Ngo Participation For Women's Empowerment In Bangladesh

2531 words - 10 pages

AbstractIn this paper, I tell the story of a grass-roots campaign of poor, rural women in the Mehrunnisa district of Chittagong province in Bangladesh. My objective is to examine how feminist activists strategically use and create social spaces to generate collective dialogue and critical reflection on issues of patriarchy and gendered violence. A related aim is to highlight the ways in which activists working at the grass-roots level theorize the interrelationships among their own political actions, their vision(s) of empowerment, and the everyday gendered spaces they seek to transform. In the following analysis, I begin by briefly situating this campaign within recent feminist writings on empowerment and violence in the context of `Third World' development politics more generally and of Bangladesh more specifically. I argue that a lack of explicit engagement with space in much of the feminist literature on these topics limits our ability to adequately apprehend the nature, content, and meanings of women's political actions (Staeheli, 1996). This brief theoretical review is followed by a backdrop of women's grass-roots organizing in Mehrunnisa, and the socio-economic and political realities that define women's struggles in this region. But before immersing in the details of what women did on the streets of Mehrunnisa, this struggle must be placed in relation to recent theoretical conversations among feminists, in Bangladesh and elsewhere, on the subject of empowerment and violence in the lives of rural women.IntroductionDespite intimate connections and overlaps among the issues surrounding women's empowerment and violence against women, feminist theoretical interventions on these topics have often evolved in separate intellectual domains. While empowerment has been a salient theme in feminist discussions of development politics and ecological sustainability in the `Third World' (Harcourt, 1994; Kabeer, 1994, 1999), violence against women has been more centrally theorized in the context of women's social movements (Kumar, 1993; Ray 1999; Zaman, 1999; Visaria 2000) and in problematizing predominant views of intra- and extra-household relationships (Scott, 1990; Agarwal, 1994, 1997; Voight, 1999).This conceptual separation hinders us from developing more nuanced understandings of the experiences and actions of women who grapple with brutal violence as an inevitable part of their struggles for economic and political empowerment. Here I argue that an analytical focus on space and spatial strategies can enable us to develop fuller and more integrated perspectives on women's struggles by illustrating (a) how women identify the interwoven strands of their lives in specific contexts, and (b) how they define and act upon their shifting priorities and visions of empowerment and social justice within those contexts.Background: Literature ReviewIn recent years, development planners, scholars, and activists have all agreed that empowerment of poor women in...

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