Female voters — the missing variable

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Pundits are seeing revolution everywhere in Bangladesh these days.  First there was the Shahbag revolution, which was supposed to start the second liberation war.  Now there is the Hefazot revolution, which is turning Bangladesh into Afghanistan via Syria.  And then there has been all the speculation about disturbances in the force.  In between, pundits (and fellow bloggers) have seen black-and-white birds, various flags, and politics that keep on getting deeper.  For all that talk, I think the most likely path of political change in Bangladesh is still through an election participated by both main parties.  I am going to eschew various deep analysis of these revolutions, and focus on some simple political calculations.

As of 4th February 2013, Bangladeshi politics was pretty much where it was on the same day 12 years earlier.  The ruling AL and the opposition BNP had similar support base — about 40%.  Smaller parties accounted for the rest.  Ershad couldn’t be trusted, but both main parties knew that he still commanded enough vote that could upset any calculation.  Jamaat was formally in alliance with BNP, but it was as much a liability as an asset — BNP wanted to maintain the relationship, without publicising it.  Smaller left parties provided symbolic values for AL, but meant nothing for its votes.

Both parties had geographic pockets of support — Bogra-Noakhali-Chittagong for one side, swaths of south Bengal for the other.  These gave each side 60-70 seats as a starting point.  Each also had areas of weakness.  BNP was particularly weak in Sylhet, AL in north Bengal.

The election was all about the rest of the country — greater Jessore-Pabna-Dhaka-Mymensingh-Comilla.  Within these, the more urban an area, the more popular was the opposition BNP.  The urbanites didn’t like the Hasina’s heavy handed attitude.  They complained about civil amenities.  They liked BNP’s moderation.  They were ready to return BNP to power.  Rural voters, on the other hand, were solidly with AL because of farmer friendly policy, which kept prices steady while production rose and natural disasters were tackled efficiently.

That was the scenario in the first week of February 2013, as was the case in 2001.  In 2001, BNP solidified its alliance with Jamaat, persuaded enough of Ershad’s followers to join its side, and made use of media, civil society and foreign powers that it was a more dependable ‘party of governance’.  Result — 2001 election victory.

Up until Shahbag, BNP was copying exactly the same playbook.  It called the occasional hartal or long march to keep its party workers active.  But its real game was elsewhere.  Khaleda was touring India and west, writing op eds and papers about the importance of co-operation and friendship and foreign intervention to save Bangladesh.  Mirza Fakhrul was rekindling old friendship with Matiur-Mahfuz.  Jamaat alliance was talked down.  The cities were ready to vote BNP again, and everyone was focussing on smaller towns and villages in the ‘middle Bangladesh’.

For its part, AL had given up on the cities and the bhadralok.  It was gearing up to solidify its rural base and aiming to spend a lot of money and muscle power to hold on to the mofosshol and small towns.

Then came Shahbag.

After the initial shock, AL grabbed the opportunity very quickly.  It saw in Shahbag a chance to corner the elite bhadralok upper class as well as educated middle class opinionmaking chattering section of the society.  By siding with Shahbag’s rekindling of the Spirit of 1971, AL believed it would make the chattering classes forget about the past four years.  BNP meanwhile was completely at a loss.

BNP was, but Jamaat wasn’t.  It needed a confrontation.  That was its only way to save its leaders.  And other mullahs — Hefazot mob — also saw an opportunity, to advance their agenda.  At a crucial point in early March, BNP leadership decided that in the ‘Islam-in-danger’ cry was BNP’s greatest electoral advantage.  BNP figured that it had the cities with it — no amount of razakar bashing would make the city dwellers forget four years of loadshedding and share market scam.  But in the mofosshol and upazilla towns and prosperous villages — the battleground ‘middle Bangladesh’ — Islam-biponno could only help BNP.

