail to the accused despite a Supreme Court (SC) decision that undue delay in holding trial due to the prosecution's fault will constitute valid grounds for bail.
    Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Moudud Ahmed said the situation is being monitored and the ministry 'would take measures' for the deserving accused to get bail after assessment of their cases.

    Inspector General of Police (IGP) Shahudul Haque declined to comment on the issue saying he didn't have knowledge of the situation.

    child labourCountless number of children are arbitrarily arrested and held for various lengths of time in detention - ammesty International

    Experts point towards the mounting violation of rights among street children who live on the pavements and streets. According to researchers, it is estimated that there are 50000 street children in Dhaka alone. These children make a living out of working as domestic servants or prostitutes, selling flowers, picking rubbish over dumps for scraps of paper or plastic that can be sold, sell drugs and alcohol. They are being regularly picked up by the police who extract bribes, beat, humiliate and harass them.

    According to an Amnesty International report, countless of number of children are arbitrarily arrested and held for various lengths of time in detention. It also adds that most children are not charged at all; if they are charged with petty or even serious offences, they do not have the wherewithal to engage legal counsel.

    Nurul Nabi (15), who spent most of his life in the streets. His mother had left him in the Shadarghat promising to be back by dusk but she never returned. Since then he spent most of his life in the streets, often bullied and tortured by a gang of boys and the police. Later, he was put into the work of selling marijuana. ‘I did it because that way I could at least be able to earn a living to feed myself,’ explains Nurul. But soon he was arrested and kept in jail. Nurul went through various kinds of mental and physical abuse during his time in jail. ‘I was kept in the adult prison along with two other boys of my age. We were abused frequently and this was accepted by the jail police, who were no better then the prisoners,’ he recalls. Such cases of children being kept with adult prisoners is a direct violation of right.

    Major duty holders such as police, doctors, lawyers themselves violate child rights in various instances. ‘Therefore, it is the judiciary system itself and the service providers, who need to be aware of the laws and protect the rights of children (New AgeXtra, 6-12 October, 2006).

    Present Law, Justice and Parliament Affair Minister Barrister Moudud Ahmed (1995) describes:

    To visit a jail is also to discover that nearly all prisoners are very poor. The visitor will soon come to realise that they are in prison only because they are poor. They have no one to fall back on in society, no means to go to court and, with no legal aid for them, they cannot even apply for bail.....The prisoners live in inhuman conditions, treated as slaves, fed as animals...... After being in jail for long as five years, the prisoner may be given a conviction of two years, with the result that he serves seven years altogether.... Every government since independence has made some attempt, as far as law and procedure is concerned, to remove these sufferings and ensure justice. But they have all been half-hearted, indifferent endeavours. The crisis in the system of justice has now engulfed the nation leading to a loss confidence in the system as a whole.

    Narcoanalysis: A Dangerous Mirage

    The police are increasingly relying on narcoanalysis tests to gather evidence and the courts are accepting them as mere investigative tools. However, these tests are unrealiable. They are capable of inducing false confessions from innocent persons and violate crucial constitutional protections

    Right to Life and Personal Liberty

    Subjecting persons to injections of mindaltering chemicals against their will is a violation of their right to privacy and may even violate their right to health. In this regard, it must be remembered that the drugs used in narcoanalysis are not simple over-the-counter medicines, but powerful drugs. Indeed, one of the most commonly used truth serum substances - sodium pentathol14 - is the same substance that in larger dosages is used to induce a deep coma-like state for executions by lethal injection in the US.15 Indeed, a large dose of this drug is lethal.

    Narcoanalysis tests undermine the right against self-incrimination and have the potential to adversely affect the fairness of a trial. Widespread use of narcoanalysis is likely to foster laxity in the investigation standards of the police force, who may increasingly rely on the seemingly facile nature of the test rather than conduct more pedestrian forensic investigations (Economic and Political Weekly, SOUTH ASIA HUMAN RIGHTS, DOCUMENTATION CENTRE, July 14, 2007,).

    Abetting Police Crime: Why?

    The death of a father of a brilliant student from St. Gregory School at Sutrapur Police Station has once again brought to the fore the unpleasant truth of the criminality of the men in uniform.

    On the day the ninth grade student, now on a holiday after the annual examination, was on his way to play cricket. But in a country where the police are always on the lookout for unearned money, why should the innocent students be allowed the freedom to pursue their hobbies and games after their arduous academic year end? So the student was a target and whisked away into the thana hajat. The boy's father went to the police station and appealed for his son's release. But that was not to be especially when the father is not somebody. Tk 50,000 was demanded as bribe from him, which he naturally refused to pay. His son was beaten under his eyes and when he protested, he was pushed off balance and collapsed to his death.

    The boy was soon released but the police came to threaten the family of dire consequences if it made much of the incident. Yet another student was arrested along with the boy who lost his father. And these are the custodians of law! Devoid of humanity and any sense of dignity of the uniform they wear, these criminals can do anything but not help the rule of law. Do they have sons like the innocent schoolboy they picked up? More importantly, they are abusing the uniform for their personal gains. This is unacceptable by the vilest standard of police ethics and legal codes of conduct anywhere in the world.

    Do the authorities consider this a trivial incident? When will they feel prompted to take note of incidents like this? It is the question of attitude. Corrupt and criminal men in uniform deserve no leniency. If their act of criminality is abetted, others will feel encouraged to carry on similar acts and the rule of law thus becomes a casualty. Protection of each and every individual's rights is guaranteed by the law of the land.

    The police are there only to ensure that no innocent person is victimised. But if they target people to line their pockets and the administration turns a blind eye to the criminal practice, society soon becomes an unlivable place. This society has already turned into such a hostile place and any further continuation of the legacy will leave it completely rotten. We want judicial inquiry into the incident and exemplary punishment of those responsible for the barbaric incident. Although no compensation is enough for the loss of a father, the family must be compensated for what it has suffered at the hands of the police (The Bangladesh Observer, December 19, 2004).

    "But those hungry ones always came before me.
    And did snatch it away ruthlessly,
    Now my word of imagination is
    Dry as a vast desert.
    And my own beautiful!
    I grow listless in the shadowy skirt of
    the earth
    And my dreams of beauty and goodness vanish!"
    1. 'I want to go home"
    2. Small pox claims one, 45 affected in Satkhira jail, South Bangladesh
    Top of page

    2. 7. Women, Silent Victim of ground water poisoning

    Most of the rivers of this continent are named famine. The Ichhamati, the Mahananda, the Punarbhova, the Gudabori, the Kaberi, the Padma, the Ganges the Narmada etc. are few examples. Different literatures including the myths reveal that women play key roles also in protecting and saving water from contamination. Therefore, women are naturally linked with the source, supply and use of clean water.

    Give me a glass of water. I am very thirsty". This is an usual type of request or capricious insistence commonly made by a man to a woman in our society. Because, in most cases, it is women who serve food and water at home. Regarding any waste of drinking water, often the women warn that the reserve might be exhausted if all are not careful. The fear is that it is only the women on whom the prime responsibility of collecting water, often from distant places, is imposed and it is they who are used to this in our social culture.

    To a woman, water is needed for her family members and domestic animals to drink, her cooking, washing, cleaning, bathing and, as said, irrigation in the crop fields. To a man, the concerns about water may be important but not as critical as a woman feels. With limited quantity of water, a woman is more capable than a man to complete all of the activities mentioned above. Evidences validate that a woman gives more value to water than a man does.

    At least two litres of water per day is required for human body to survive. Crops get wilted permanently if the soil regime where they grow remain consistently dry for consecutive days. Women play a key role in harvesting water for both the places. At home, drinking water is stored in the kitchen where usually women stay for a long time to cook and do other domestic works. Therefore, they first feel the shortage of water, if any, at home. What happens about the collection of water? Keeping few exceptions aside, have you ever generally seen a man carrying drinking water from its source to his home?

    Water means prosperity -- its scarcity means poverty, regardless of material wealth. Human rights advocate that when a woman lives in an unsafe and unhealthy environment or lacks access to clean water, she is not enjoying her fundamental human rights to a life of dignity and to an adequate standard of living. Keeping these truths in mind, the poor women-folk have intensified their further involvement in the water harvesting activities beyond their domestic world.

    Asheema is one of Jampukkurs widows, her husband died from poisoned water in 1992. She is also covered in dark spots and has thick nodules on her hand and feet. People no longer accept food from her hands. Her daughters also suffer from skin lesions. Jelaka is 25 years old, she has raindrop pigmentation across her skin and in colder weather coughs up blood. Worse, she is also shunned from her own home. Her husband calls her ugly and hits her with sticks.

    As a result of widespread water contamination domestic abuse has become just one of the social costs. There are now many reports of broken marriage, as husbands send disfigured wives back to their parents. In Jampukkur, many young men and women don’t get married at all. Some people think the poison can be passed on from parent to child so many arsenic poisoned women have problems finding husbands.

    Women are the main users of water. They are the providers and collectors of water Arsenic poisoning has become a social malady in Bangladesh. Because of the socio-economic condition rural women are not given better food even during their pregnancy and become vulnerable to arsenic poisoning. Parents cannot get their affected daughters married.Wivesr are also sent back to their parents together with their children. Divorce is also very common. In a number of cases women also commit suicide.

    National Water Policy

    The Government of Bangladesh in December 1998 decleared the national water policy:

    The aim is to ensure the availability of water to all elements of the society (including poor and under under privileged) and to take into account the particular needs of women andchildrenn.

    The World Health Organization says that its now giving top priority to reducing arsenic levels in Bangladesh and the World Bank is financing intense research into water decontamination techniques so that the drinking water of tens of thousands of Bangladeshis is made safer.

    To start with we must immediately formulate a comprehensive national policy, both short and long term, to address this disaster. We also must create a structure within the government that will have a singular focus to tackle the arsenic problem. So far the location of all government activities in the LGRD ministry has been a mistake. This ministry already has its hands full and cannot be expected to address this disaster (The daily Star, Editorial, January 15, 2002).

