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Patriarchy, radicalism fuel Bangladesh’s deep-rooted misogyny

Studies, media reports suggest it is prevalent in almost all sectors of the country's male-dominated society
A female worker is pictured inside a textile factory in Dhaka in this file photo. Bangladeshi cricketer Tanzim Hasan Sakib has come under fire recently for his Facebook posts ridiculing the empowerment of women including employment and free movement.

A female worker is pictured inside a textile factory in Dhaka in this file photo. Bangladeshi cricketer Tanzim Hasan Sakib has come under fire recently for his Facebook posts ridiculing the empowerment of women including employment and free movement. (Photo: UCA News)  

Published: September 26, 2023 11:31 AM GMT
Updated: September 26, 2023 11:32 AM GMT

Bangladeshi international cricketer — Tanzim Hasan Sakib — made headlines recently for Facebook posts ridiculing the empowerment of women, including employment and free movement, toeing the line of hard-line Islamists.

In a post last September, he stated that “a working woman loses her charm, and destroys her family, her purdah [Islamic veil], and society."

In a second post, he opposed “marrying girls mingling freely in the university,” stating that such girls can never be “a demure mother.”

Last November, he shared a video, showing a burqa-clad woman treading on paddy being dried under the sun scattered on the ground. He wrote that such scenes “calm the heart in an era when women wage movements for roaming around naked in the open.”

This April, he shared a photo of the 1950s, showing a woman clad in a burqa sitting in a rickshaw with a man and a child with the caption: “The golden past of our women practicing purdah!”

These only came under scrutiny after Sakib rose to prominence with his brilliant bowling performance during the Aug. 30-Sept. 17 Asia Cup tournament. His social media stardom brought his controversial posts into the spotlight.

Liberal sections in the Muslim-majority country reacted angrily, demanding his removal from the team saying his comments defamed women and tarnished the nation’s image internationally.

Conservatives praised him by saying he was a good Muslim.

The Bangladesh Cricket Board batted for Sakib and told the media that he took full responsibility, apologized for the posts, and claimed he never intended to hurt or defame women.

He deleted the two most controversial posts after the backlash, but other similar posts are still available.

Rights activists and gender experts noted that criticism against the cricketer focused on deep-rooted misogyny and growing Islamization, but failed to shed light on social and political factors that drive such acts.

“This is not an isolated incident,” said Selina Ahmed, who teaches sociology at Khulna University. “Sakib is shaped by his society — his behavior, line of thought and attitude.”

A man is not born hostile to women, she explained, but learns to disrespect them as he grows up in his family and society.

In fact, Sakib is the sixth cricketer who has courted controversy since 2014 because of his anti-women views and actions, including physical assault, demanding a dowry, humiliating women online, and cheating by making false marriage promises.

Media reports and studies suggest misogyny is prevalent in almost all formal and informal sectors in Bangladesh's male-dominated society. 

“Misogyny is embedded in our society just like in any other patriarchal society,” said Mohammad Jasim Uddin, who teaches sociology at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology in Sylhet.

“It takes root in the typical patriarchal fear of losing control triggered by the prosperity of women,” he explained.

Farid Uddin Ahmed, vice-chancellor of Shahjalal University, also made headlines for his pro-Islamist comments.

Ahmed said during a recent meeting that he rather enjoyed his reputation as “a Taliban culture promoter” after banning the mingling of male and female students after 10 p.m.

His comments triggered another backlash from liberals who pointed out how far radicalism has penetrated society.

This comes against the backdrop that from education to employment, women continue to outperform men in Bangladesh.

In two major public exams after Grade 10 and Grade 12, girls have been scoring better than boys year after year.

Though the number has dropped in recent years, about half of the more than four million workers in the export-oriented garment industry are women. This industry is the lifeline of the national economy, accounting for 80 percent of the annual foreign exchange income.

The expatriate workforce, the second-largest foreign remittance earner, has also seen a jump in women laborers due to the demand for female workers in the overseas job market increasing significantly.

However, sociologists say women still lag behind in decision-making within family, society and state, though two of the nation’s most powerful leaders — Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and former PM and opposition leader Khaleda Zia — are women.

“Women empowerment is still a dream for the ultimate decisions in the family are taken by men,” said Selina Ahmed.

Work engagement does not necessarily mean women’s financial independence, she said, adding that the capitalist patriarchal economic system is rather exploiting women, often making them work for far less pay than men.    

Campus Hero Café, a 2018 study funded by Dhaka University, found over 56 percent of boys thought men should make family decisions.

Conducted among 450 boys in 30 schools, the study also found more than 66 percent favored women staying at home while 58 percent fancied fulfilling sexual demands using force and 62 percent of them watched porn on cell phones.

“Our social and political systems have failed to create a mindset in men that respects women, let alone successful women,” said Syed Md. Saikh Imtiaz, the project’s researcher.

Sociologists say that women have been equally important stakeholders as men since the British colonial era — from brave revolutionaries to guerrilla fighters — who fought and died alongside men and helped build the country from scratch after independence from Pakistan in 1971 after a brutal war.

However, women continued to be the target of frequent violent attacks and unabated repression, including rapes because “the state has failed to protect them,” said Imtiaz, a professor of Women and Gender Studies at Dhaka University.

Law Minister Anisul Huq in 2021 and Information and Broadcasting State Minister Murad Hassan in 2022, drew criticism after making hateful comments against women. 

“Who placed all these people in positions of power?’ asked Sultana Kamal, a leading human rights activist.

“It seems our politicians are all immersed in capturing power, forgetting that they have a duty to develop society,” she said.

Observers say a slow but steady rise in Islamization led by demagogic politicians has emboldened the anti-women mindset in society.

One example cited is the higher number of female students wearing the hijab and burqa in classrooms and more recruitment of pro-Islamist teachers and administrators in education institutes.

In 2017, the National Curriculum and Textbook Board came under fire for the alleged Islamization of primary school textbooks.

Among other things, first-graders were taught that the Bengali letter “o” stands for “orna” — a scarf worn by girls starting at puberty. It replaced “ol” — a kind of yam.

The changes were reversed after a backlash but reintroduced in preschool in the same year.

Gazi Ataur Rahman, senior joint secretary of Islami Andolan Bangladesh, an Islamist party, backed cricketer Sakib’s posts.

"He rather showed respect to women and wanted that they can move around safely with dignity in decent clothes," he said.

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