AL quickly came to the same conclusion — hence the recent flurry of activities against the ‘nastik bloggers’.  AL figures that it cannot afford to fall behind BNP in the ‘save the Islam’ race.  But at the same time, AL feels quietly confident that it still has a considerable hold over the chattering, opinionmaking classes.

Why?  Because BNP has stopped wooing this class altogether.  BNP figures Awami misrule is enough for this class to come over to BNP.  But that was before the violence and Hefazot’s 13 point demand.  The chattering city dwellers believe the violence is caused by ‘razakars-jongis-mollahs’, and by siding shoulder to shoulder with them, BNP is seen as guilty by association.  BNP is now locked in a corner.  If it tries to wiggle out of the embrace of the Islam-savers, it will be lampooned as directionless.  But by staying with them, it will be dubbed as the patron of militancy, with the corporate media’s hostility to BNP reaching 2006-07 levels.

BNP is well aware of it.  But it believes the Islam-in-danger cry will silence all others and give it 100 or so seats it needs to win convincingly.  It looks to Turkey or Thailand as models where mofoshhol based, conservative-populist parties triumphed again and again against a cosmopolitan urban elite.

So, which side will be right?  Will AL be able to rely on its rural vote banks to vote for its pro-farmer record while capturing the cities on the basis of 1971 symbolism?  Or will BNP capture enough of the middle to upset AL calculation?

The result will come down to one demographics that no pundit has analysed so far.

I believe it’s the ‘young’ (18-40) female voters that will prove crucial for the coming election.  We can look at the Hefazot mob and see thousands of angry young men with little prospects.  We can shudder at their demands — this will turn Bangladesh into Talebanistan.  Well, how do you think the idea of ‘women’s place is at the kitchen and bed’ play to the garments workers?  Thanks to bipartisan efforts over the last two decades, we have seen revolutionary gains in female literacy.  How do you think the young women of mofoshshol ‘middle Bangladesh’ see the prospect of an ‘Islamic Bangladesh’?

People talk about Prothom Alo’s command over the media landscape.  Few realise that its most popular feature pages are the ones read by the ‘middle Bangladesh’ women — people who are inspired by the success stories of other women, people who like to impress their friends with egg sandwich.  In a previous generation, their mothers and sisters voted overwhelmingly for BNP because in Zia they saw someone who could make their life a bit easier by providing stability, and in Khaleda they saw a grieving widow they could identify with.

But in 2013, how many female voters will be turned off by the spectre of Hefazot-allied BNP?

A few more long marches and ultimatums by Hefazot and such like, and AL won’t have to rig the election — it will win on the back of female vote, in a landslide.

23 thoughts on “Female voters — the missing variable

  1. Will the female voter relatives of the male voters vote differently from their male relatives? I don’t know, I’m asking. My hypothesis is that we’re unlikely to find female voters who vote against father/husband’s party lines, even in urban Dhaka. I don’t think improved literacy rates have really affected this because just because women are out working and have their own income does not mean that they are any less part of our patriarchal system. Some may hate most of Hefazat’s demands, but if they’re raised in an environment where the belief is that blasphemy should be punished by death, will they really vote for AL? I’ve seen a surprising number of urbanites agree with some of Hefazat’s demands

  2. Your analysis makes it sound very much like the last two US elections. Is it going to be 2010 or 2012? Recall Glenn Beck’s restore America rally and Tea Party fueled takeover of the House. Recall Obama’s reelection relying on the women (and Hispanic) vote. Is BNP then in need of redefining itself beyond the being the party of older conservative men? What sesible progressive values could it coopt and chip away at AL’s advantages? Otherwise it will be more of the same. One certainly hopes there is room for a third party movement somewhere to keep the other two honest and not take things for granted.

  3. In the absence of reliable national polls, all of these kind of speculations on voting intentions of segments of people are worth nothing. In US too, before the 2012 elections there was lot of theorizing about who is ahead among whom. In the end most of the pundits ended up with eggs on their faces. Only some of those who depended purely on number crunching with poll data came out shining as seer of seers.