    So far we have seen only promises only.We have visited hundreds of villages in rural area waiting for help. Bangladesh villagers now appeared as a ‘real disaster’, affecting thousands physically, physiologically, mentally and economically; it is intensifying malnutrition, poverty and destitution among the already poor villagers. The future of the Bangladesh villages are jeopardized (Prof. I. Zuberi, Rajshai University, Bangladesh, 6. 07. 03).

    If women are given a chance and enough room, they are efficient managers of basic resources like water: the involvement of women not only changes the texture of development but brings about empowerment as well; and decentralised drinking water system becomes more sustainable if women are involved because they are the basic users.

    Johara- background egg plant

    Johora a 21 year old girl with one child, abondoned by the husbend, lives in Kuzurdia Village, Faridpur with palm trees and rice fields around. She does not have either land or job. Sometimes she works in a factory, where she gets half of the salary that a man gets for the same job. We were very shocked to find out that all tube wells in this village was very highly poisonous
    (> 500 µg/l more than 50 times higher than WHO standard). Her father was very sick - suffering from.arsenocosis and liver cirociss. The next week when we visited this village Johara was crying and requested us,"Sir, can you please donate some money for my fathers death ceremony. We have to feed some people, who buried my father." She was looking sadly at the egg plants that her father planted and requested us in a hesitated and shy voice, "Now the egg plants are sick. We have to spray again. it will cost money. Do you think that we have a future? Is it possible that you could do something for us?"

    Perhaps such story repeats all over the country. We were very fortunate to find a arsenic free aquifer at a shallow depths. We made several water wells in this village and made the whole village not to drink poisonous water. We have strated here a women's project since July 2003.

    No action plan for the poor
    All Quite on Arsenic Front - Situation has not changed August 21, 2003
    Some Sobering Statistics On World's Poor
    Top of page

    2. 8. Garment Industry

    From time immemorial, Bangladesh has earned a reputation as the high quality producer of handloom, especially muslin. Poets of the Mughal Durbar likened our muslins to Baft hawa (woven air), Abe rawan (running water) and Shabnam (morning dew). So fine was its texture and quality that it was said to be woven with the thread of the winds and the Greek and the Roman texts mention the Gangetic muslins as one of the most coveted luxury items.

    The garment industry in 1999 accounted for three quarters of the foreign exchange earned by Bangladesh. 85% of the 1.5 million garment workers are female and have on average 5 dependents to look after. The garment industry therefore ensures the survival of more than 7.5 million people.

    Now 76 per cent of Bangladesh's foreign income is earned by the women of Bangladesh but welfare of the garment's workers still unattended.

    Workers' rights are routinely violated. Employers do not respect minimum wage and health and safety legislation. Workers are denied the right to join a trade union. A recent fire led to the death of 23 young women workers, some caught in the blaze while others fell trying to escape. Holiday entitlement and maternity leave, sexual and other forms of harassment, are also high on workers' agenda. The fact is that safety of the workers at industrial units has never been a priority matter for the industry owners or the regulatory authorities. In the aftermath of an industrial mishap, there usually is a lot of hue and cry over strict enforcement and monitoring of industrial safety laws. However, as soon as the dust settles down, the whole issue gets pushed further back into our collective consciousness.

    Workers' Rights are Human Rights too

    When workers lock horn Shirin Akhter, a central leader of JSD and one who has been working with garment workers for a long time, summarily strikes off the conspiracy theory. "This has been a part of our culture. We are always ready to put the blame on others to cover up our own faults," Akhter says. Akhter has absolutely no doubt that what the garment workers did on those two days was a spontaneous expression of their long suppressed anger.

    "Just think of the situation. In a large number of garment factories, if not most of them, there is no standard salary structure, no minimum wage, no security of job. Workers are made to work as if they were machines. After long hours of scheduled work they are often forced to work overtime and very often they are not justifiably paid for those extra hours. Even monthly salaries are not paid on time and sometimes they go on working for months without any salary because the owner's bill is stuck or something of that sort. Then they are often mistreated by the factory authority, especially female workers have to bear continuous verbal and sometimes even physical abuses. It's only natural that their anger will burst out one day, and that is exactly what happened there," Akhter argues (June, 2006).

    A study I conducted for the Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD) earlier this year shows that worker efficiency is closely related to conditions of insecurity in the workplace. A main objective of the study was to gauge the impact of sexual harassment on worker productivity. The results were striking. 27% of all garment workers and 38% of those working outside Export Processing Zones (EPZ) reported having been physically harassed. 30% of all garment workers and 50% of all non-EPZ workers reported having heard of sexual assaults in their workplace. Given the stigma attached to making such incidences public, one can assume there was considerable underreporting of such events

    The smaller factories were the worst offenders, while the very large well- stablished factories appear to afford relatively more protection. Almost half of the workers reported that sexual harassment impairs their productivity. Individual respondents said that their productivity per hour suffers greatly in the wake of an incident of harassment. Women who had been harassed felt acute shame and embarrassment as well as anger and helplessness as well as an inability to concentrate. If a worker is publicly humiliated in abusive language for making mistakes, the ensuing fear and anxiety also increases the likelihood of making mistakes. It is not only individual workers who feel the impact. If a woman has been humiliated, sexually or otherwise, and if some form of redress is not available, the atmosphere of fear and resentment infects all workers.

    Prolonged absence is another frequent outcome of experiencing sexual harassment on the job. Workers reported that in all the cases of sexual assault or rape, the victim eventually left her job, if she was in a financial position to do so. In the process, enterprises lose valuable workers whose performance is satisfactory

    The study also reveals that experiences of sexual harassment can generate resistance that effectively lower productivity. In the absence of any mechanism to correct an abusive situation, workers frequently resort to actions such as intentionally slowing down their output per hour or faking illness. For many workers, this kind of oblique resistance may be the only means of expressing their anger or helplessness. Talking back or seeking help from superiors usually makes things much worse. The high job insecurity in the garment industry promotes rampant sexual coercion and blackmail from superiors. Because workers can be dismissed at the whim of superiors, women -- especially if they are financially insecure -- often have no choice but to quietly accept harassment or to leave if conditions become intolerable. The underlying factors that increase worker vulnerability to sexual harassment can be rectified quite easily. Providing workers with appropriate documentation, and eliminating the system of hiring and firing workers informally would be a critical first step. This does not require new legislation but calls for the enforcement of existing labour laws.

    Bangladesh 3rd largest supplier of garments to US but 7th earner

    Because of the increasing volume of garment sales, caused mainly by the restrictions on certain categories of Chinese items in the US, Bangladesh has become the third largest supplier of garments to the sole superpower, the world’s single largest apparel market, according to the US Department of Commerce.

    In the January-June period of the current year, Bangladesh overtook Honduras to occupy the third place, but ironically Bangladesh stands 7th in terms of money earned in the US market. Bangladeshi exporters with low unit prices for their products have earned the ‘low cost supplier image’ but also a bad reputation of exploiting workers who do good work despite getting the world’s lowest wages.

    The latest report of the US Department of Commerce shows that in the January-June period of this year, Bangladeshi exporters shipped 614 million square metres’ equivalent units of readymade garments to the US, which is 6.01 per cent of its total apparel imports. The volume of Bangladesh exports to the US increased by around 20 per cent in the concerned period.

    Many countries earned much more than Bangladesh despite exporting lower volumes of garments, because they are of high value. India, the sixth in terms of export volume with 470 million units, earned $1.81 billion; Indonesia, the fifth, earned $1.69 billion from 477 million units; Vietnam, the seventh, earned $1.51 billion from 451 million units. Hong Kong, that mainly transhipped Chinese garments, is 13th with 248 million units but earned $1.39 billion, much higher than Bangladesh.

    Global retail giants including Wal-Mart and K-Mart, who ask low prices, feel comfortable in sourcing from Bangladesh -- their “low cost source”.’The researcher feels that entrepreneurs and the government here need to focus on product development. ‘They need to invest in backward linkages, developing human resources, fashionable garment designing and prerequisites for maximum value addition to products.’ (Front Page, August, 17, 2006)

    Garment workers, students most susceptible to sexual assault Incidence of rapes rising; 67.5pc sexual harassment occurs at home

    The OCC conducted the study on 120 patients of sexual assault, admitted to the OCC from August 19, 2001 to August 18, 2003. It was found that out of 10 vulnerable occupations, that of garment workers was at the top of the list of sexual harassment - 27.5 per cent. The other nine categories of victims are students (19.17 per cent), unemployed (13.33 per cent), children (11.67 per cent), maid-servants and housewives (8.33 per cent each) and labourers, health workers, business women and nurses (0.83 per cent each). The study revealed that 90 per cent of the victims are between the ages of 3 and 25 years. The study shows that 67.5 per cent of the victims are unmarried, 25 per cent are married and 7.5 per cent are divorced. According to the study, 82 per cent of the sexual criminals were single rapists and 18 per cent were gang rapists. The study found that 67.5 per cent of sexual harassment occurred at home and 32.5 per cent outside home. (New Age September 6, 2004).

    Needless to say, the increased efficiency argument should not be the primary motive for implementing labour laws. All workers, men and women, should have the right to pursue a livelihood in safety and dignity. If we are serious about establishing a regime of rights in Bangladesh, then demands to assure workers' rights cannot be brushed aside as impossibly idealistic calls. (The Daily Star, 5. 06. 03)

    Agony of a rape victim:The poor girl fears for life as police turn a blind eye

    A teenage female garment worker, who was violated allegedly by a gang of Jubo Dal activists on Friday last at Nayabari in Dohar thana of Dhaka district, was now passing her days with terrible fear as the police are yet to take any action against the rapists even after four days of the incident. "The Dohar thana police did not accept any case regarding the rape of the girl despite repeated efforts by the victim’s family because of illegal and unwarranted interference by local BNP leaders," the family of the victim and local people alleged yesterday.

