Bangladesh predominantly contains a masculine social characteristics which means the society believes that based on the gender, males and females should have separate attributes, roles and responsibilities. However, with the change in economic status of Bangladesh, there have been modifications of social characteristics. Though there exists patriarchic masculinity in Bangladesh, feminist characteristics are on the rise.
Feminism is, as Oxford Dictionary writes, "the advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes". According to Cambridge Dictionary, feminism is "the belief that women should be allowed the same rights, power, and opportunities as men and be treated in the same way, or the set of activities intended to achieve this state". The same dictionary also mentions that feminism is "an organised effort to give women the same economic, social, and political rights as men".
To promote equality between males and females, different initiatives are often visible in Human Resources (HR) policies of organisations of the country. Nevertheless, there persist some widely accepted misconceptions about feminism among common people in Bangladesh.
MISCONCEPTION 1, FEMINISM PROMOTES SUPERIORITY OF WOMEN: Many people in Bangladesh often say, "I do not believe in feminism. Rather I believe in promoting equality". That is a very common misperception about feminism that it wants to establish the superiority of women over men. Actually, feminism advocates that women should not be deprived of any sort of opportunities because of their sex. It is the equality they want, not the privilege. They want a world to live as freely as men. They do not want any sort of discrimination like being paid half wages compared to men for the same amount of work.
MISCONCEPTION 2, FEMINIST WOMEN ARE NOT FEMININE (SOFT): Often several scary notions persist in society about feminist women such as they cannot be modest, caring, fun-loving and cheerful. Rather, they are aggressive and dominating in nature as they strive to establish their rights. This is a complete myth. Feminists do not necessarily lack sense of humour. They believe in proper rationale.
At the same time, this is perceived that feminist women dress like men, also they do not wear traditional dresses or ornaments. In reality, feminists do not impose the patriarchic society to decide what women should wear. They promote that choice of dress and ornament are the personal choices of women.
MISCONCEPTION 3, FEMINIST WOMEN CANNOT BE HOMEMAKERS: Predominant notion about feminism is that feminism deters women from being homemakers. Whereas the fact is that feminism do not contradict the notion of being homemakers, neither it forces women for gaining economic independence. Hence, feminism emphasises the choice of freedom of women so that society should not force any woman to be a homemaker or a service holder.
Another misunderstanding about feminist women is that they hate men and they do not believe in marriage. In reality, feminism advocates against the discriminative perception of society or parents between the marriage of daughters and that of sons. Thus, feminism does not support that 'tender age is appropriate for girls to be married' and 'there is no age of marriage for men'.
Also, getting divorced or changing male partners are perceived as negative characteristics of feminism. The fact is that feminism is not related to advocating for separation or divorce. Rather, feminists promote the rights of women for raising their voice against any sort of oppression.
MISCONCEPTION 4, FEMINISM SUPPORTS WOMEN ONLY: A popular existing notion in Bangladesh about feminism is that the role of feminist people is to support women only. This is completely wrong. Feminism is against patriarchic characteristics which is possible to carry both by men and women. Feminism stands against patriarchic attitude of both men and women.
MISCONCEPTION 5, MALES CANNOT BE FEMINISTS: Mass people often think that only females can be feminists. This is not the case. This school of thought can be conceived by both males and females equally. Males are oppressed by patriarchy too. While ensuring women's right, feminism ensures men's right also. For example, feminism does not support that only males should be burdened for ensuring financial support for family. Rather, based on choice and opportunity, males and females should be capable of sharing or exchanging their roles and responsibilities.
Goal 5 of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) states: "Ending all forms of discrimination against women and girls is not only a basic human right, but is also crucial to accelerating sustainable development." Like each year, this year International Women's Day will be celebrated worldwide on March 08; the theme of 2019 will be: "Think equal, build smart, innovate for change".
Promoting gender equality is also one of the priorities of Bangladesh. Though changes are taking place for reducing discrimination between males and females in Bangladesh, there are several challenges for promoting feminism in Bangladesh. Men often start to perceive women as their competitors for getting jobs. Even they fear that women will not share the financial contribution in family. On the contrary, their children will not have adequate time from their mothers and eventually will not become good human beings. Moreover, traditional view of people is the roles and responsibilities of males and females should be different for the welfare of society. Besides, they think reducing patriarchic practice would wane the traditional family bonding.
To overcome these challenges and ensure equal rights for women, males should be sensitised first so that they understand how they may be benefitted by promoting feminism. Rather than counting as competitors, males should treat women as their counterparts in all cases. With promoting education and job opportunities for women, proper initiatives are vital by engaging the influential groups for changing the traditional norms and harmful patriarchic practices that have been oppressing women for long.
Bipasha Dutta is a PhD researcher at University of Dhaka.
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