Gender Benders

Posted by sepoy on May 17, 2004 · 4 mins read

Bangladeshi PM Khalida Zia stuck to her program and passed a constitutional amendment increasing parliamentary seats by 45 - dedicated only to women. Awami League, and other women's rights groups, have been opposed to that program, insisting that women should compete in the national league on open-polls. I was gonna herald the decision and pooh-pooh the Awami league but in today's LaT [r.r] Barbara Ehrenreich, has a deep-felt piece on feminism confronting Pvt. England:

What we have learned from Abu Ghraib, once and for all, is that a uterus is not a substitute for a conscience. This doesn't mean gender equality isn't worth fighting for for its own sake. It is. If we believe in democracy, then we believe in a woman's right to do and achieve whatever men can do and achieve, even the bad things. It's just that gender equality cannot, all alone, bring about a just and peaceful world.
In fact, we have to realize, in all humility, that the kind of feminism based on an assumption of female moral superiority is not only naive; it also is a lazy and self-indulgent form of feminism. Self-indulgent because it assumes that a victory for a woman ã a promotion, a college degree, the right to serve alongside men in the military ã is by its very nature a victory for all of humanity. And lazy because it assumes that we have only one struggle ã the struggle for gender equality ã when in fact we have many more.
The struggles for peace and social justice and against imperialist and racist arrogance, cannot, I am truly sorry to say, be folded into the struggle for gender equality.
What we need is a tough new kind of feminism with no illusions. Women do not change institutions simply by assimilating into them, only by consciously deciding to fight for change. We need a feminism that teaches a woman to say no ã not just to the date rapist or overly insistent boyfriend but, when necessary, to the military or corporate hierarchy within which she finds herself.
In short, we need a kind of feminism that aims not just to assimilate into the institutions that men have created over the centuries, but to infiltrate and subvert them.

Remember when Benazir Bhutto became the first female PM of Pakistan? No one objected to her leadership (as long as she was properly modest in her public appearences) but the charges that were raised were of corruption. Not moral corruption but old-fashioned looting the public till. That brave step for female empowerment got ramroded by a female symbol of corruption and mismanagement.

I do agree with Ehrenreich. I can see that Awami League and other parties in Bangladesh want to fight gender inequality on society's terms and I think we should support such efforts in Pakistan and elsewhere. and yet. something still compels me to praise the Bangladeshi PM's decision. I do not think that women in South Asia (barring India) are able to play on a level field and need whatever help they can from the constitution. I think that women in Pakistan and Bangladesh face institutional and religious sexism and cannot hope to master the public and private domain at the same time. So, akin, to Brown v Board of Education, this constitutional step is needed. Very much so.

Except a la Ehrenreich, these women MPs [Members of the Parliament not Military Police] should subvert the on-going system of despair in Bangladesh.