    Besides, heavyweights of local BNP including some Union Parishad (UP) members are trying to persuade and putting pressure on the members of the victim’s family to settle the matter with the criminals (The Independent, 16. 12. 03).

    50 Garments Workers commit Suicide within only Five months (2004)

    garment workerIn any civilised country, this would have made the most shocking news of a given time. But here things are different. Or how else does it explain that more than 50 suicidal deaths in the narrow manufacturing belt of Gazipur have taken so much time to come to light? In all societies money speak but since money here is in a few hands and not clean, it has the loudest voice of all. Reportedly, there was some manipulation at work to suppress the first mass suicidal cases in our garments industry. When the quota reservation for our garments products goes after a few months, the tragedy may hit even harder

    '90pc garments workers victims of occupational health hazards'

    About 90 percent of garments workers in the country often suffer from respiratory problems, abdominal pain and runny nose and cough, according to a recent survey. They also suffer from headache, fever, tuberculosis and jaundice, said Dr AKM Alamgir while presenting a keynote paper at a seminar on 'Occupational health hazards of garments factory workers' yesterday.

    The worst sufferers are those who work with cotton and fibre in the garment factories, but about 12 percent of the workers have no idea that cotton and fibre particles pose such health hazards, the survey said. Some 11 percent of the workers do not know that they can reduce the risk of inhaling small cotton particles by taking preventive measures. Eight percent of the workers said they do not use masks to protect themselves from such health hazards. During the survey, 41 percent of the workers said they do not avail themselves of the medical facilities provided by Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), (Daily Star, August 17, 2005)..

    Unrest in Garments Sector

    Fresh labour unrest at DEPZ, 12.06.06The latest attacks ,May 2006, on several garment factories in and around Dhaka city by garment factory workers, who are the most productive and most exploited, the least rewarded and appreciated sections of the poor, have made headlines. The whole country seems to be worried. The predatory, rapacious garment factory owners, who always brag as the biggest foreign exchange earners for Bangladesh have come out on the street demanding "justice" and government intervention. Any law-abiding person, including myself, would expect that the rule of law prevails replacing chaos and disorder.

    I would like to know what how many of our population is directly benefited from these sweatshops and what is the percentage of GDP that comes from these sweatshops. I thought this outburst would finally bring the plight of the garment workers to the fore and something will be done to enforce some sort of law and standard for salary, working conditions and other compensation for the "Golden Girls" of our export industry.

    Agreements with Garment Workers not honoured
    A study by Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS) has indicated that garment manufacturers and exporters in Bangladesh have yet to implement four agreements signed between 1997 and 2005 to defuse problems following labour unrests. A number of labour leaders believe that owners reached accords with workers just to defuse troubles whenever there was unrest. Instead of implementing deals, the owners even filed a writ petition against the government notification about minimum wages for labourers circulated in 2001.

    The factory owners also did not implement the 24-point suggestion offered by the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishment in November 2000. The department pointed out 24 kinds of irregularities in the garment industry that went against labour laws. Inspection by the department also found that non-implementation of labour laws resulted in discontent and anger among the workers.

    it may be mentioned that the government had fixed the minimum wage for the garments workers at Tk 930 in 1994, but it remains the same for the last 11 years while prices of essentials and house rent have increased several folds during the period. Garments workers have been demanding that the government raise the minimum wage for them to Tk 2,500. On behalf of the garment factory owners, BGMEA vice-president SM Fazlul Huq, former BGMEA president Annisul Huq, vice-president Abdus Salam Murshedi, BKMEA president Fazlul Huq, and director MA Baten signed the memorandum.

    Garment factory owners refuse to raise minimum wage to Tk 3,000 (45 US Dollars)

    Garment factory owners at a meeting on Wednesday made it clear to the government and trade union leaders that they could not raise the minimum wage to Tk 3,000 as demanded by the workers. Against the backdrop of further unrest at some garment factories in and around the city, the tripartite meeting was held on Wednesday at the secretariat with the state minister for labour and employment, Aman Ullah Aman, in the chair to review the progress in implementation of the terms of the agreement signed by them last month. The meeting decided to form a subcommittee to address the problems, particularly those in the sweater factories.

    Annisul Huq, director of Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association, told the meeting that the wage board has held some eight meetings in the last one month and several more such meetings would be needed to fix the minimum wage for the unskilled garment workers. ‘If we raise the minimum wage to Tk 3,000 basic, the monthly salary of a worker will be Tk 5,200,’ he claimed, adding that the pressure to implement the proposed minimum wage would lead to the closure of many factories in the present scenario. The recent unrest in the garment sector has caused 30 per cent loss in productivity, said the ex-president of BGMEA (New Age, 29. 06. 06).

    Following the unrest in the garment sector, the factory owners at a tripartite meeting late last month accepted almost all demands of the garment workers, including the right to form trade unions, weekly holiday, maternity leave and issuance of appointment letter and identity card. The meeting formed a minimum wage board comprising representatives from the government, the garment factory owners and SKOP as the workers demanded increase of minimum salary from Tk 940 to Tk 3,000 because of the unprecedented price hikes of essentials .

    1. 50 Garments Workers commit Suicide within only Five months (2004)
    2. Fire and stairs stalk workers

    Buyers ask garment owners to increase workers’ wage

    Foreign buyers on Thursday asked the owners of garment factories in Bangladesh to increase the wages of workers in conformity with the compliance issues to have better prices for their products and stay competitive on the global market. At a briefing session on the recent turmoil in the garment sector, organised by the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, they also disapproved the owners’ argument that the Bangladeshi manufacturers would loss competitiveness if they increased the wages. ‘They (garment exporters) need to develop an image of good production practice, improved working condition and standard wages to expect better prices,’ the chief of Bangladesh operations of the Garman retail giant KarstadtQuelle, Arnd Bornemann, said. Diplomats of the Bangladeshi garment importing countries and the buyers’ representatives who attended the session at a city hotel echoed Bornemann (New Age, June 30, 2006).

    "We work hard to help the country’s earn huge foreign currency. But we are the most neglected section of the industry"

    Most of the garment workers are women. This is a good side of the story. But the bad side is that women are paid less than what is given to men in wages, even though they work the same hours. A 1994 survey conducted by Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies had first found the disparity in wages between male and female garment workers. The survey found that 60 percent of the female workers were paid less than Tk. 900 a month, much lower than the wages of the male workers.

    The high positions in garment factories such as cutter, supervisor, operator and ironing are usually reserved for male workers. This has led to the disparity in wages for male and female workers. Female workers suffer the waged disparity even though they are more dedicated to work. A factory owner said, "We prefer female workers than the male workers. Women are more responsible."

    However, women are exploited and deprived of fair wages mainly because they are meek and quiet. "Because women don’t usually protest, the employers exploit them," said a garment worker. It’s true the country’s garment industries have provided the poor women with jobs and security. It is also a fact that these female workers deserve much more for their hard work. Facilities for the workers are in short supply.

    For example, female garment workers are left on their own to return home after work in the night. Those who work in the night shift face this problem. Thus they are vulnerable to attacks by miscreants. Shishu and Nari Mukti, an NGO, conducted a survey last year to determine the status of female garment workers in terms of social equality and security. It found that at least 90 female garment workers were attacked and raped either on their way to work or back home during 1998-2000 period.

    "There is no arrangement for safe transportation of female garment workers who work in the night shifts," said Bilquis Begum, a garment worker. The woes of garment workers do not end here. Garment workers are locked inside factories in a manner that many find it difficult to escape whenever there is a fire or fire alarm.

    The incidents of fire and fire-related deaths in the garment factories are too many. More than 200 garment workers, most of them women, were killed in stampedes caused by fire or fire alarm. The accidents have tarnished the country’s image abroad and harmed the garment business. Employers acknowledge the security hazards faced by the workers. But many of them defend the system on several grounds. "The main gates are locked mainly to protect the factory and the workers from miscreants," said a garment businessman in Dhaka. In spite of the difficulties, a job at the garment industry is the best option for the poor women to pull themselves out of poverty.

    A BIDS survey has found that garment workers live in slightly higher above the poverty level. It said the income of 70 percent of garment workers is even with the poverty level or slightly above it. But without the jobs these women would have lived much under the poverty level, which means they would not have enough meals a day. Many of the garment workers live in slums. But their living condition is higher than other slum dwellers. The garment workers can afford to eat meat and fish more frequently than other slum dwellers. As garment workers earn an income, they are also able to see doctors for illness.

    Take the case of Amerun, a 32-year-old garment worker whose wages supplement her husband’s income. Still childless Amerun and her husband, who is also a garment worker, live well within their means.

    Readymade garment is now the country’s main export product. The country’s earns nearly 4 billion dollars by exporting garment, about 75 percent of the total export revenue a year. However, the benefits for the workers are low. "We work hard to help the country’s earn huge foreign currency. But we are the most neglected section of the industry. This situation must change," said Aklima Begum, a garment worker at Malibagh ( NewsNetwork, July 2005).

    Women garment workers' woes

    A sample survey recently carried out amongst 87 workers in 41 factories, out of whom 55 were female, revealed some interesting statistics. Only 25 percent of the women were given formal appointment letters. Less than 50 percent of women workers were granted maternity leave with pay.

    We find the problems faced by our women garment employees simply appalling. The truth is our garment industry remains weighed down by various drawbacks in management practices. It is high time that both the owners and the industry's apex body BGMEA put their heads together and attend to the problems of the women workers in particular having regard to the huge contribution made by them to the industry and consequent export earnings.

    Let us not forget that these very workers serve as a window of excellence in building our image abroad, particularly amongst the various developed countries who buy our RMG products.

    One of the major problems that continue to haunt the industry has been the labour unrest stemming from poor and unfair treatment of the workers, more so, the women workers. The provisions for minimum wage and job security still remain elusive for workers in a number of garment factories. Their compliance with tripartite agreement will have to be secured by the government (Daily Star, August 8, 2007).

