Women Leaders


Angela Gomes
Miss Gomes, 47, runs one of the largest women's rural organizations in Bangladesh. Operating out of a 1.5-hectare training complex in Jessore, Banchte Shekha (meaning Learn To Survive in Bengali) offers female-empowerment programs to more than 25,000 women in nearly 430 villages, benefiting through them an estimated 200,000 family members.

Banchte Shekha - founded by Gomes in 1976 - teaches rural women a vast range of income-generating skills, including handicrafts, raising crops, poultry and livestock, fish farming, beekeeping and silk making (from the cocoon to the weaving loom to the printing). It also provides health-awareness programs, maternity care and basic schooling through adult education courses.

Known as the Mother Teresa of Bangaladesh, Gomes won the 1999 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership. In naming her as one of that year's awardees, the board of trustees cited her role in "helping Bangladeshi women assert their rights to better livelihoods and gender equality, under the law and in everyday life."

Sources and related links:
Angela Gomes: Working with and learning from village women
A power source: Angela Gomes, community leadership

Nasreen Huq
Nasreen Huq has been an activist and leader in Naripokko, a women’s rights organization in Bangladesh, since 1988. One of her projects in Naripokko has been the founding and coordination of the Campaign Against Acid Violence.

Acid burnings are a brutal form of violence against girls and women. In many cases, sulfuric acid is thrown on girls and young women as revenge for rejecting a suitor’s advances. Usually, the goal is to disfigure their faces, taking away their beauty and "value."

She holds positions on numerous national and international committees, including the Gender Advisory Committee of the Bangladeshi Ministry of Health and Family Welfare; the Gender Advisory Panel, Special Program on Human Reproduction at the World Health Organization; and the Advisory Committee on Asia, Pacific Research and Resources on Women and Health.

Additional information on Huq: Biography: Nasreen_Huq

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Taslima Nasrin
A world-famous secular humanist writer and feminist, who has escaped the threat of hanging by Muslim fundamentalists in her native Bangladesh. She sprang into international consciousness when her novel, Shame, which depicts Muslim persecution of Bangladeshi Muslim women, brought forth a death threat from Islamic militants. Nasrin secretly escaped from Bangladesh to refuge in Sweden on Sunday, January 23, 2000. She now lives in France.

Source: Council for Secular Humanism: Taslima Nasrin

Other interesting links:
This link features speeches, poems and an online version (in pdf format) of her latest book, Amar Meyebela (My childhood days).

Sheikh Hasina Wajed
She was forced into exile when her father was assassinated in August 1975. In 1981, while still in exile, she was unanimously chosen to head the largest political organization in her country, the Awami League. In 1982, less than a year after her return from exile she was the first to raise her voice in protest of the increasing militarization in her country. From time to time she was imprisoned for her dissension to military rule. On June 1996, six years after the downfall of the military regime in 1990, Sheikh Hasina was sworn in as the Prime Minister of the People's Republic of Bangladesh, the nation her father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had founded twenty-five years ago. However, she lost her post to her main rival, Begum Khaleda Zia during the bitterly contested 2001 parliamentary elections.

During the administration of Sheikh Hasina Wajed, there are two other women in her Cabinet, these are Motia Chowdhury (Minister of Agriculture) and Syeda Begum Sajeda Chowdhury (Minister of Environment and Forest). In October 2001, she lost to her main rival Begum Khaleda Zia.

Additional information on Wajed:
Life sketch of Sheikh Hasina Wajed

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Begum Khaleda Zia
Zia was born in Dinajpur, East Bengal (now Bangladesh). She came into politics following the 1981 assassination of her husband, President Ziaur Rahman. In 1982 she joined the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which was founded in 1978 by her husband and his supporters. She was chosen to head the BNP in 1984, and her leadership consisted mostly of agitation against the autocratic regime of General Hossain Mohammad Ershad until he was forced to resign in 1990.

Held under the auspices of a caretaker government, general elections in February 1991 returned a majority vote for the BNP. Zia was installed as prime minister the following month, and a constitution change later that year ended 16 years of presidential rule and gave primary executive power to her post as Prime Minister.

In 1996, she bowed to opposition demands and stepped out of power. During the elections that year, her arch rival Sheikh Hasina Wajed's Awami League won most of the parliamentary seats paving the way for Wajed's ascendancy to the country's top post. Five years later in October 2001, Zia was again elected as Prime Minister of Bangladesh.

Additional information on Zia:
Begum Khaleda Zia, an Encarta Encyclopedia article
Life sketch of PM

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Dated: 16Oct2002