Judging by how often they make headlines, one might be tempted to believe that women in Bangladesh don’t play a major role in this country’s affairs.
Shanta* is only four years old, but already she loves school. Every morning, her mother walks her to the small pre-primary facility in Mohonpur village, about 140 km away from Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, and leaves her in the care of a young female teacher, who oversees the day’s activities: storytelling, drama, reciting poetry.
Jahanara Begum, a 35-year-old housewife, is surrounded by thatched-roof homes, all of which are partially submerged by floodwater.
Until five years ago, Shima Aktar, a student in Gajaghanta village in the Rangpur district of Bangladesh, about 370 km northwest of the capital Dhaka, was leading a normal life. But when her father decided that it was time for her to conform to purdah, a religious practice of female seclusion, things changed.
There was a time when four-year-old Taiba, a resident of Makril village in Bangladesh’s central Netrokona district, had little to smile about. The early years of her life were spent trying to cope with bilateral congenital cataracts, referred to in her village simply as ‘child blindness’.
Shohagi, 19, walks down a corridor to an audience of about a dozen commercial sex workers. In a loud and confident voice, the fellow sex worker shares her knowledge on the use of the condom.
On a hot and humid day in northwestern Bangladesh, Anisa Begum sits with a group of 25 homemakers, explaining how to use natural fertilisers to increase grain yield.
Seven months pregnant, 24-year-old Shumi Begum has travelled 220 km from her village with her paternal grandmother to consult a specialist on childbirth.
When it comes to media, Bangladesh boasts some impressive statistics: it has the largest number of outlets among the world’s least developed countries (LDCs), including 50 nationwide dailies, of which eight are English-language newspapers; 25 television channels; seven FM radio stations; 14 community radio channels and over 300 regional magazines published in English and Bengali.
Bangladesh, a country of 150 million people who depend on rice as their main staple, is gearing up for drought. Already huge areas of the rice-producing regions are on a knife's edge, as elusive rains and hotter temperatures team up on thirsty paddy fields and threaten to disrupt food supply.
Shirin Aktar was just 13 years old when her parents decided it was time for her to get married.
“I would never have believed it possible to get a bumper rice harvest during the drought season,” 43-year-old Mohammad Shajahan Ali, a farmer hailing from the village of Magtapur in Bangladesh’s northern Chapainawabganj district, told IPS.
Fahima Begum rises each morning at dawn and walks two kilometres to a small pond, the nearest source of fresh water. On her way she passes the rusty old hand-pumped tube well that used to supply water to her village in Bangladesh’s arid Barind region until the water table here dropped out of reach.
“It was dark and hot with choking dust all around. The air was filled with the smell of decomposing corpses,” recalled Nasima, a 24-year-old factory worker who spent four days buried under the rubble of an eight-storey building that collapsed in a suburb of Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka last month.
Adding to a long list of domestic woes, including a factory collapse that left hundreds dead last month, Bangladesh is now grappling with a wave of violence that threatens to deepen the gulf between secular sections of society and religious fundamentalists.
Adaptation and mitigation. Identified by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and by scientists as the two major responses to address the problem, these were also the twin preoccupations of a climate change conference held recently in Dhaka.
“This is a revolution,” declares Mamtaj Jahan Halima, a young law student from Bangladesh’s southwestern Khulna district. “People of all ages, irrespective of religion, caste and culture have united – we have not witnessed such a peaceful uprising since before independence.”
When nine-month-old Borsha was admitted to the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in Bangladesh last January, she was on the verge of death.
The sun is just beginning its descent as a knot of farmers gathers around a small, portable radio in the grounds of the Nachol Pilot High School in Bangladesh’s northwestern Chapainawabganj district, about 300 kilometres from the capital, Dhaka.
Monashatoli, a small coastal village of 5,000 residents in Bangladesh’s southwestern Barguna district, located about 470 kilometres south of the capital Dhaka, is a living model of the success of bottom-up community development.
Nearly 50 percent of Bangladesh’s primary school students drop out before they complete fifth grade, as crushing poverty drives them into the informal employment sector.