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    2. 8. 1 Women in the Loom Industry

    A number of women, along with the men of their families are involved in the work of weaving to make their living. They have the training, the cash, the handloom machines and the necessary equipments. They now have a new hope, after the devastation of last year's floods

    “I was hopeless and penniless after last year's floods completely damaged our three handlooms and its necessary equipments. I almost went crazy,” said Kulsum Begum, 35, of Sirajganj district. “I had been spending days in extreme misery with my children for about a year. My sick husband was unable to earn money any other way for our family of six. Due to his disability, I worked in our handloom industry with two other female workers before last year's floods. But the floods took everything we had,” she said.

    Later some unknown people introducing themselves as NGO people gave her some cash, three machines of handloom and necessary equipments to continue her business. At present, her three handloom machines are operating again and she is earning the money that her family needs.

    The Power of the Handloom

    Over the last few years, the country has been witnessing a spectacular growth in the garments sector. With the implementation of the compliance law in the year 2004 / 2006, this sector is now all the more well equipped compared to the drastic conditions of even half a decade ago. This, along with the fact that people’s idea of fashion is slowly changing with time, has been an important factor behind the sudden re-emergence of the textile and the cottage industry.

    Local fabrics such as jamdani, different kinds of silk, Tangail cotton and silks, kantha stitched material and so on, are finding their way into the most coveted designer wear and being displayed with much grandeur on the ramps. Experimentation with fabrics has also become a popular phenomenon with discerning designers who are eager to establish their exclusivity through new blends and patterns in the material they use to create fashion. The result is a wide variety of local fabrics that have unique textures and designs, luring the consumer and ensuring an enduring fan following that is unlikely to dwindle.

    Behind this slow revolution, however, are the weavers of Bangladesh, remarkably skilled, creative artisans who spend gruelling hours on the loom to create patterns with mathematical precision. Khaled Mamud, the director of Kay Kraft, a famous name in the boutique industry, which recently completed fifteen years, elaborates that it is a long and drawn out process that goes behind each kind of fabric.

    There are eight major weaving pockets in the country, namely Chapainawabganj, Tangail, Narsinghdi, Rangamati, Manikganj, Comilla, Sirajganj and Narayanganj. “Believe it or not, but each region boasts its own signature where producing fabric and cutting threads are concerned,” says Khaled. Plenty of experiments are being done with the threads from these weaving pockets to produce new materials, he adds. “For years, Rangamati has been producing a material which was hard and very rough,” says Khaled. “The people there were used to it. But then we spoke to the weavers and worked with them on making the fabric a little softer. They did that and now the particular fabric is very popular amongst the locals of Rangamati.”

    There are two ways to produce fabrics. One would be to create a new line of material and the other would be to experiment and work on the existing material and develop it. One of the most popular materials in this part of the world was muslin, which, according to Khaled, is not produced anymore. “The muslin clothes that we get now are not actually pure muslin,” he says. “We used to get the pure ones decades ago. It is a shame and a mystery how the muslin industry simply closed down. If the production of the material had continued, we would have made a mark in the world market for sure.” Where technology develops with time, the mystery of disappearance of the muslin clearly breaks that rule.

    The fabrics made in Bangladesh are unique and trendy. Local handloom fabrics, are better looking than synthetics, more comfortable and have the added appeal of being hand-made. However, competing with the massive foreign market prevailing in the country, the Bangladeshi market still takes a back seat.

    Abandoned by her parents, twelve-year-old Masuma sleeps under the awning of a foreign bank, the latest to enter the country’s burgeoning capital market. Masuma does not know how to read and write, neither has she learnt the hidden laws of probability, according to which the stock exchanges work. She sells flowers at the intersection in Motijheel, near the DSE, as it is called by those who invest in the share market. She has remained outside the steady growth of 5/6 percent that Bangladesh’s economy has enjoyed over the last few years. Her father left them, she and her mother, in 2005, the year in which Bangladesh was listed with South Korea and nine other countries as ‘Next Eleven’, eleven emerging economies, by Goldman Sachs investment bank. Her mother ‘disappeared’, as she calls it now, a year after that. Her mother has got married again, Masuma found out later. Left with no other option, Masuma, barely in her teens, started to beg; with the hundreds that she had saved, Masuma bought a few bouquets of flowers to sell it to the commuters who halted at the crossway. Since then it has been her only source of income; “It’s better than begging,” she, who goes hungry on every alternate days, says proudly.

    The irony, however, does not escape us: Bangladesh’s booming economy is based on a system that forces its own children to go hungry year in and year out. Millions live on subsistence income; hundreds and thousands of children grow up stunted and malnourished. The law of capitalist economy requires growth and development to be heterogeneous-- while new shopping malls are being built and are quickly crowded with the overfed rich, jostling over gaudy, glitzy expensive clothes; we still have to live with the sight of famished, bone-all Masumas sleeping in the footpath. In this cruel city of over one crore, they are the silent, invisible majority. The path to free them from the clutches of the double-headed monster of poverty and exploitation remains a long and treacherous one.

    jamdani"The boom has taken place because of the small and medium enterprises (SME), the growth of the garment industry and the remittance sent from abroad by migrant workers,” says MM Akash, economist and teacher of Dhaka University. The consumers of these locally made products belong to the lower and middle classes, who, he says, if are given proper government help, can work wonders.

    Akash has made scathing remarks on the outlets that buy products from small producers only to sell it at a higher price. “They add value to the products that the poor weavers produce and market them at a higher price,” he says, “In the long run this process leaves the producers exploited.” He thinks it is high time that these outlets give up its ownership to the weavers and small producers who produce all its products. “Grameen Check is owned by the weavers, if Grameen can do it, why will other such organisations will remain an exception?”

    To strengthen the growth and sustainability that our economy has been enjoying over the last couple of years, the government must take concentrated steps. One wrong decision can ruin everything. “If now,” Akash says, “the government lifts the restrictions following some dictums of the World Bank and open our market to cheap substandard Chinese goods, our SME-based growth, which has so far grown steadily, will not sustain.” Inflow of remittances, on the other hand, does not go to the productive sector. The government can take certain measures that will increase non-resident investments.

    Taking the right steps in the right direction to sustain the demand for Bangladeshi products can be the first step towards autarky. It means that Masuma's freedom from hunger and poverty is entwined with Bangladesh’s economic independence (A. Hossain, September 17, 2008).

    Anwara's silent revolution

    anwaraFighting against 'Fatwa' given by some local so-called clerics, once poor Anwara Khatun Moina, is not only self- reliant now but also a successful entrepreneur. She has set the example by dint of hard work, devotion and talent. Her success is now a matter of discussion for many in Satkhira town. Fifty-two year old Anwara Khatun with a scissors in hand remains always busy cutting fabrics on the table for making clothes at her factory or giving instruction to others.

    Many cast a curious look at her well decorated garment shop at Puratan Satkhira in the town. Abandoned by her husband, Anwara had started dress making at home to feed her two minor sons and a daughter. Now she employs about 40 women and owns a well decorated garment shop and runs a tailoring training centre. She has also a house of her own.

    There was no one to care for us for long 20 years. No one ever inquired when I was starving along with my two sons and one daughter," Anwara recalled while talking to this correspondent recently at her garment factory. Those days are gone. She now earns at least Tk 25,000 a month (Abu Ahmed, Satkhira. October 19, 2004).

    Bamboo-based cottage industry changes lot of poor women in Magura

    bamboo cottageThe women are Nabiron and Khurshida. Once life was miserable to them. Timely intervention of two NGOs, Srijoni and Jagoroni Chakra made their life meaningful. Fortune smiled on Nabiron, an abandoned housewife and mother of a son at Chhonpur village in Magura Sadar upazila when Srijoni trained her and offered her a loan of Tk 8,000 in 2002. Making good use of the loan, she setup a bamboo-based cottage industry on the land of her father. She started making bamboo-made traps to catch small fish called "Ghuni'. She used to make a fish trap at a cost of Tk 15 and sold it at Tk 35. Every Thursday she began to supply her product to wholesalers from her house at the rate of Tk 3,500 per hundred traps. The whole-sellers supplied her products to Faridpur, Rajbari and Chittagong districts.

    'Now I earn Tk 3,000-4,000 each month and my son Shafiqul is attending school,' smiling Nabiran told this correspondent. With the profit she also built a tin-shed house this year. Once Chhonpur and surrounding villages were famous for bamboo-based cottage industry, according to Aminul a villager. But due to shortage of capital and lack of patronisation, the cottage industries were ruined, he said.

    At present the lost glory of the villages were revived due to initiatives of Srijoni. One hundred twenty women at Chhonpur village are engaged in manufacturing bamboo-made fish traps. Some other women like Nabiron named Morzina, Aleya, Asmani and Farzana also became solvent by making such fish trap (Daily Star, November 25, 2004).

    2. 9. Fourty per cent women workers in shrimp farms sexually harassed

    Forty per cent of the women workers in shrimp industries in Bangladesh are sexually harassed by their male counterparts, revealed a paper on the second day of the 10th International Women and Health meeting in New Delhi on Thursday. Zinat Ara, associate coordinator of Action Aid Bangladesh, presented a paper on ‘Violation of workplace: health rights in shrimp industry’. She told the meeting, ‘More than 60 per cent of the shrimp workers are women and 40 per cent of them are harassed by the male workers and also by the owners of the factories or industries’.

    These workers do not have access to healthcare and suffer from insecurity in their workplaces. Women workers in shrimp industries, working for a minimum time of 12 hours a day, earn only Tk 40 to Tk 50, while the male workers get Tk 100 to Tk 120, said Zinat. They work almost eight hours in waters that are excessively saline and saturated with chemicals that cause skin diseases, allergic disorders, heatstroke and even decay of fingers and toenails, she said.

    The Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock, the European Union and the European importers are reluctant to look after the women's interest as they only concern themselves with ensuring the quality of shrimps but do not give any importance to workers’ health rights and hygienic workplaces.