  4. Deshi, a lot of people from across the political spectrum thought first time voters would not go against their family pattern in 2008. But that’s precisely what they did — young people from BNP-leaning or anti-AL families did come out and vote for nouka. So don’t be so sure that female voters won’t vote against their husband or father’s party line.

    In fact, that very possibility — that women have a mind of their own — is something that is the result of the last two decades of socioeconomic change. It would be remarkable if this socioeconomic change is not reflected in politics.

    This doesn’t mean women will automatically go and vote for AL in droves. They might not if BCL kills a few more Bishyajits. But they just might if Hefazot’s anti-women rhetoric continues, and a few more women are beaten up by the ‘angry young madrassah educated men’.

    SASD, BNP was doing fine until Shahbag. All it needed to do was to make sure that a fair election took place. But since then, it has been the unambiguous loser. Has anyone heard anything about free and fair election in the past two months?

  5. Agree that the electorate in Bangladesh is highly volatile. This is because of two primary reasons: party affiliations are based on hatred rather than ideological allegiance — the core AL supporters are BNP haters and vise versa. The other reason is that elections are decided by the middle and not the core, which is very fickle. But the fickle middle needs an issue for rallying around. Shahbag and anti-Shahbag have actually further softened AL’s support in the middle. The Silicon Valley / blogger generation are no longer lining up solidly behind the single issue of trials for war criminals. There’s not much new to deliver there for AL. The older bhadrolok middle class are also not too enamored by the class warfare being waged against the lungi-Tupi illiterates (read Crawford TX / neo-Islamist generation). The problem and challenge for BNP is that it can’t exploit these two fissures under the fair election argument. To win, it needs to be seen as a champion of the marginalized weak and make it in vogue.

  6. Vai, a very small proportion of women in Bangladesh are at all concerned about the future implications on their rights under a perceived Islamist takeover. Women in Bangladesh have not seen much Islamic suppression in their lifetime. But they have seen suppression of mainstream non Islamics, AKA BNP and AL. They cannot go out of their home alone without being harassed at local intersection by local thugs of AL and BNP. They experience lifelong post dusk curfew – not in fear of a future menacing looking Islamist but for the local mastan AKA secularist centrist political activist. While walking alone in a secluded road, a girl faces some Chhatra League/ Chhatra dal non Islamic boys standing in one side of the road, and a couple of gol tupi clad taleb elems are walking on the other side. This girl will definitely cross over the street to the side where two taleb elems are walking.

    They have many more problems at hand. They are harassed day in day out at public transportation, work place, educational institutions.

    Between ten to twenty lac men were there in Dhaka streets. 20 lac more were stranded in district towns. If all the men had one women in their life in form of wife, mother, daughter, sister – how a perceived Islamic alliance of BNP with Hefazate Islami influence their vote?

    Our Nasreen Jahan Rakhi will vote in Borguna 3 constituency. She will have a choice between Hakim Ali with Nouka and Abdul Quddus with Sheaf of paddy. How in the world Abdul Quddus will convince Rakhi about poor Womens’ right record of Hakim Ali?

    Did you consider how much support Afghan Taliban still enjoy among rural Afghan women? These women comprise 90% compared to 10 % Kabuli women.

    Despite all binder full of women gaffe of Romney, despite all anti female/ anti abortion rhetoric and despite the fact that American women are zillion light years ahead of rural Bangladeshi women in awareness of their rights, 44% women voted for Romney. They voted for Romney because they preferred the Party, the conservative values over specific issue of Women’s rights.

    Nice analysis. Good job. When the nest episode, the missing variable of gay voters on BNP Hefazate alliance coming up? 🙂

    • 44% women voted Romney, but that’s completely beside the point — surely an astute analyst such as yourself understands that. Elections are not decided by every voter. They are decided by the swing voter. A crucial swing demographics is the young and increasingly empowered women. And not every young and increasingly empowered woman has to switch their vote — as long as some crucial fraction does, it will swing the election.

