After 10 years (2015):
Despite the very difficult years between 2002 and 2009, when BNPS as an organisation and Rokeya Kabir personally had to go through a lot of constraints due to governmentt reprisal, Rokeya and a few others did not give up. Although they had to let go most of their staff, as they could not receive any funds due to government’s prohibition for many years, they kept the entity of BNPS going from a small office with two rooms. In that period Rokeya dedicated her time mainly to develop a policy to reform the education system. She mobilized voluntary efforts and together with them she developed guidelines for a new education policy for Bangladesh. The investigations against BNPS and Rokeya Kabir were finally dropped 2009, without having brought forward anything against them.
From 2009 Rokeya Kabir and BNPS continued their work in a regular way, but on a smaller scale. Their main strategy was and is to this date: to identify critical issues in the society, to initiate discussions and movements, and to involve others who would at one point take over and scale the issues up. BNPS creates mass awareness through, among others, cultural media like street theatre and folk cultural forms. Rokeya Kabir deems these strategies as very successfull as they enable to put critical issues on the national agenda.
Ten years after the nomination as a peacewoman, Rokeya Kabir remains a frontline activist for women’s and human rights in Bangladesh. She is a very busy woman and travels a lot in Bangladesh and abroad. BNPS is member of different committees and programmes under the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, Ministry of Law and Parliamentary Affairs and Ministry of Planning. Rokeya Kabir, as Executive Director of BNPS, is also an Advisor to the Government committee on CEDAW reporting. She served as the gender focal person of the ‘Global Committee of the Civil Society Groups on the World Bank’ and she was a member of the ‘Women Advisory Panel’ to the President of Islamic Development Bank (IDB) on gender from 2003 to 2006. Currently she is also one of the members of UN-Women Asia Pacific Civil Society Advisory Group.
Rokeya Kabir today notices many positive changes and progress made in Bangladesh. She emphasizes that Bangladesh has created different laws and policies to protect the rights and well-being of women and children. But despite the existing of a theorical framework, Rokeya still sees a lot of work. While the laws exist, the challenge lies in their implementation. In order to achieve further empowerment of women, the society has to be sensitized at different levels, from teachers to judges, from members of parliament to the media, etc. For Rokeya, it is crucial that the government integrates gender issues and equal rights of minorities in their training programmes. 2011 Rokeya Kabir edited the book: Policies Budget and PRSP: Are They Promoting Women’s Rights in Bangladesh? The book is an analysis of the situation in Bangladesh and concludes with the message that, as a crosscutting theme, women’s advancement and rights issues have to be addressed horizontally and vertically in the context of policies and strategies of all sectors and thematic areas.
Asked about her recommendations for driving forward the implementation of existing laws, Rokeya Kabir suggests to introduce an appraisal system. She says, “the monitoring of implementation and periodic reports are crucial, but not only the critical issues should be pointed at. ”
In an interview conducted by Oxfam 2009, Rokeya Kabir was asked whether she was hopeful about the future. She answered: “Of course I am hopeful. Despite all the backlash on national and international level, people are gaining strength and fighting back.(….) Change is hard work; it’s not easy to bring change. But I am hopeful that change will be there.”
“It is not just in Bangladesh, everywhere in the world inhumanity and fundamentalism are major forces now! If we are to make a good future, more people need to be more proactive.”
Rokeya Kabir (born 1952) was one of the first activists in Bangladesh to forge the crucial link between grassroots women and the national and international women’s movements. To materialize this global interconnection of grassroots movements, she and other women’s activists set up the Bangladesh Nari Progati Sangha in 1986. For 25 years now, she has been working on women’s rights and minorities issues, incurring the wrath of the country’s fundamentalist forces. Undeterred, she wades on-downsizing her operations and functioning with practically no funding.
Rokeya Kabir was among the vanguard in Bangladesh to bridge the grassroots-global gap between women’s movements. Working on women’s issues in various capacities and with different organizations for over a decade, she set up the Bangladesh Nari Progati Sangha (women’s progress organization) in 1986, along with some like-minded people. “My involvement in working with people at the grassroots level in the rural and urban settings, especially with women, provided me with both insights and the opportunity to understand the problems in depth,” she says. “I felt a dire need to build up a link between grassroots women and the national and international women’s movements.” For more than a quarter century, women’s human rights and engaging minority rights issues through media, advocacy, campaigns, and awareness generation have been Rokeya’s priorities. She has also contributed to policy issues, especially reforms in education policy and inheritance law, increased parliamentary representation for women with a provision for direct elections, and devolution of power to the local government, with women’s effective participation. But choppiness seems to have tagged her for the past couple of decades. She and the Bangladesh Nari Progati Sangha have been victimized by the present government, which has religious fundamentalist parties sharing power. “They have filed false cases against me,” she says. “My organization has not been able to receive any funds for the past three years. At present, I am sustaining the Sangha by sizing it down and mobilizing voluntary efforts.” She continues: “It is not just in Bangladesh, everywhere in the world inhumanity and fundamentalism are major forces now! But I am optimistic. If we are to make a good future, more people need to be more proactive.”
Bangladesh Nari Progati Sangha
South Asia | Bangladesh