    Women who are working in processing factories and cleaning and freezing shrimps suffer from low temperatures, cold, coughing fits as well as back and knee pains from hours of standing, but the owners do not give them adequate wages. A shrimp worker said that removing shrimps’ heads causes bleeding and infections of their hands. Most of the women, working irregular hours in farms and factories, either get extremely low wages or are casual labourers hired by contractors who are not entitled to medical benefits or maternity leave as they are not protected by any labour laws.

    The owners of the shrimp farms use pesticides to increase shrimp production and this pesticide causes various skin diseases’, said Zinat. In her paper, she identified the gross violations of female workers’ health rights in shrimp processing zones in Bangladesh by highlighting health hazards, denial of work entitlements and callous roles of owners and other corporate stakeholders (A. Arzu, September 23, 2005).

    1. Mahatma Gandhi and Khadi: Protect a Dyeing Heritage
    2. Back to the Roots in Vegetable Dye Sari
    3. Why Gold? Use Terracotta Jewellery

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    2. 9. 1 Women are more vulnerable to climate disasters

    2. 9. 1 Women are more vulnerable to climate disasters

    Women are more vulnerable to climate disasters than men through their socially constructed roles and responsibilities, and their relatively poorer and more economically vulnerable position especially in the developing world. Gender inequalities with respect to enjoyment of human rights, political and economic status, land ownership, housing conditions, exposure to violence, education and health (in particular reproductive and sexual health) -- make women more vulnerable before, during and after climate change-induced disasters. In academia, gender refers to the social roles and relations between women and men which include different responsibilities of women and men in a given culture and location. Gender analysis, however, is closely related to power analysis, and recognised as an important conceptual tool in addressing differential vulnerabilities, and predicaments of women (vis-ŕ-vis men) -- arising out of social norms, customs or even, state policies.

    Women, generally, are responsible for reproductive tasks such as food collection and energy supply for the household as well as many care-giving tasks, such as caring for the children, sick and elderly and the home and assets. In many societies, socio-cultural norms and care giving responsibilities prevent women from migrating to look for shelter and work when a disaster hits. Water, sanitation and health challenges put an extra burden on women in case of any disaster. Moreover, women are often seen to embrace risk to rescue others during disaster situations in a characteristically self-sacrificing attitude. A recent study conducted jointly by the London School of Economics, the University of Essex and the Max-Planck Institute of Economics, analyzing natural disasters between 1981 and 2002 of 141 countries reveals evidences of socially constructed gender specific vulnerability of women built into everyday socio-economic patterns that leads to the relatively higher female disaster mortality rates compared to those of men. For example, the 1991 cyclone in Bangladesh killed 138,000 people, many of whom were women and older than 40 years.

    During and immediately after disasters, deaths, diseases and injuries occur from such incidences as waterborne diseases, snake bites, drowning, fall of large trees and collapse of physical structures. In all such cases of danger, women are particularly susceptible. Furthermore, lack of medical facilities, malnutrition, disrupted supply of pure drinking water and lack of proper sanitation facilities make women's life increasingly vulnerable. During cyclones and floods, women and adolescent girls suffer as sanitation systems are destroyed. Pregnant women, lactating mothers and differently-abled (disabled) women suffer the most -- as they find it difficult to quickly move to safety before and after any disaster hit.

    In developing countries like Bangladesh, women are more calorie-deficient than men (the male members in a family have the "right" to consume the best portions of the food, and the female members have to content themselves with the left-overs) and have more problems during disasters to cope with. Moreover, an increase in the number of female-headed households (because of male out-migration to cities or overseas destinations) also amplifies women's responsibilities and vulnerabilities during natural disasters. Therefore, in case of disasters, often women are also seen to struggle to cope with their household tasks or to find a safe shelter.

    In the societies where dogmatic religious customs and rituals prevail, most often disaster relief efforts pay little or no attention to women's reproductive and sexual health guided by superstitions, and as a result, women's health suffers disproportionately. There are incidents often reported in the media where women have been abused sexually by the male relief seekers in congestion during the distribution of relief goods and services. This has put off many deserving women from participation in relief programmes despite their great need and demand. During natural disasters, more women die (compared to men) because they are not adequately warned, cannot swim well or cannot leave the house alone (UNFCCC COP-11, 2005). Moreover, lower levels of education reduce the ability of women and girls to access information including early warning, and resources, or to make their voices heard.

    Various natural calamities such as drought, deforestation and erratic rainfall cause women to work harder to secure (natural) resources and livelihood. In such situations, women have less time to earn income, get an education or training, or to participate in institutional fora (e.g. governing bodies). Despite governmental support, poor girls regularly drop out of school to help their mothers to gather wood and water in the changed harsher climatic condition.

    Bangladesh happens to be the most vulnerable country to the impacts of climate change as Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC-the global watchdog on climate change impacts) warned in their latest report, because of its regional connectivity through geo-physical and hydrological features and its livelihood reliance on trade.

    In Bangladesh, women in low-income households are heavily involved in economic activities, mostly around homestead-based production, which contributes up to 16% of the household income (CPD 2004). Independent livelihoods managed by women-headed households are also an important aspect of the rural economy of South Asia, and contribute upto 15% of the rural households income in Bangladesh (CPD 2000). When poor women lose their livelihoods, they slip deeper into poverty; the gender-induced inequality and marginalization they suffer from also correspondingly increase. Climate change thus poses a very specific threat to their security.

    Unfortunately, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has failed to recognize the gender aspects of climate change until recently, and omitted the issues of gender equality and women's participation entirely in climate policies. Eventually, in a compensatory effort, the COP-13 (2007) in Bali, the gendercc - Women for Climate Justice network of women's organizations and individuals, as well as the Global Gender and Climate Change Alliance of UN organizations, IUCN (International Union for Nature Conservation) and WEDO (Women's Environment and Development Organization) along with other international organizations have been established.

    It is intriguing that regardless of UNFCCC's failure to incorporate gender equality as a cross-cutting issue, gender equality is a guiding principle in NAPA design and it was advised to include gender expertise in NAPA teams. Many of the national reports submitted by signatory nations to the UNFCCC Secretariat emphasize the vulnerability of women and the importance of gender equality, though in different formats. In fact, incorporation of gender perspective in global and national climate change policies, documents, programmes and budgets is imperative for any meaningful effort against the negative externalities of climate change. Moreover, gender-sensitive indicators for use by governments in national reports to UNFCCC and related policies and mechanisms should be developed.

    Furthermore, enhancement of institutional capacity to mainstream gender in global and national climate change and Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) policies and operations through the development of gender policies, gender awareness, internal and external gender capacity and expertise, and the development and application of relevant mechanisms and tools should be prioritized.

    As women constitute half of total population of Bangladesh, climate change adaptation and mitigation policies must address the gender issues. In this respect, for concrete and integrated actions against climate change, women's participation in climate change decisions should be assured.

    Women are often portrayed as unworthy and incapable of engaging themselves in environmental and climate change related negotiations and strategic planning. This historical neglect and associated invisibility of women's role ought to be reversed. It is high time to incorporate gender issues in environmental and climate change policies and actions from a 'human rights' point of view.

    Today about two-thirds of population of the world live at low levels of technology, often in conditions of physical deprivation and even starvation, owing to a combination of factors. These include overpopulation, environmental deterioration, a history of colonialism that has destroyed old political and cultural units and thrown unrelated peoples together in newly emerging nations, and external or internal economic exploitation by powerful elites.

    Stable traditional societies almost everywhere have been severely disrupted and their newly emerging social patterns are still undergoing great flux.

    The 'beesh' (poison) was introduced in the mid-sixties as a component of High Yielding Varieties (HYV) technology. The farmers were given fertilizer free of cost. They were also given all sorts of incentives, such as credit and free training, to use pesticides and fertilizer form the agricultural department. With the fertilizer they were given paddy seeds developed in the laboratory known as HYV variety. In addition they were given pump machines to extract ground water for irrigation. Monoculture of HYV seeds narrowed the genetic base of agricultural practice. From at least fifteen thousands varieties of rice Bangladeshi farmers ended up into 8 to 12 varieties of rice. The extraction of ground water has resulted in a major crisis .Overall experience is disastrous.


    An example was the widespread adoption of the 'miracle' grains of "Green Revolution".

    Farmer Jahnara Begum

    From an environmental and human health perspective, monoculture cropping encourages increasing pesticide use. Pests quickly develop resistance while their predators are killed off and farmers turn to increasingly higher doses and/ or stronger, more toxic pesticides, as pest resurgence occurs. Farmers are also often forced to increase the use of fertilisers to counter the loss of soil fertility resulting from a limited source of nutrients provided by one type of crop. HYVs (Gene modified High Yield Varities) also demand far more water and nutrients adding to the depletion of soil fertility and water resources.
    In addition pesticides and fertilisers build up as toxic residues in food and contaminate our soil, water and air, not to mention the health and living environment of farmers, agricultural workers and farming communities.

    Farmer Jahanara Begum, speaking at a public meeting in a rice field in Chakaria, Bangladesh, said, "We have so many varieties of rice seeds, but instead we are going for the varieties from IRRI and the seed companies. These seeds need a chemical package. So we are doing deals with scientists and transnational companies. When we use local varieties we get a yield of 40 kg of rice. When we use pesticides and the companies seeds we get 20 kg more but we also destroy our soil, water and biodiversity." She added, "How many poisons are you using?
    We have lost our birds, our fish, the wildlife. We have lost all this for 20 kg more and we spend more money on our family's health. Bangladesh has such fertile land. We can grow so much. Still we have so much biodiversity." Furthermore, "For the last eight years I have used no pesticides. My costs have gone down and my yields have gone up. In nature there is a balance between predators and prey. Pesticides destroy this natural balance."