      As for knowing what the women want, ever talked to any garments factory worker about anything? Let me suggest a trip to the factory belt, and listening to some of their conversations. Bangladesh is not the same country you left behind some time ago. Something all of us NRBs should do well to remember.

      And there were between 10 and 20 lakh people in Dhaka street yesterday, and another 20 lakh stranded in towns? That’s 50 lakh all added up. Really? I also heard there were 2 lakh in Bogra in early March. Numbers are nice things to throw around. Why not say there was a crore ready to shut Bangladesh down. Who’s going to count?

      • What is the dichotomy between a Dari Tupi Maolana and an empowered garments girl? My understanding is that if any part of the society see them least favorably, that part will be garments sector. They are from the same alley of our society.

      • Female garments factory workers care a lot about their independence. They might not know the language of UN declaration or some fancy western manifesto, but they know very well that their jobs give them a control over their life that wouldn’t have existed if the Hefazot’s 13 points are implemented. If AL can frame the election as “vote for your freedom” to enough of these women, it will be enough to swing the election. That’s my point.

        You are analysing the angry young men of madrassah in different threads. I am just pointing out that there is another demographics here, which is not analysed at all. In fact, you rather glibly and patronisingly dismiss this demographics in your previous comment.

    • Mitt Romney won the white women vote by 14%, 56% for him 42% for Obama. Only lopsided Obama margin among minority women changed the overall picture. Romney won only 4% of African-American women and 23% of Latino women.. So it is clear that in the end issues other than women issues were predominant with women too.

      I again say that absence of polls, most of these speculations are useless. Everyone expected the Republican voters to be more enthusiastic in 2012 than 2008 because of their deep disapproval of Obama. In the end Romney received less than a million total vote than McCain. Who would have predicted that?

      http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/frame_game/2012/11/romney_exit_polls_he_won_independents_white_women_and_middle_income_voters.html

      • Yes, the point about the opinion poll data is well taken. But since AoD doesn’t have the resource to conduct an opinion poll, we have to make do with this kind of speculation. So you have two sets of speculations — one ending with a wise ass snarky comment, and one bhuturey one. Take your pick.

  7. Anyone who thinks Awami League has any chance of winning a free and fair election has no idea about the politics of Bangladesh.
    Awami League did quite well during their first term in the 90s. Yet they lost with two thirds majority. Compared to that term, this one has been marred with controversy like BDR killings from the beginning. Every Normal “shadharon” people I talked with blames the government for all the injustice and problems. They blame the govt for all the violence and hullaboo in the past 2 months. They think Shahbag is just a drama by the govt. The anti incumbency feeling is too high in this country. And this govt has not only failed in terms of corruption, but also in terms of causing unnecessary Drama. Whoever thinks normal women and young people will vote Awami League for ideology has no idea about the mindset of normal people. This is not US of A where people do vote for ideology. In those countries the govt atleast try to do basic management of the country. But not in here. In this country, we vote to kick the last person we voted. This revenge attitude is becoming more and more prevalent now. I doubt Awami Leage will get any more seats than BNP did last time. Thats why they are doing all this drama to stop elections. BNP is only focused on getting the election going. They know they are gonna win.

    • The fact is, AL’s vote went up between the 1996 and 2001 elections, from 38% to 40%. They lost because BNP’s vote went up from 35% to 41% and the alliance with Jamaat. BNP’s vote went up largely because JP’s vote fell from 16% to 7%. Don’t be fooled by BNP’s seat size in the 2001 election. That has more to do with our voting system than actual support for the parties. And by the same token, BNP won more votes in 2008 than it did in 1991 (32% vs 31%).

      Before Shahbag, all opinion polls showed a consistent trend — both parties had about 40% support. As Shafiq says, without any new poll, it’s all speculation. And your speculation is as good as mine. But don’t make the mistake of claiming that you know the mindset of ‘normal people’.

