|Angry Islamist demand for Islamic state governed by controversial Sharia law, which subjugates women|
Monday, August 26, 2013
Secularism was one of the cornerstones of Bengali nationalism, but its spirit was enforced only by pen and paper. How can demands to ban religion from politics be satisfied?
The United Nations categorizes
as a moderate Muslim democracy. Meanwhile, the current Foreign Minister called Bangladesh a
secular country. She defined Bangladesh
to be a "non-communal country” with a “Muslim majority population”. The
Foreign Minister further added that the concept of a moderate Muslim democracy
cannot be applied in the case of Bangladesh because it fought its
war of independence on basis of the ideal of secularism. For Bangladesh ,
embracing religion or creating a secular identity has been a major contestation
in the creation of its national identity. Identity questions for Bangladesh
still stand: is it a country of secular Bengalis or Muslim Bangladeshis? Bangladesh
This split personality of
confounds the international observer. For an outsider, it makes perfect sense
to call it a moderate Muslim democracy as a Muslim majority population lives in
a country that recognizes Islam as the state religion. Since the Shahbag
movement has erupted with the demands of the death penalty for the war
criminals, international media remains substantially silent about it. Perhaps
one of the reasons could be their inability to comprehend why a population of
Muslim origin are angered over using religion (read Islam) for political
purposes? As we look at the issues brought forward by the Shahbag movement, we
need to analyse it from a historical perspective. We are not talking about
redressing the wound that was created 42 years back; rather how it was
‘silenced’ to maximize narrow political gains for the major political parties
of the country. Bangladesh
'Secularism' in independent
Many point to the 1947 division of the subcontinent on the basis of the Two Nation theory with ‘religion’ at its core as the principle factor that tied religion to politics in this region. It was primarily the overwhelming support of the Muslims of Bengal in the 1946 election that decided the fate of the Two Nation theory. But does this mean that people of
supported the Two Nations theory with a religious fervour? The answer is quite
the opposite. Historians have shown that support in East Bengal was mobilized
with the aim of economic emancipation from West Bengal.
The people of East Bengal gathered under the
umbrella of Fazlul Haque’s leadership, who provided a non-communal approach to
the issue of Hindu-Muslim relations and brought the economic issues to the
forefront. As research shows, the massive support coming from the rural areas
of Bengal for the dream of
was aimed at resolving their basic ‘dal-bhat’ (rice-lentil: considered Bengali
people’s basic food at that period) problem. Islam was not the primary
political mode of thought in Pakistan Bengal nor was
able to present itself as an ‘ideological’ alternative to the existing
However, the Two Nation Theory, formulated on the basis of Hindu-Muslim division, turned out to truly be a theory of two nations as it depicted East and
West Pakistan as inherently different from each other.
They do not understand why we subaltern Muslims do not agree to speak Urdu.
They do not understand why we Muslims are mesmerized with the Hindu poet
Tagore. While students protested Jinnah’s proclamation that, “Urdu, and only
Urdu shall be the national language of Pakistan”,
the seed of a new nation was sown as early as 1948 on the campus of the . The Bengali Language Movement
gave birth to the idea of a new nation, within the geographic border of former University of Dhaka East Pakistan.
