Glimmers of Hope Amid an Elusive Peace

Catherine Makino interviews leading Bangladeshi human rights activist SULTANA KAMAL

Published on IPS, by Catherine Makino, Sept. 22, 2009.

TOKYO, Sep 22 (IPS) – Sultana Kamal dreams of a country “where every single citizen will live in democracy, in equality” and where everyone has “equal share to resources and opportunities.” Fulfilling this dream has been her lifelong advocacy as a human rights advocate …

… IPS: What is the situation of women in your country?

SK: I am very proud to say that the women have made a lot of progress. But because of the existing patriarchal systems… in both private and public life, women have to face a lot of challenges in realising their rights.

The Constitution of Bangladesh commits to equality in public life for women. It goes further to say that special measures will be taken to bring the disadvantaged groups, including women, at par with everyone, and everyone will be equal before the law.

IPS: Is that happening in reality?

SK: Since in private life, laws based on religions govern people, women are discriminated against in marriage, divorce, guardianship and custody of children and in inheritance.

The discrimination is not only between women and men of the same religion; it is between women of different religions, too. For example, the Muslim women have limited rights to divorce and inheritance, which the women of other religions don’t have.

The situation of minority women is even worse, particularly in a conflict situation where their interests and rights are considered secondary to the larger interests of the community which, as we all know, are defined by (traditional) patriarchy.

IPS: What is being done about it?

SK: The women’s movement is very vibrant in Bangladesh. The present government also has promised to declare policies for women’s development. We can hope for the best, but we know very well that there is no respite from hard work for us to gain what we aspire for.

IPS: What urgently needs to be done in your country?

SK: The most important duty we have now is supporting the democratic processes and be firm on not allowing any anti-democratic, anti-human rights, fundamentalist or corrupt measures, to foil it. Seeing that democracy gets a ground in this country is a job of the people as well as the government. Establishment of justice, rule of law, human rights and security and peace are the priorities now.

IPS: You have given so much energy and time for causes. How has this affected you personally, and have you had to sacrifice a lot? … (full text).

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