  8. ‘হুজুররা তো আর খাওন দিবেন না’

    মামুনুর রশীদ ও কাজী শাহরিন হক বিডিনিউজ টোয়েন্টিফোর ডটকম

    Published: 2013-04-08 13:32:48.0 Updated: 2013-04-08 15:45:46.0
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    “নিজে ইনকাম করি বলে পরিবারের সবার কাছে আমার একটা দাম (মূল্যায়ন) আছে। স্বামী, ছেলে-মেয়ে সবাই আমার কথার দাম দেয়”- ২০ বছর কাজের অভিজ্ঞতায় এটুকু বুঝতে পারা জুলেখা খাতুনদের আবার ঘরে ঠেলে দেয়ার শঙ্কা তৈরি হয়েছে।

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    তাই হেফাজতে ইসলাম কর্মক্ষেত্রে নারীর অবাধ বিচরণ রোধের দাবি তোলায় ক্ষোভ ঝরে পড়ল পোশাক শ্রমিক জুলেখার কণ্ঠে- “হুজুররা বললেই তো হবে না। ওনারা তো আর ঘরে খাওন পৌছায়া দিবেন না।”

    তেজগাঁর হা-মীম গ্রুপের দ্যাটস ইট ফ্যাশনে নিরাপত্তা রক্ষী হিসেবে কাজ করছেন টাঙ্গাইলের জুলেখা, যার মতো শ্রমিকের সংখ্যা দেশে প্রায় ৩২ লাখ।

    দেশের অর্থনীতির মূল চালিকাশক্তি তৈরি পোশাক শিল্পের নারী শ্রমিকরা প্রচণ্ড ক্ষুব্ধ হেফাজতের দাবি নিয়ে, যা গত শনিবার মতিঝিলের সমাবেশ থেকে তোলা হয়েছে।

    হেফাজতের ১৩টি দাবির চতুর্থটি হচ্ছে- ‘ব্যক্তি ও বাকস্বাধীনতার নামে সব বেহায়াপনা, অনাচার, ব্যাভিচার, প্রকাশ্যে নারী-পুরুষের অবাধ বিচরণ, মোমবাতি প্রজ্বালনসহ সব বিজাতীয় সংস্কৃতির অনুপ্রবেশ বন্ধ করতে হবে’।

    নারীবিহীন ওই সমাবেশে নারী উন্নয়ন নীতি বাতিলের দাবিও জানানো হয়। শুধু তাই নয়, নারীদের নিয়ে তাদের মনোভাবের প্রকাশও ঘটে নারী সাংবাদিকদের ওপর হামলার মাধ্যমে।

    তবে নারীদের ছাড়া যে পোশাক খাত চলবে না, তা পোশাক শিল্প মালিকদের কথায় স্পষ্ট।

    “ওরা (হেফাজতে ইসলাম) চাইলেই আমরা নারী কর্মীদের বাদ দিতে পারব না। কারণ ৮০ শতাংশ কর্মী নারী হওয়ায় প্রায় সব গুরুত্বপূর্ণ কাজগুলোই তারা করে,” বলেন বিজিএমইএ সভাপতি আতিকুল ইসলাম।

    তার মতে, পোশাক খাত গরিব নারীদের উপার্জনের মাধ্যমে ‘পুরুষশাসিত’ অবস্থা থেকে স্বনির্ভরতা এনে দিয়েছে।

    এই স্বনির্ভরতার যে প্রয়োজন ছিল, তা ফুটে উঠল দ্যাটস ইট কারখানার শ্রমিক সুফিয়া বেগমের কথায়।

    “স্বামী-স্ত্রী দুইজন কাজ না করলে এই ঢাকা শহরে থাকাডা, খাওয়াডা হয়তো চলবো, কিন্তু পোলাপাইন মানুষ করমু কেমনে?”

