Bangladesh is widely deemed to have made rapid progress on gender equality and women’s empowerment. How to understand the apparent advances of women in a poor, populous, Muslim-majority country in the belt of classic patriarchy?
This paper locates the origins of these changes in the immediate aftermath of Bangladesh’s struggle for independence in 1971, when a series of visible ruptures to the patriarchal bargain dramatized the ongoing crisis of social reproduction. This drew elite attention to the conditions of landless rural women, creating space for their programmatic inclusion in the political settlement, within a newly biopolitical project of national development.
The paper argues that it is possible to make sense of the gains women have made as well as old and new obstacles to gender justice – including women’s continuing responsibility for care – in this critical juncture in the political history of gender relations in Bangladesh.