While secularism was one of the cornerstones of Bengali nationalism, its spirit was enforced only by pen and paper but not in practice - apprehension that secularism could be easily misinterpreted as atheism. Even while secularism was preached in the pre-1971 period, Article 2 of the Awami League’s election manifesto in 1970 stated that no law would be enacted against the dictums of the Quran and the Sunnah. Similarly, political leader Maulana Bhashani declared, “we want food and we want clothes but we do not want them excluding Allah”. Such contradictions extended far. Upon his return from
Pakistan via London
in 1972, at the one hand, Sheikh Mujib declared himself as a Muslim and Bangladesh as the second largest Muslim country
as secularism was embedded as one of the four principles of the Constitution of
the People’s Republic of . Bangladesh
Secularism versus religiosity
History shows that there was a public fear and rejection of secularism back in 1972. A public procession was carried out against it on the streets of
Dhaka that chanted “Joy
Bangla joy-heen, Lungi chere dhuti pin” on the day of the formal
acceptance of the constitution. This particular slogan stated that the
traditional Awami League slogan of Joy Bangla, i.e., victory to Bangladesh, became meaningless in independent and
would be devoid of ‘victory’. Moreover, the traditional Bengali Muslim men’s
attire lungi would be replaced by traditional Hindu
men’s attire dhuti due to adoption of secularism as a
state principle. The ultimate failure of the government, alongside rampant
corruption, was to give in to these Islamic emphases by the regime of the Awami
League in an attempt to regain its lost popularity. Simultaneously, as a
reaction to the Awami League’s pen and paper commitment to ‘secularism’, the
alternative was to embrace ‘religion’ in its fullest form and was manifested in
Bangladeshi nationalism. Bangladesh
While the Shahbag movement is asking for a fair trial of war criminals, it cannot remain confined by only banning Jamaat-e-Islami’s politics or overall politics based on religion. Rather, the whole issue of secularism versus religiosity has to be taken into consideration to redress the way politicians have misused religion. We have not forgotten the electoral slogan of the Awami League, BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami during the 1996 election: La ilaha illallha, Naukar malik tui Allah (There is no God but Allah, and Allah is the Owner of boat); La ilaha illalha, Dhaner shishe Bismillah (There is no God but Allah, and Allah willing, vote for the paddy sheaf); Vote diley pallay, Khushi hobe Allah (Allah would be pleased if you vote for scale). It is a country where an electoral campaign still starts from Sylhet, by visiting Islamic shrines and seeking blessings of the Pirsfor a good result in election.
We have changed our traditional age-old greetings from ‘Khuda Hafiz’ to ‘Allah Hafiz’ with the excuse that ‘Allah’ is Arabic while ‘Khuda’ originates from Persian. We do not even know or probably do not even care about the fact that ‘hafiz’, an original Persian word and etymologically derived from Arabic ‘hifz’, remains attached with the phrase. But we are happy to replace Khuda with Allah with an aim to prove ourselves as true Muslims. Is that a true representation of
our national culture? On a similar note, in any public gathering, it is
excruciating to see how the sari, the traditional Bengali attire for women, is
disappearing and is being increasingly replaced by salwar-kamiz. While the
younger generation have embraced the latter with the excuse of it being more
manageable and convenient, the older generation is much more direct in
expressing how the sari is ‘unIslamic’ dress that reveals significant female
body parts while salwar-kamiz does not. Bangladesh
Our whole national culture is in transition. Otherwise why is YouTube still banned in
Why is it necessary for the editor of a renowned newspaper to apologize to the
Khatib of Baitul Mukarram over the publication of a cartoon that allegedly
insulted religious sentiments? Not so long ago, Facebook was also banned in the
country under the same accusation. Scholar Rafiuddin Ahmed indeed pointed it
out very succinctly, “a Bengali Muslim may have seen himself primarily as a
‘Muslim’ the other day, as a ‘Bengali’ yesterday, and a ‘Bengali Muslim’ today,
depending on objective conditions, but on none of these occasions did his
thoughts and his idea of destiny become separated from his territorial
Secularism as a top-down approach
The fact remains that secularism cannot be imposed from the top, merely as a state directive. The term secularism itself was coined and introduced in the English vocabulary in 1851 by George Jacob Hollyake in order to create a conscious difference between secularism and atheism. It is the same tension that we face in our country right now. Moreover when secularism is imposed as a top-down approach, it looks like nothing short of an attempt to ‘catch up’ with the West or try to prove to the West that “look, we have denounced religion; we are modern too!” This is a typical crisis that non-Western societies face: how to define themselves as modern so the West understands. But what is overlooked here is that secularism cannot just be imposed as an ‘add and stir’ method, for non-Western societies have their own uniqueness to add both to the concepts of modernity and secularism.