    ময়মনসিংহ থেকে আসা হোসনে আরার অবস্থাও একই। পাঁচ বছর হলো ঢাকায় এসেছেন তিনি। কাজ ছাড়া যে টিকতে পারবেন না, তা বুঝে গেছেন।

    ধর্মের প্রতি শ্রদ্ধাবোধ রেখেই তিনি বলেন, “হুজুরদের কথা আমরাও মানতে চাই। কিন্তু হুজুররা তো আমার, আমার পোলাপাইনের খাওনের দায়িত্ব নিবেন না।”

    নিজে কাজ না করলেও বিষয়টি বোঝেন আশফিয়া বেগম। টফিকা গার্মেন্টসের সুপারভাইজার আবুল কালামের স্ত্রী হওয়ায় তিনি পোশাক শ্রমিকদের অনেক কথাই জানেন।

    “তারা (হেফাজত) কারখানাগুলাতে কাজ করা হাজার হাজার মানুষের পরিবারের দায়িত্ব নেক। তাইলে সবাই বাসায় বসে থাকব,” বলেন আশফিয়া।

    পোশাক খাতে নারী শ্রমিকদের সহকর্মী পুরুষরাও মনে করেন যে হেফাজতের এই দাবি ‘অবাস্তব’, এর মধ্যে অনেকেই ধর্মভীরু।

    সেপাল গার্মেন্টসের মোহাম্মদ সবুজ মিয়া বলেন, “পর্দার বিষয়টা ঠিক আছে। কিন্তু তারা পরিবাররে সেভাবে সাহায্য করতেছে, সেইটা বন্ধ হয়ে গেলে তো সমস্যা।”

    সবুজ মিয়ার বোন আনোয়ারা বেগমও কাজ করেন একই কারখানায়। শুধু স্বামীর আয়ে সংসার চলবে না বলে নিজেও আয়ে নেমেছেন তিনি; আর তাতে কিছুটা স্বচ্ছলতাও আসছে বলে জানান তিনি।

    শারীরিক অসুস্থতার কারণে বর্তমানে কর্মহীন পোশাককর্মী মীমের মতে, সময় অনেক বদলেছে, এখন আর নারীদের আটকে রাখার সুযোগ নেই।

    “১০ বছর আগেও যদি আপনারা মেয়েদের ঘরে বসে থাকতে বলতেন, সেইটা অন্যরকম ছিল। তখন সব জায়গায় এত মেয়ে ছিল না। আমরা সেভাবেই চলতে শিখতাম।”

    শিক্ষাক্ষেত্রে গত কয়েকবছর ধরেই পুরুষের চেয়েও এগিয়ে রয়েছে নারীরা। গত বছর উচ্চ মাধ্যমিক পরীক্ষায় পাসের হারেও এর প্রতিফলন ঘটেছে। ৭৮ দশমিক ৬৭ শতাংশ পাসের হারের মধ্যে ছাত্র ছিল ৭৮ দশমিক ২৩ শতাংশ এবং ছাত্রী ৭৯ দশমিক ০৯ শতাংশ। এছাড়া মাধ্যমিক এবং প্রাথমিক শিক্ষা সমাপনীতে ছাত্র ও ছাত্রীর পাসের হার প্রায় সমান।

    “এখন এনজিও বলেন, গার্মেন্টস বলেন স্কুল-কলেজ বলেন, সবখানেই প্রচুর মেয়ে। এখন যদি সবাই বাসায় গিয়ে বসে থাকে, তাহলে তো হবে না,” বলেন মীম।

    http://bangla.bdnews24.com/economy/article611404.bdnews

  9. http://bdnews24.com/politics/2013/04/08/huzurs-wont-feed-us-say-women-workers
    Huzurs won’t feed us, say women workers

    Mamunur Rashid and Quazi Shahreen Haq, bdnews24.com
    Published: 09 April 2013 12:23 AM Updated: 09 April 2013 12:37 AM

    “I’m important to everyone in the family as I earn for them. My husband and children listen to me.”