    Women are the main users of water. They are the providers and collectors of water Arsenic poisoning has become a social malady in Bangladesh. Because of the socio-economic condition rural women are not given better food even during their pregnancy and become vulnerable to arsenic poisoning. Symptoms of arsenic poisoning are mistaken for more lethal disease leprosy or skin diseases, that leads to quarantining due to mistaken identity, in other words, social isolation. Parents cannot get their affected daughters married, wives are also sent back to their parents together with their children. Divorce is also very common. In a number of cases women also commit suicide.

    We have shown, using econometric analysis, that the poorest suffer the most from arsenicosis in Bangladesh (WHO, 2000). . The burden of arsenicosis falls mainly on those living in low-income households (Tani, 1999). Most arsenic patient of Bangladesh is still drinking arsenic contaminated water and can hardly afford any medical treatment. There are many such 'poorest of the poor' families which badly need safe drinking water but have no money to participate in the process of installing a DPHE-supplied tubewell. One must pay Tk. 4,500 before arsenic free the Government well sets tube or affiliated NGOs. So the poor does not have any option.

    First World beliefs that indefinite growth in material material consumption is possible, and today's grossly unequal distribution of global wealth is somehow ''justified'; the wealthy, it is said, have 'earned' it, although no one ever makes clear just how that earning took place. Almost all western aid to developing countries has been defevtive in chossing technologies, which does not reflect the local cultural values of each people. In fact, some of the ancient truths that have stood the the test of countless generations are now being 'discovered' by modern science. They are an intrinsic part of our humanness, built into the human psyche through millions of years of evolution.


  • Search for our heritage to recapture the sense of social, cultural and ecological harmony.
  • Societies need to 'coevolve' with local environments and culture, choosing appropriate technologies and creating social institutions that permit the environment to sustain society indefinitely.
  • Each culture must retrieve within its vison of loving relations with soil, air and water of Earth. Necessary for all cultures to be aware of the existence of etnocentrism and to school themselves to accept a world with diversity of value systems.
  • To support traditional simplism, humanism and secular thoughts that developed over centuries.
  • To promote traditional social bonds through permanenet groups of shared community
  • To save traditional medicine from time immemorial (Ayurveda, herbs)
  • To support shared community where human aspect of living.
  • To reintroduce lost traditional heritage that raises posit.ion of woman in society.
  • To support woman not to leave village in quest of job in the city.
  • To make available arsenic and disease free water.

  • Culture is learned as a child, and as children we each learned from those around us a particular set of rules, belifs, priortes and expectations that moulded our world into a meaningful whole. Bichar, Boul, Jari, Murshida, Baromashi etc are traditional dying culture of Bangladesh. You'll be astonished to hear how simple melodious language describes the diversity of human values. Bouls say, "God (Christian, Muslim, Hindu or others) is within us, if you love human being or the nature within you live, you also love God. You don't have to travel far."
    "Why look for your loved in the forest
    Look at your own soul
    and there you'll find him"
    It is our worldview, our abstract conception of reality. We want to save it for generations. Villagers celebrates the concert the whole night.

    "The fishes find the deep sea,
    The birds the branches of the tree.
    The Mother knows her love for her son
    By the sharp pain in her heart alone.
    Many and diverse colour that all milk shows,
    Through all the world, a Mother's name
    A Mother's song is found the same".

    Most of the projects run by the NGOs are for the elite of the society. Attractive seminars, workshops highlights the elites which have fallen under the intellectual spell of the "North" - metastatic spreading left over from clonial times.

    Our films, books, lectures and endless symposia are useful to a degree, but ultimately they miss the boat. They come from the city, and rarely filter down to the villages in crisis. What we need to see happening is a reversal - an ecological sensibility that starts at the village level. Our cities are under the intellectual spell of "the North" continuously destroying love of the earth based on pragmatic beliefs and strategies that had passed down from generation to generation. We are gradually losing basic elements of sustainable development

    NGOs in Bangladesh supported by donors and project blue prints from them demand money from the partcipants for taking part in a project.This means "acive participation". We have seen that in several villages that the poor can not take part any of these projects. Besides they have to travel a long distance which costs money and disrupt from all household activities.

    The tax payers of developed countries should be more aware of the projects in the developing countries and politically represent lobby for the sustainable development for the poorest group of the population - not after destroying environment introducing new technologies appropriate for environmental sustainability but allow developing countries to regain traditional spiritual, social and cultural heritage.

    We have supported the clay potters of Village Madhabpur, Faridpur to produce water filter. We have opened sewing and embroidered courses in three villages, where women can not affort. Ms. Aleya Begum, lives with the villagers. Poor women don't have to travel far away.The villagers can bring their babies, feed milch etc. You can not imagine, how pleasent and cordial atmosphere prevails here.

  • Village Betbaria, Faridpur
  • Village Bhatpara, Faridpur
  • Village Kuzurdia,Faridpur Faridpur
  • Each unit democratically selected their committee.

    Bhatpara  project Bahatpara clay potter of Madhaobpur

    weaverMy home my work place is the motive of this project.This is a very small project. But we are very astonished to see the rapid and elegent work of the women. We spent a very small amount of money but its affect is far reaching. Perhaps the Noble Prize laureate, Rabinranath Tagore was correct (1893):

    For some time I have been remarking that man is angular and incoherent, women rounded and complete. Woman's way of speaking, dressing, moving and behaving is an integral harmony with her duties in life. And the main reason is that for ages Nature has defined these duties and modified these duties and moulded her feelings to fit to them. . In all her being and doing she unites grace and skill, her nature and her work, like a flower and its scent. She acts without conflict or hesitation.

    In our traditional society the position of women is very high. Mother draws the highest position and respect. Even minimal increases in a woman's ability to generate income has not only been seen to reduce the mental and physical torture of women, in many cases it has stopped altogether."

    In Bengal, kanthas were originally used as baby's diapers, or wrappers. At present day, due to the high cost of hand crafted materials, kantha making for the baby's diaper is not cost effective at all. However, in the early seventies, there had been a revival in kantha art in both the Bengals. Sreelata Sirkar derived inspiration from Pratima Devi of Santiniketan and started designing kanthas for team work. Thus, she not only revived a dying art, but also made room for a great economic activity for West Bengal women. In Bangladesh, the search for a national identity led to a great kantha revival, where the Muslim women artists broke the earlier taboo of not representing human and animal figures in kantha. Now the Bangladeshi artists design fantastic tapestries, one like "Naksi kanthar math" after the narration of the poet Jasimuddin. Now both the Bengals have perfected the art of kantha making with infusions of new materials, concept in design, and various stitcheries, and it can be safely said that these days, it is as popular as woven designs in saris, dresses and upholsteries.

    Courses Sewing mat from palm leaf
    embroidered quilt
    embroidered quilt

    The story the kantha is rooted in the history, culture, civilization of Bangladesh since thousands of years The art of kantha embroidery carries a language that is universal, drawing from the well of mankind's primitive and traditional art knowledge, and giving to the world a priceless cultural heritage..Kantha (Quilt) is a product of a non-literate society with psychological and cultural tradition of Bangladesh. Aesthetic and sociological heritage of kanrhas art may have inspired alpana, terracotta, mat, weaving, wood carving, textile, peetha (rice cake) patterns, architecture, carpets etc. Tree of Life qult focusesdelineating on its ancient role in mankind's magico-ritualistic, spritual and moral history, its prominent position in monothesist religions and its absorption into folk art as a decorative symbol.

    "Spreading the embroidered quilt
    She works the livelong night,
    As if the qult her poet were
    Of her bereaved plight.
    Many a joy and many a sorrow
    Is written on its breast;
    The story of Rupa's life is there,
    Line by line expressed
    (The Field of the Embroidered Quilt by Jasim Uddin)

    *140 kantas collected by Stella Kramrisch (1908-1993), an eminent scholar of Indian Studies in the arts and crafts, donated to the Philadelphia Museum of Arts, USA.

    woman - at work

    Decorative Folk Art as seen in kanthan is the best proof of the integration of inherited aesthetics in the hand of the woman folk artist. The result, a thrilling extravaganza of folk symbols, stiched into the vibrant surface of embroidered wraps and spread by women of village communities, irrespective of their religious beliefs.


    This year(2005) we review the works of last year, and set 70 more arsenic free water wells in Faridpur and Noakhali districts.Besides women project made unexpected advance. We are surprised to see that our little effort had a big impact on thousands of poor rural people. But we could not do enough to all. Green Party (Heinrich Boel Stiftung) in Germany even did not reply to our letters. But they financed Bangladeshis to take part in street festival in Berlin.

    Chelation and Recommendation

    Some physicians have been giving chelation therapy to arsenic patients in West Bengal and Bangladesh. The objective of chelation therapy is provide the patient with a chemical to which arsenic binds strongly, and is then excreted in urine. Providing such treatment could remove large stores of arsenic from the body in a matter of hours. There are several problems with chelation therapy in cases of chronic arsenic exposure.

  • The first is related to the observation that arsenic is excreted rapidly even without chelation therapy. Most of the readily available arsenic in the body will be excreted in the urine within 1 week. The question is whether chelation might remove arsenic which is, for example, bound in the skin and which might without chelation only be removed slowly. This is possible but exposure to arsenic generally occurs over many years, and chelation may make little difference to the cumulative dose of arsenic that patients have received. Thus, chelation therapy is unlikely to reduce the future risk of cancer. Whether it might improve keratoses more rapidly than simply stopping exposure is unknown. This idea has some plausibility but its effectiveness has not been established.
  • The second problem with chelation therapy is the lack of any clinical trials that found evidence of its effectiveness. When exposure to arsenic ceases, improvement in skin lesions might occur. Thus, if a patient improves after chelation therapy it could be due to the cessation of exposure alone or to both cessation and chelation therapy. (Finding that patients improve after chelation therapy does not provide evidence that the therapy) itself is effective.
  • The third problem with chelation therapy is that it is of no benefit if the patient continues to drink contaminated water after treatment, and it may give the false impression that effects can be treated despite continued exposure.
  • Advanced keratoses on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet are extremely debilitating, and superimposed infections, such as fungal infections, may cause serious problems. Providing moisturizing lotions and treatment for infections may be beneficial and should be part of routine care in advanced cases
  • Arsenic is a probable contributor to causation of diabetes mellitus. For this reason, urinary glucose should be tested in all patients with arsenicosis, and appropriate treatment and monitoring should be started if necessary. Patients' blood pressure should also be monitored since arsenic exposure may induce hypertension.

