7 years ago

On the gender issue

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From traditional point of view, 'gender' means that women are virtually slaves who would just follow orders of their husbands and act accordingly. Women have no rights to raise voice, have no access to land, money and other resources. They have no rights to make any decision for their empowerment and have no rights to participate. Even women have no control over their own body and choice about pregnancy. Women stay at home, do household work and look after children while men go out for work. Gender means women do not work though they work more than 18 hours in a day.
'Gender' refers to the social attributes and opportunities associated with being male and female and the relationships between women and men, and girls and boys. These attributes, opportunities and relationships are socially constructed and are learned through socialisation processes. These are time-specific and changeable. These are not God ordained but made by the patriarchal society.
First, I got the lesson about gender from my grandmother. During my childhood I used to go to village market with my father but I could not do so when I reached adolescence. My grandmother strictly prohibited me to play with boys. I had to go to school only with my girl classmates. The boy classmates were not allowed to accompany me on way to school or back home. 
In my professional life, when I was in CARE Bangladesh, I used to go to fields by riding motor cycle but local people did not accept it easily. They took it as socially degrading for a lady like me.  One day, an elderly woman asked me why I drove motor cycle being a woman. Even in Plan, gender ratio is not at a satisfactory level. Though at the junior level, we have sufficient number of female staff but at the senior level, the ratio is very poor. This pattern is found in other organisations also.
Women are neglected and discriminated in every sphere of their lives. They can hardly establish their independent identity within our male-dominated society. For instance, women are not allowed to act as judges of village Shalish. Even in this era of women's empowerment, parents in most cases do not feel any necessity to take opinion of their daughters while arranging their marriage. When a woman becomes widow, her situation becomes vulnerable in the family. 
Women lack technical know-how to prove themselves as creative. In the student population at technical universities, only 9.0 per cent are female. The preference for educating boys instead girls still persist in Bangladesh families. Women family members, especially those living in rural areas, are less likely to receive modern medical care. As a consequence, both child and maternal mortality is high in the country.
Unmarried women from rural areas are the preferred garment factory workers, and accordingly they make up the majority of the labour force in the garment sector. Women are preferred over men primarily because it is now well established that: a) women are more patient and nimble, b) women are more easy to control than men and c) women are less mobile and less likely to join a trade union. On the other hand, incidence of domestic violence in Bangladesh is widespread. Yet, law-enforcement agencies do not make serious intervention on the plea that these are simply domestic, personal and familial matters.
The writer is Communications Coordinator, Plan International Bangladesh, Gazipur.

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