    Radical right-wing group Hifazat-e Islam wants to keep women like Julekha confined to home. The 13 demands that the Chittagong-based group is pressing for are against the many rights the women enjoy, including their right to work outside home.

    The demands have infuriated the working women like Julekha. “It’s not like everything the Huzurs (moulvis) say will happen. They won’t send food to your home,” she reasoned.

    In the country, there are around 3.2 million female workers like Julekha, who is from Tangail and works as a security guard at a Ha-Meem Group factory in the capital’s Tejgaon.

    The fourth of the Hifazat’s 13 demands announced at a rally in Motijheel on Saturday says: “Infiltration of all alien cultures, including shamelessness, evil practices, adultery, free mixing of men and women and lighting of candles for rights of individual and freedom of speech have to be stopped.”

    The Hifazat rally, which was off-limits to women, demanded the National Women Development Policy be scrapped. Even the activists of the group physically and psychologically harassed several female journalists covering the rally.

    The industrialists are also angry with the Hifazat demands.

    “We cannot remove female workers just because they (Hifazat) want, as most of the important jobs are done by the women labourers, who constitute 80 percent of the workforce (in readymade garment industry),” said Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) President Atiqul Islam.

    He said the readymade garment sector has made poor women stand on their feet in a patriarchal society through facilitating their income.

    The statement of Sufia Begum, a co-worker of Julekha, also suggests that self-reliance is critical.

    “If we two, husband and wife, don’t work, maybe money for lodging and food would be earned. But how will we raise our children?” she said.

    Hosne Ara, another working woman from Mymensingh, has also realised that she will not survive unless she works.

    “We want to honour the demands of the Huzurs. But the Huzurs aren’t going to take the responsibility to feed my children.”

    Their male colleagues also think the Hifazat demands are ‘unrealistic’

    Sabuj Miah of Sepal Garments said: “Wearing veil is okay. But it will be a problem if the support they (women workers) are giving to the family stops.”

    Sabuj’s sister Anwara Begum is also working in the same factory since the family cannot live off her husband’s income alone. She said her job has brought ‘some solvency’ to their family.

    Another readymade garment factory worker, Meem, said now there was no way to confine the women at home since time has changed.

    “There are so many women everywhere – NGOs, garment factories, school and colleges. It’s not possible that all will be sitting at home,” she said.

    Girls are now doing better than boys in education. In the last High Secondary Certificate examinations, the pass rate for girls was 79.09 percent whereas the same for boys was 78.67 percent.”

  10. Interesting argument.
    Wonder how well the theory ’emancipated women will vote against religion-based politics’ will hold up. I mean, in the Arab Spring countries – modern, progressive young people did vote for Islamists. I still don’t see the perceptual mutual-exclusivity of Islam and emancipation taking hold in what you aptly called ‘middle Bangladesh’.

    • Adnan,
      In Egypt the issue was more complex than you represent.

      a) The secular/left bloc could not agree on a unity candidate. They split right before the elections, and fielded two candidates. Therefore, the secular/left vote was split two ways.

      b) Being in opposition for decades, Muslim Brotherhood built deep networks in poor urban and rural areas. That was what mattered at vote time, not the visible secular nature/leadership of the Tahrir uprising.

      I am not suggesting that “emancipated women” (whatever that may mean) would not vote for an Islamist party (if all other options have failed). I do not know yet how that could play out, more analysis is needed. But, I am saying that you cannot use the results of the Egyptian and Tunsian elections to make that argument. The scenarios are not isomorphic.

      • In fact, Islamist politics can also gather large following in Bangladesh, including among ’emancipated/empowered’ women, if it takes seriously issues like making streets safer for women or tackling sexual harrasment at workplace and propose solutions that involves something more than “women should stay home, and if they must venture out, must wear a tent”. As things stand, the only Islamist party in Bangladesh that has even thought about these issues is Jamaat. And Jamaat is dragged down by their 1971 history.

