As a Bengali woman who’s lived in Bangladesh, I feel as though my country gets an unfair reputation in the media. In VICE, we are portrayed as a patriarchal Muslim society which either rapes women on the streets, or traps them into sex slavery in dingy brothels.
But in reality, Bangladesh is far more feminist than you’d think. In fact, throughout Bangladesh’s 49-year history, the country has been led by a woman for 27 of those years. These strong women who have led the country are Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina. They are political rivals with a long, contemptuous past. But their political prowess shows a different side to Muslim women in Bangladesh.
Sheikh Hasina could be described as a battle axe with a grit only matched by the Iron Lady herself, Margaret Thatcher. This is proven in her iron-fisted approach to the drug trade, which has turned its heels in fear against her bold Duterte-esque policies. This unwavering aggression has led to Sheikh Hasina really proving herself in the eyes of the people, earning her 96% of the vote in the 2018 election.
On the other side of the aisle, we have Khaleda Zia, who has taken a softer, more calculated approach to besting her way through the complicated political landscape. Throughout her career, she has maneuvered her way through the courts of public opinion, and political assassination. Many would say that she is a deeply despised member of a ruling class. But Khaleda is a force to be reckoned with, and if history proves itself, we will be hearing from her very soon.
Unlike most of the Western world, the people of Bangladesh aren’t afraid of strong women, and have had the courage to elect strong women as leaders for a greater part of their history. The perception of Bengali women in the media is deeply problematic considering the reality of female empowerment in Bangladesh: women have literally been leading the nation for more than half of the nation’s existence.