Experts, activists call for stronger collaboration to transform gender stereotypes
“We have a force in our country that is vehemently against gender equality. In Bangladesh, women have indeed achieved much progress, but they will still have to go a long way. But their journey is fraught with many hurdles. They will have to reach that state where they will claim their right to make decisions about their own life. It’s the family who has to stand beside their women and children in their fight to progress in life, but in our society our families are ridden with patriarchal values. We have to relentlessly work to transform this value system,” said Dr. Dipu Moni, minister for education and lawmaker, at a roundtable discussion today, Monday, 10 October 2022 organised at BRAC Centre in the capital.
BRAC organised the event on the occasion of International Girl Child Day to be observed tomorrow. The education minister was present at the event titled “International Girl Child Day dialogue on ‘Youth attitude towards gender norms’” as the chief guest. Asif Saleh, executive director, BRAC, chaired the programme.
The youths of Bangladesh, popularly termed as ‘population dividend’, currently make up more than half the population of the country and as such are the prime actors, sometimes prime victims also, in terms of the country’s scenario of gender equity and gender-based violence.
Recognising this crucial role of the youth, BRAC conducted a study on the youth perception towards gender norms in Bangladesh and shared the findings of the study at an event.
Special guests were Rasheda K. Choudhury, former adviser to Caretaker Government and present executive director, Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE); Farida Pervin, director general, Department of Women Affairs, Ministry of Women and Child Affairs; Professor Nehal Ahmed, director general, Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education, Ministry of Education; Professor Dr. Mahjabeen Haque, Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology, Dhaka University; Professor Dr. Mizanur Rahman, former chairman of Bangladesh Human Rights Commission and at present teaching at Dhaka University; Dr. Fahmida Khatun, executive director, Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD); Syeda Rizwana Hasan, executive director, Bangladesh Environment Lawyers’ Association (BELA); and Korvi Raksand, founder, Jaago Foundation. KAM Morshed, senior director, Advocacy, Innovation & MEAL, BRAC, also spoke at the event. Nobonita Chowdhury, director, Gender Justice and Diversity, and Preventing Violence against Women Initiative, BRAC, moderated the dialogue.
Professor Dr. Mahjabeen Haque, Dr. Mohammad Salim Chowdhury and Dr. Md Azharul Islam jointly conducted the study titled “Exploring attitude towards gender norms among the youth population in Bangladesh”, the findings of which were shared at the dialogue by Dr. Mahjabeen Haque. The study was conducted among 2,790 men and women of age group 18-35 years, with around 50% male-female participant ratio, from altogether eight districts covering eight divisions.
Overall, the findings reflected a deeply rooted psyche favouring male control and male supremacy among the participants. Some of these responses are:
- 75% believe a wife needs not earn if her husband earns enough to run the household;
- 82% believe girls should not speak loudly;
- 73% think the male has the final say for large family expenses;
- 62% believe that it’s the girl’s family that should have the final say whether she should have higher education or not;
- Participants who went to Madrasa showed less sensitivity to gender-equal lens than those who went to Bengali medium institutions.
CAMPE director Rasheda K Chowdhury said, “Bringing overnight change in the youth psyche is not possible. It will take time. Also we have to bring changes in the education curriculum to reflect the national achievement of our women. We have to read about Nishat Mazumder also besides Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary as the celebrated climber of Mt Everest.”
Former BHRC chair Professor Mizanur Rahman said, “If the rule of law is weak in ensuring equity in other areas of life such as distribution of wealth it will never help in achieving gender equity. Investment has to be made in education to promote gender equality among the young population. Involvement of any religious institutions to promote domestic violence is a despicable act and a violation of human rights.”
DG for Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education Professor Nehal Ahmed said, “We have taken initiatives to bring changes in the curriculum promoting gender equality learning for students. We hope the new curriculum will positively contribute in transforming gender norms among the young population.”
Department of Women Affairs DG Farida Pervin said, “The ministry of women and children affairs is working towards the empowerment of women with a focus on social and behaviour change communication. The ministry operates over 6,000 adolescent clubs down to the union level each of which have 20 girls and 10 boys as members. The government also launched the Joy mobile app with an aim to help women and children in emergency situations whenever they face violence.”
Jaago Foundation founder Korvi Raksand said, “Gender stereotyping starts at a very young age when girls are bought dolls and boys are bought guns. So it’s not an easy task to change the mindset of the youth. It’s important to focus on primary education and involvement of parents too.”
CPD ED Dr Fahmida Khatun said, “A large number of women who earn an income do so from working in the informal economy. We must consider how to bring women from informal to formal sectors. Education, skills and access to finance are important factors to ensure that women go ahead in life.”
BELA ED Syeda Rizwana Hasan said, “I believe we have an inner sense of respect for women but we could not nurture it. The state must take an initiative to cultivate a culture which promotes respect for women and gender equality.”
BRAC ED Asif Saleh said, “Bringing change would need us to work with those who can deliver the learning. We need to work with the cultural, media and publishing sectors. Moving towards gender equality is essentially a political and power struggle. Even if there has been a change in political commitment, there is a need for norm change. This is why we have planned to create a movement called shomotontro, (a system of equality) where we want to involve leaders from all sectors. We have to work towards solving the practical realities of why women don’t get involved in professional activities.”