  • OUR RECOMMENDATION - Alternative to Expensive Medicine

    Improving nutrition may be of benefit to patients. In particular, vitamin A is known to be beneficial in the differentiation of various tissues, particularly the skin

    We discovered that those who began to drink arsenic free water and improved diat (tumeric, jute leaves, and Amla have stated a new life.

    Neem (Azadirachta indica )The Wonder Plant

    The tree has relieved so many different pains, fevers, infections, and other complaints that it has been called "the village pharmacy." Now modern research is proving what has been long known by Ayurvedic medicine practitioners: neem is one of the most effective plant medicines in the world. An extremely powerful blood purifying agent and detoxicant, neem is also effective in the treatment of fever, malaria, skin diseases, dental problems, diabetes, tumors, arthritis, and jaundice. Research conducted by, among others, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has shown that Azadirachtin A offers protection against more than 130 insects, while it is partly active against more than 70 other insects. The use of neem has almost disappeared in the country. We intend to popularise to plant neem tree and use it as home pharmacy and bio-pesticide.

    Haldi- Turmeric- Curcuma long

    To most Indians and Bengalis, turmeric or halud (Bengali)/ haldi (Hindi), is a part of growing up, a magic cure-all for the excesses of childhood. A classic "grand mother's remedy', the virulent yellow powder or paste has been applied to scrapes and cuts of generations of children Turmeric has found to be antioxidant, anticancer, antibacterial, anticoagulant, antifungal, anti-inflammatory and antiviral etc.

    Emblica Emblic Myrobalan Bengali Amloki

    Emblica Emblic Myrobalan Bengali Amloki fresh or dried fruits of this tree are used as laxative and in treatment of enlarged liver, piles, stomach complain, pain in eyes etc. It is a very rich source of vitamin C. Certain experiments on patients of pulmonory tuberculosis showed that vitamin C of Emblica fruits is more quickly assimilated in human system than synthetic vitamin C. Flowers, roots and bark of the tree are also medicinal, seeds are reported to cure asthma and stomach disorder (S. K. Jain, 2001).This fruit is a great asset for the arsenic patients. Instead of taking expensive imported tablets, Embelic is very cheap and more effective and every one can grow the plant at home.

    Jute Leaf (Corchorus capsularis and Corchorus olitorius)

    Jute leafs are traditional known as vegetable but its medical effects are not known. Two species of jute (Corchorus capsularis and Corchorus olitorius) are being cultivated in Bangladesh. Capsularis (deshi) has maximum use as vegetable thanOlo itorius (Tossa) due to its bitter taste. Jute leaves are being used as vegetables in Africa, Middle East, Southeast Asia, including Bangladesh for a long time. Besides, it is also used as herbal medicine to control or prevent dysentery, worm and constipation etc. Jute leaves are being used as health-food in Japan. Jute leave is rich in vitamins, carotinoids, calcium, potassium and dietary fibers. Jute leaf contains antitumor promoters; Phytol and Monogalactosyl-diacylglycerol. It may reduce risk of cancer. Jute leaves are very cheap both fresh and dry leaves can be very useful.

    Home Garden - To Save Herbs and Traditional Plants from Extinction

    Case study - Example

    arsenic removal wellabondoned

    Abondoned TSF (Tube well Sand Filter - Contain Arsenic above standard 50 µg/l Financed by US AID, SIDA, Churches of Industrial countries

    Arsenic Removal Filter from tube wells (Tubewell Sand Filter):
    A vertical column consisting of three chambers brick chips or iron chips, coarse sand, fine sand are the elements of Tubewell Sand Filter. This has been introduced by several NGOs and government orginisations. In Faridpur near Tulagram (left: picture) a TSF has been very recently constructed by NGO Forum. The villagers paid Tk.3000 and the total cost is about Tk. 50, 000/. We examined the water and found arsenic concentration 70 µg/l, in other words, it should be painted red.We saw that villagers were wasing brick chips, sands with pond water, in other words, contaminating with colio and other bacteria.
    We found several other filters (TSF) at Aliabad, Bakunda are abondoned.The NGO Forum maintains close collaboration with all relevant government agencies (DPHE, NIPSOM, LGED, etc.), Universities, UN bodies (UNICEF, World Bank, etc.), Donors, DPHE-DANIDA, BAMWSP, as well as other NGOs. The NGO Forum is playing a vital role in the Bangladesh Arsenic Mitigation Water Supply Project (BAMWSP) as a member of the steering committee as well as in project implementation including selection of Partner NGOs and CBOs for any area selected. What a misuse of money!

    Available technologies for arsenic treatment:

    Method Advantages Disadvantages
    Co-precipitation: No monitoring of a break through is required. Relatively low cost simple chemicals. Low capital costs. Serious short and long term problems with toxic sludge. Multiple chemicals requirement Operation requires training and discipline.
    Alum coagulation Durable powder chemicals normally available Efficient pre-oxidation is a must
    Iron coagulation More efficient than alum on weigh basis Medium removal of As (III)
    Lime softening Most common chemicals Re-adjustment of pH is required.
    Sorption techniques: No daily sludge problem. Requires monitoring of break through or filter use. Requires periodical regeneration or medium shift.
    Activated alumina Relatively well known and commercially available. Re-adjustment of pH is required.
    Iron coated sand Expected to be cheap. No regeneration is required. Yet to be standardized. Toxic solid waste.
    Ion exchange resin Well defined medium and hence capacity. High cost medium. High tech operation & maintenance. Regeneration creates a sludge problem.
    Membrane techniques: Low space requirement. Capable of removal of other contaminants, if any. High running costs. High investment costs. High tech operation and maintenance. Toxic wastewater. Re-adjustment water quality is required.
    Reverse Osmosis Membrane does not withstand oxidizing agents.

    (Source, US EPA, 2000)
  • Multiple chemical requirement, operation requires a huge resource and technological training.
  • High investment, high running cost,a high technical operation and maintenance make it impossible to reach arsenic free water for the mass population like in Bangladesh

    Most disturbing object is that these people who are using the sand filter never warned by the NGOs that the same poisonous water is pouring through their wells via filter.

    The research, seminars, workshops, analysis of problems, prioritizing and decision-making for mitigation of the arsenic problem - are all taking place far away from the affected communities. The village people, the primary stakeholders, are not even aware of the disaster.

    Though lots of funds have been made available so far by different aid agencies including World Bank, SDC, Danida, AusAID, DFID, etc. and a significant number of projects in the name of arsenic mitigation are also being implemented both by the government and non-governmental agencies throughout the country, how far have we been able to mitigate the sufferings of the arsenic affected people?

    The development partners have pumped millions of dollars into various mitigation programmes ever since dangerous level of poison in underground water was detected way back in 1993. More funds are reported to be pouring in but the question is are they reaching the people who have been most affected by this rapidly increasing menace around the country? Several NGOs have been given authority through the Department of Public Health Engineering (DPHE), to offer low cost services to prevent diseases caused by arsenic poisoning from spreading. One such project for the 'poorest of the poor requires a group of fifty to donate as much as Tk. 4,500 in advance to receive a safe tubewell. But the government seems to have forgotten that there are many 'poorest of the poor' who would not be able to gather any money, least of all the required amount.

    Arsenic mitigation activities by international organizations and major NGOs are generally undertaken jointly with a local NGO active in one particular village. The local NGO encourages villagers to form a committee so that the committee may act as the principal body to organize mitigation work.

    It needs no telling that everybody moving in the donor-development circuit seems to have been jumping on the arsenic bandwagon ever since the problem surfaced but precious little have resulted as far as mitigation is concerned. This paper has been hammering for serious coordinated action between the government and 'development partners', to help the vulnerable areas revert to alternative sources of reasonably safe water and to attend to the health needs of the already affected people. But so far we have seen only a proliferation of NGOs, assorted consultants, bottled water and filter sellers and what not, catching larks, so to say, while the poisoning continues.

    According to AAN experience, members of such a committee are decided among the village leaders. One of the main functions of the committee is to collect funds to operate and maintain a newly installed option of alternative source of safe water. The running of the fund including the management of money is under the supervision of the local NGO during the initial stages. The committee needs some experience to become an independent running organization.

    In practice, it is seen that only the rich becomes the member. In most cases 10 members selected from their family or friends and others are not allowed to collect water. We found in Fursa, Kanaipur Union, Village Tambulkhana dug wells and a deep tube well are constructed by SIDA/BRDB, although tube wells contain arsenic far below Bangladesh standard. The poor is unable to pay Tk. 3000-5000.In Noakhali we also found deep tube wells are sunk inside the house who pays Tk. 5000. Many complains that they do not use the water because it is saline and tastes after cow dung!

    Government Policy is going to Fail

    Government Project - GOB-4 project

  • 4,700 deep tubewells in upazials,
  • 1010 deep (Tara),
  • 2342 tubewells, 1986 Tara,
  • 305 PSF (Pond Sand Filter),
  • 1085 ring wells,
  • 600 wells/reestablishing water sources and to supply water through pipeline in 92 villages are underway.

    Faridpur east of Jessore, KhustiaOur study shows that almost all deep tube wells in neighbouring Faridpur district are arsenic contaminated. Geological deposition is also almost the same.

    Our experience reveals that most of the deep tube wells are arsenic contaminated. Government and others want to sink deep tube wells without taking care of contaminating deep aquifers. But sinking deep wells are more profitable! Our work in Faridpur show that it is possble to find arsenic free water at shallow depths.

