Huzurs won’t feed us, say women workers

Julekha Khatun, who has been working for 20 years, knows her place in the family.

Mamunur Rashid and Quazi Shahreen
Published : 8 April 2013, 12:23 PM
Updated : 8 April 2013, 12:37 PM

“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.”
Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher