A Truly Emancipated Woman

Linked with Ebadon Bibi – Bangladesh.

Published on Boloji.com, by arrangement with Women’s Feature Service & Sangat, October 9, 2005. (See also: articles on this Boloji’s pages discuss issues concerning women, and Inspiring Stories about women on One World South Asia).

Bangladesh is one of the world’s most crowded countries, with about 1,763 people attempting to survive on each square mile. About 85 per cent of all Bangladeshis live in rural areas …

… Ebadon was born in 1945 in Sekhahati Gram, Bogra district. Her father, a farmer, owned a very small plot of land. Although the family was not rich, they considered themselves more fortunate than many others. Although Ebadon was a bright young girl and her father wanted his daughters to get an education, there were no schools in the locality. Looking back, she realizes that her childhood was special because her parents were impartial with their affection and care; they treated their girls just like they treated the boys.

As was the custom in those days, Ebadon was married at a very young age (when she was only 11 years old). After marriage, she moved to her husband’s village, Pairaband in Rangpur district. The couple worked as daily-wage laborers. Even their combined earnings were far from adequate. To add to the expenses, Ebadon became a mother when she was very young. Although she bore six sons and a daughter, three of her sons died of various illnesses.

Ebadon never had the chance to go to school and circumstances denied her a cultural education. She lived out her youth in drudgery, working for a pittance to feed her family as best as she could …

… Ebadon has also been actively working to generate awareness on the importance of educating both boys and girls. A number of girls from the area go to school, even college, today. With this, the practice of marrying off girl children when they are seven or eight years of age has also stopped. Ebadon had seen people in her village marrying very young girls off to trees if they could not arrange a suitable match, and her efforts have been focused on entirely rooting out these prejudices.

She uses all possible means of protest to effectively highlight the problems that her people face and the human rights violations in the area. She and her group gherao (demonstrate) the administration offices, submit memoranda, organize press conferences, file suits against criminals with the help of human rights organizations and build relationships with different professional groups and individual activists who support their struggle. She also regularly participates in seminars, workshops, dialogues and cultural events at the local and national levels.

Today, Ebadon is an elderly woman and her age commands respect. People also recognize and admire her knowledge, experience, foresight and even-handedness. She has been campaigning against dowry for a long time. When her son demanded dowry many years ago, she disowned him. To this day, she refuses to have any contact with him. She practices what she preaches and her bold actions make her acceptable to all, irrespective of gender.

Over the years, Ebadon has staked much to gain so much for her people. She had to fight against her family’s objections, and her community’s prejudices and disapproval. Her mobilization of people to fight for rights to khas land (government land) has also turned the influential people of the locality against her. Ebadon has received death threats, and even been confined and tortured by the fundamentalist forces. Even today, there are many influential persons with vested interests, who file false suits to harass her. However, Ebadon is unfazed, for she understands the power of unity. (full long text).

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