    At this place an expensive deep tubewell was set by DPHE/NGO about a year ago. Nobody uses this well because of saline and iron rich water.Our shallow well pours water far below Bangladesh Stanard (arsenic).

    "Priority would be given to surface water options over groundwater sources. The options in order of priority include dug well, pond sand filter, rain water harvesting, deep hand-tubewells, arsenic removal by using chemicals and pipe water supply system,"

    Most of the deep tube wells are in the Coastal Areas of Bangladesh, where shallow aquifers are separated by thick layers of clay sediments. But Holocene sedimentary stratigraphy of rest of Bangladesh is completely dfferent. Use of deep tubewell has been suggested as a safe option in the face of arsenic contamination of groundwater in the country. The suggestion was made in a preliminary report after a study in Jhenidah, Chuadanga and Jessore districts, conducted jointly by local and foreign experts. The report was presented at a seminar at Sonargaon hotel in the city yesterday. The Tk 25 crore study was undertaken by the Department of Public Health and Engineering (DPHE) with financial assistance from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).


    abondoned PSF - Mazdi- Constructor DPHE Advertisement for Pond Sand Filter by NGO Forum Not functioning PSF - left by NGO Forum Faridpur

    Left - Abondoned PSF - Mazdi, Noakhali, constructed by DPHE. NGO Forum responsible for Arsenic Mitigation advertising in Faridpur for Pond Sand Filter (PSF) but in practice it has become a garbage!

    Low cost shallow well  (green) with arsenic free sweet water close to the DPHE constructed deep tube well - saline and iron rich water at Noakhali- May 2004. Left deep tube well at 1200 feet by Swedish Aid through BRDB, water contains 80 Microgram arsenic and saline, Right a Shallow arsenic free well drilled May 2004 by this project.
    Low cost shallow well (green) with arsenic free sweet water close to the DPHE constructed deep tube well (red) - saline and iron rich water at Noakhali- May 2004. Left deep tube well 12,000 feet by Swedish Aid through BRDB water contains 80 Microgram arsenic and saline, Right a Shallow arsenic free well drilled at Tambulkhana, Faridpur, May 2004 by this project.

    Our projects show that deep tube wells is not the solution. People rejects deep tube wells water as it taste saline or high in iron or smells cow dung (cow dung is used in Bangladesh for deep drilling!). Deltaic sediments of Bangladesh is geologically unique in the world, within contaminated aquifers, there are still undicovered uncontaminated aquifer. But if, foreign consultants, depending NGOs or government's water experts draw master plan, there will be no solution to arsenic probleme in Bangladesh

  • NGOs are generically fund seekers and now provider of employment. Most of them have almost no reality beyond this.
  • And this generally grovelling bunch conveniently represents the public face in the eyes of the donors who ultimately decide policies.
  • Not because they want to but because they have to. The ability of the national counterparts is so low that they would not be able to formulate a policy without donor support. They are unable to disagree either because that might mean fund cuts (Daily Star, 2004).

    So it all ends up in the same basket.

    Acees to Safe Water

    Water means prosperity -- its scarcity means poverty, regardless of material wealth. Human rights advocate that when a woman lives in an unsafe and unhealthy environment or lacks access to clean water, she is not enjoying her fundamental human rights to a life of dignity and to an adequate standard of living. Keeping these truths in mind, the poor women-folk have intensified their further involvement in the water harvesting activities beyond their domestic world.

    happy saressati saressati's father

    Tulagram, Betbaria, Banogram etc. are one of the worst arsenic affected areas of Fairpur district. Sarasati's father is a blacksmith but he can hardly move and does not work any more (2004). Her mother is also very sick.

    Although they think that they do not drink arsenic contaminated water, as Sarasati collects water from TSF (Tubewell Sand Filter) water constructed by the NGO-Forum. We found this water contains a high amount of arsenic (above stanad). Actually this tubewell should be painted red. Nobody warned them. We began to analyse the geological formation and tested aquifers. At Sarasati's house we discovered an aresenic free aquifer and a made available to all an arsenic free water. After one year we are surprise to find a happy family - Sarasati is playing theatre, father has open his shop. Just a simple water can change the life!!

    well MuraridhoaThus, we have made several arsenic free water wells in :

    Village Vashan Char, Village Ambikapur, Village Kaijuri, Village Tulagram, Village Muraridhoa, Village Purbo Muraridhoa, Village Purbo Banogram, Village Madha Para, Domkaron, Village Purbo Banogram, Dhakin Para, Village Tambulkhana, . Village Betbaria, Aubergine Village- Betbaria, Village Kasnail and village Shuborampur etc.

    Many well to do faimly followed our instruction to make arsenic free water wells. May be the impact of our work is greater than we expected!

    Women Center at Village Ambikapur

    women centre
    famous blind singer from Bhanga

    Key to women's liberation is secularism and the establishment of egalitarian political systems. Secularism has been and continues to be a prerequisite for women's liberation

    women center

    women center- wide acceptance 2006Three great religions of Bangladesh, i. e., Hinduism (Modern hinduism is the result of a blending orthodox Brahmanism with non-Aryan materialistic superstitions) which came earliest, Buddhism second and Islam. There is no denying the fact, the oldest inhabitants of Bangladesh known as Australoid, then the Dravidians, Aryans and the Muslims made a chequered history of this region and the Nakshi Kantha (An embellished quilt embroidered in traditional motifs and innovative style by rural women of Bangladesh) found a unique character as a multi religious product and also a multiracial expression.

    The story the kantha is rooted in the history, culture, civilization of Bangladesh since thousands of years The art of kantha embroidery carries a language that is universal, drawing from the well of mankind's primitive and traditional art knowledge, and giving to the world a priceless cultural heritage. Kantha (Quilt) is a product of a non-literate society with psychological and cultural tradition of Bangladesh.

    Lau- seasonal vegetableWe are forwarding women to plant medical and healthy vegetable plant such as;

    Moringa oleifera, bengali Sajna: There are fourteen known species of trees belonging to the genus Moringaceae. Moringa stenopetala is native to Ethiopia and northern Kenya. M. peregrina is found in the Sudan, Egypt, the Arabian peninsula and as far north as the Dead Sea. M. ovalifolia grows in Angola and Namibia. However, the best known member of the genus is Moringa oleifera, a fast-growing, drought-resistant tree native to sub-Himalayan tracts of northern India but now distributed world-wide in the tropics and sub-tropics.

    M. oleifera is cultivated in all the countries of the tropics. M. oleifera is cultivated for its leaves, fruits, and roots for a variety of food and medicinal purposes. The young fruits (sometimes called "drumsticks" ) can be cooked in a number of different ways. An excellent oil is derived from the seeds, which is used for cooking and lubrication of delicate mechanisms. The leaves are extensively used as a vegetable in many parts of the world, and the root can be made into a condiment similar to horseradish (true horseradish, Armoracia rusticana, is a member of the Mustard Family, Brassicaceae). M. oleifera is also of interest because of its production of compounds with antibiotic activity such as the glucosinolate 4 alpha-L-rhamnosyloxy benzyl isothiocyanate. Other research has focused on the use of M. oleifera seeds and fruits in water purification. Neem, haldi, amlaki and all vitamin rich seasonal vegetables.

  • The God of Small Things cultural identity narrative that explores the individual's struggle in India to defy the constraints of the caste system. With excerpts from Arundhati Roy's Booker Prize Winner "The God of Small Things" and clips from "Swades."

    arsenic free tubewell-tulagram

    We have supplied arsenic free water to these villages.

    Economoc and Social Council, United Nations E/C.2/2007/2/Add.24 Economic and Social Council, Distr.: General, 12 March 2007

    Note by the Secretary-General

    National Association for Resource Improvement (NARI) Special Consultative Status granted in 1998

    (NARI) which means women in Bengali founded in 1986 and having United Nations status since 1998 connects many organizations and women who represent a cross section of entrepreneurs, social workers, lawyers, environmental and educators who believe charity and welfare are not enough to improver status of women and improve overall condition of women and improvement of environment. NARI is also very conscious of Climate Change consequences for Bangladesh and is sharing information.

    Throughout the reporting period, NARI handicrafts made by very poor rural women and small businesses of middle class women entrepreneurs supported by

    NARI remained a regular annual activity with the objectives of guiding and supporting women towards self-reliance and empowerment of women. It also met the objectives of resisting violence against women and children and promoting safer working place for women workers and healthy environment for all. Nobel Peace Laureate Dr. Mohammad Yunus is the Founding Chairman of the Board. In 2002 NARI branch of women entrepreneurs and handicraft workers was established in Ambikapur, Faridpur. Sewing machines and trainers on a regular basis were provided.

    The center trained 200 young women. In this ongoing activity, they operate a shop of handicrafts in a rural area. Many young women operate their own small sewing businesses. It has been a most successful NARI activity. In Faridpur

    NARI also helped provide arsenic free water and helped arsenic affected women to establish small businesses. Neem tree plantation is another regular ongoing activity maintained during the 2002-2005 period. NARI women learned about their rights and took part in community activities.

    E/C.2/2007/2/Add.24 07-26737 9

    NARI assisted in organizing a brain storming session on Action Agenda for a Dowry Free Bangladesh on 8 January 2005 against dowry attended by the Country Representative of The World Bank and Minister of Law, Justice and parliamentary Affairs. Recommendations and action plan were adopted and shared by participating organizations for advocacy and implementation. NARI helped women arsenic victims in Faridpur by supplying arsenic free water and helping the women to be more reliant by learning sewing.

    Sewing Courses at Alipur, Bhasan Char and ambikapur villages- 2008

    About 150 students (mothers, daughters, housewives) obtained sewing courses from our project:

    woman reponsible for collectiong water
    1. Arsenic Free Water

    2. Women Project 2004
    3.Grameen Bank: Bank for the Poor
    4. Women's empowerment rises thru' enhanced nutrition

  • Last Modified: November 29 2008

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