        That’s why, in the context of 2013 election, riding the Islam-in-danger wave has limited utility for BNP.

      • “women should stay home, and if they must venture out, must wear a tent” —

        May I ask exactly who has this demand? Which mainstream Islamist outfit is asking women not to work, not to go to a school?

        However crazy and out of touch the demands of Hefazate Islam were, never ever they demanded women to stay in house. Their only demand pertaining to this matter was – ” Byavichar, jounachar and nari purusher obadh mela mesha bondho korte hobe”.

        Are we not putting words in the mouth of Islamists and then whipping those words? Strawman?

      • Is there anything about 10 taka / kg rice in AL’s election manifesto? Did Sheikh Hasina make a categorical promise that rice prices will not rise above 10 taka/kg? No, there is nothing like that. In pre-election rallies, Hasina echoed the slogan “10 taka chaal khabo, nouka marka ey vote dibo” raised by the crowd. Pro-AL spinmeisters would say “Hasina didn’t promise anything. It was the people who expressed a desire to see AL in power because the people experienced 10 taka/kg rice during her previous government”.

        Perhaps to a legal mind, crucially looking at every pedantic argument in excruciating detail, this AL excuse would make sense. But in the context of the electoral politics, is there any doubt that AL is vulnerable to a charge that they broke their promise to keep inflation under control?

        Similarly for the Hefazot and women. Their exact demand is “nari purusher obadh mela mesha bondho korte hobe”. What is meant by “obadh mela mesha”? What is the boundary of “obadh”? Are they vulnerable to a charge that “women going out of home without head-to-toe niqab is obadh”?

        BNP (and JP) have tried to make hay out of the “Islam in danger” and “secular overreach” line. Both of these are, strictly speaking, strawman argument — Islam is still the state religion in our ‘secular’ country! But as your analysis shows, both these lines have some selling power in some constituencies. I am arguing that there is a different constituency where “mullahs will lock women up” line (strawman it may be in strict sense) also has selling power.

      • Well said Rumi. What exactly “emancipated women” mean? I see that’s being used here a lot. Is this phrase something serious or a hyperbole. Men and women are different, different physically, mentally, intellectually. Look at the different roles they play in human reproduction. A man with a Phd in Mathematics is still different than a woman with a Phd in Mathematics. A man who is a manager at a bank still different than a woman who is a manager at a bank. Why beat up on Bangladesh at this juncture on this issue. Even the most advanced Western societies have failed to make women completely “emancipated”. When women talk about not being “emancipated”, its almost seems they are blaming the men for it. But I always thought that many women just didn’t take the chance to be “emancipated”.

    • My argument is not that “emancipated women will vote against religion-based politics” in all countries under all circumstances. My argument is, a significant part of the increasingly emancipated women of Bangladesh will not vote for religion-based politics if it is seen to threaten their hard fought social advances.

      In the nascent Arab democracies, in Indonesia, and in far more advanced democracy of Turkey, emancipated women have voted for Islam-influenced parties that address social issues without saying “women’s place is at the kitchen, laundry and bedroom”. If Islamist politics in Bangladesh is to take hold, it has to make sure that it cannot be caricatured/demagogued this way. As it is, Hefazot can be, quite accurately, described as wanting to put women back to kitchen-laundry-bedroom. This makes Hefazot a net liability for electoral politics. And BNP seems to actually understand it. That’s one reason why it has backtracked from the all out embrace of Hefazot.

      Incidentally, Jamaat actually understands this issue very well. It has a strong women’s organisation, and its position is far more progressive than Hefazot’s stated position.

  11. who knows if the islamist guilt tripping will work anymore especially as folks are less scared to contest the one eyed liberation fairytale.

    workers probably don’t take kindly at so called socialist environments killing their leaders, burning them to death and not paying a decent living wage.

    factory workers that is, not NGO ones.

    good opp for bismillah capitalists to transform. good opp for the left to mature

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