Intl’ workshop urges Asian women to unite against globalization & fundamentalism

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A two day-long international workshop themed “Globalization and rise in fundamentalism – implications for women and women workers” ended on August 23, at the conference room of the BRAC Centre Inn in Dhaka, Bangladesh with urging Asian women to unite and bring about an end to unfair globalization and fundamentalism in the region. Delegates also called upon the women of Asia to work together to change the repression scenario and strengthen global movement against fundamentalism and the negative affects of globalization.

The workshop was organized by the Bangladesh-based non-government organization (NGO), Karmajibi Nari (KN), with support from Committee for Asian Women (CAW). It was attended by a significant number of women rights promoting activists, participants from international donor agencies, faculties from renowned academic institutions in Bangladesh and foreign discussants from Indonesia Aceh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Thailand shed light on the issues that largely affect livelihood in the region, especially for women.

The workshop was inaugurated on August 22 by Dr Dipu Moni, the Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh as the chief guest while Dr Shirin Sharmin Chowdhury, State Minister for Women and Children Affairs of People’s Republic of Bangladesh and Shahrier Kabir, Convenor of Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee were present as special guests. Shirin Akhter, President of KN, presided over the ceremony while Shuvechha Adhikary, programme officer of CAW, and Sharmin Kabir, General Secretary of KN also took part in the day’s discussion.

In her welcome speech, Sharmin explained the reason behind the workshop. “The people of the Asian countries are passing a dangerous time due to the rise in globalization and religious fundamentalism. This workshop is significant as it has the potential to result in the betterment and empowerment of women from this region,” she said.

During her speech, Shuveccha explained that the workshop will focus on the rise in globalization that eventually led to a subsequent rise in fundamentalism. “During the last five to 10 years, implications for women and women workers in the many countries of Asia have increased. As a result, women of the region face discrimination, sexual harassment, domestic violence and many other complications in the name of religion,” she said.

Dr Shirin Sharmin Chowdhury cited that fundamentalism lies in all the religions of the world and not only in Islam. She pointed out that the complex issue of globalization, that is affecting women, needs to be addressed effectively leading to the empowerment of women.

While wishing success to the workshop and prior to officially inaugurating it, Dr Dipu Moni considered that the whole society needs to work together to ensure the security of women. “Women have all the right to fight against fundamentalism. Education can be a strong tool against the problem. Islam and fundamentalism is not same thing,” she said.

On the inaugural day, a plenary session was organized where Akleem Naz, a Pakistani delegate, submitted a paper on the issue, “Women and Trade Union movement in Pakistan” while Shadia Marhaban of Indonesia Aceh presented a paper titled “Dynamics and trends of Fundamentalism and its impact on women in Asia”. A participant read out the paper, titled “Globalization and rise of fundamentalism implications for women and women workers: In the context of Bangladesh”, sent by Barrister Sara Hossain of Bangladesh.

Khadija Lina of the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), Nigar Sultana of Action Aid, Naree Charoenpolpiriya of Thailand, Shathi Ara of German Technical Corporation (GTZ), Leon Joseph of Sri Lanka and others took part in the open discussion and asked questions about different issues to the paper presenters.

The plenary session was followed by a concurrent workshop discussion session, titled ‘Fundamentalism and Globalization realities and experience’, in the evening. The participants were divided into three groups to focus on issues like the “Dimension of fundamentalism in the formalization of Shariah law”, “Islamic fundamentalism and women’s employment in Asian countries” and “Islamic Fundamentalism and violence against women”.

The concluding day of August 23 began with a plenary session where Ranisa Abdul Aziz, a Sri Lankan delegate, discussed the “Challenges from fundamentalism, globalization on women workers and women’s movement in Asian countries in resisting oppression and exploitation in Sri Lanka”.

Ranisa described the vulnerable position of the Sri Lankan women when she shared that Sri Lankan Muslim women, who dare to venture out of their homes, are still considered to be of ‘loose character’. “Women of our country face violence at home, educational institutions and work places,” she said.

The discussion was followed by a presentation by Kohinur Mahmud, a Bangladeshi participant, who discussed the topic “Globalization, fundamentalism and women workers in Asia: Bangladesh perspective”. “The main targets of fundamentalists are women, their rights and mobility,” said Kohinur.

“Low wages, inhuman working and living conditions and continuous denial of trade union are some significant problems for the women in Bangladesh,” she added.

Naree Charoenpolpiriya of Thailand discussed the condition of women in her country, where people are still fighting for identity. “The Thai government is trying to demolish these people brutally and so far 4,000 people have died since 2003’s ongoing protest,” she said.

Sarwar Binte Islam of Manusher Jonno, Naima Imam Chowdhury and Nigar Sultana of Action Aid, Nayeema Sultana of KN and others took part in the open discussion.

After the plenary session, a discussion on “Impact of disaster climate crisis and armed conflict on women workers” was organized where Sharmind Neelormy, Assistant Professor from the Department of Economics of Jahanagirnagar University, Nirupa Dewan, a member of National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh, Leon Joseph from Sri Lanka, Shadia Marhaban of Indonesia Aceh, Naree Charoenpolpiriya and Akleem Naz of Pakistan, shared their experiences about the issues in their respective countries.

“The affects of climate change are adding to the existing burden on women. The overall vulnerability is likely to increase in the region,” said Sharmind Neelormy.

During her speech, Nirupa Dewan pointed out that women suffered the most during the two decades of conflict in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). “Women were not safe. They were kidnapped, raped and killed by the army and Bengali settlers of the area, during that time,” she added.

Shadia Marhaban shared how she was forced to leave her country, following the death of one of her close friends, who was killed in prison on the day of the Tsunami, after being arrested by the Indonesian army. “The guard of the jail had locked 89 prisoners, including political prisoners, when the Tsunami hit the country. Everyone perished,” she said.

In the evening, a concurrent workshop discussion session was organized where the participants were divided into two groups. The first group focused on national efforts in resisting exploitation and oppression as an impact of globalization and fundamentalism, country experience and perspective while group two focused on women’s movement and trade union movement in Asia.

The session was followed by a closing ceremony. Phebo So of CAW delivered the closing remarks urging Asian women to fight fundamentalism and globalization “hand in hand, side by side”.