There is no singular way to be modern; there is no singular way to be secular, especially not by incorporating it into the Constitution while ignoring the drastic changes in the social fabric of a country. Moreover, countless research shows that while a non-Western society is being modernized, it does not shake off its religious legacies and historical experiences. Rather its own values, culture and religion formulate the core of a resistance identity in response to the intrusion of Westernization. Secularism therefore cannot be perceived from only mainstream and liberal conceptions as it is presented through the Western lens.
As one scholar has put it, 1971 shows that
rejected the Pakistani interpretation of fundamentalist Islam but this did not
has rejected Islam from its own identity. The inability of the elites to
understand this fact has trapped them into the secular-religious divide.
Schendel has rightly pointed out that the post-independent, or first leaders of
failed to deliver the dreams of nationalism, secularism, socialism and
democracy based on a vernacular cultural model. Such failure essentially led
towards creating the dichotomy between the religious and the secular and
between anti-1971 and pro-1971. Bangladesh
There is no legal way to tackle the rise of religiosity in
. Instead, the failure to
acknowledge these silent ‘religious’ transitions, where political parties are
interested only in the bigger share of the pie using religion, will only add to
the existing tension and divide the unity of the country further between the
religious and the secular. Instead we must continue to implore why we are
rapidly turning more religious than before, and why consider it a solemn duty
to continuously project this religious identity. Bangladesh
First published in Open Democracy, 19 April 2013
Lailufar Yasmin is a doctoral student at
Australia and teaches in
International Relations at .
Her research interest includes secularism, IR theory and Islam University
of Dhaka, Bangladesh
Sunday, August 25, 2013
No one knows why Mamta Banerjee is backing out on an agreement that would strengthen the hands of
Last week, External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid stood up in the upper house of Parliament to place the Constitution (119th) Amendment Bill 2013 for ratification-sparking off the kind of ruckus rarely seen in Parliament over a foreign policy issue.
Assom Gana Parishad member Birendra Prasad Baishya trooped into the well of the house with placards in hand. He had the support of the Trinamool Congress with, with Derek O Brien asking the chair to allow Baishya to speak. The Minister was unable to introduce the Bill and Deputy Chairman PJ Kurien had to adjourn the house for ten minutes. When Rajya Sabha reassembled, the Chair said the matter was to be taken up at a later time. But more drama ensued with TMC members joining the lone AGP warrior Baishya in the well. BJP too came out in support of the protesters. The uproar ended only once Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajiv Shukla announced-“the Bill has been deferred .”
The Bill in concern, if ratified by two thirds majority in both houses of Parliament, would bring into effect the 1974 India-Bangladesh land boundary agreement and the draft protocol agreed upon by the two countries. With a common boundary of 4097.6 kms, the Bill when implemented would settle disputes over demarcation at various places along the Indo-Bangla border.
What is interesting is that exactly two years ago – on 20th of August 2011 -then Chief Secretary of
West Bengal, Samar Ghosh sent a written
consent to then Foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai on the issue. The letter signed
by Samar Ghosh said-“I hereby convey the State Government’s approval of the
When asked about the same, Trinamool Congress Rajya Sabha member Sukhendu Shekhar Roy told , “
West Bengal government and should
have been consulted before placing the bill in House. The Centre has, however,
held official talks neither with our chief minister or our officials.”
He added, “I am not aware of any letter of consent given by the state government. Even if there is one, discussions must have been held at some level other than the state government or our CM.”
has access to the letter, whose content Mr Roy forcefully denies. The letter No.176-CS/2011 was sent in official capacity from the office of the Chief Secretary of
on 20th of August 2011. Ms Banerjee had won a landslide victory in the month of
May the same year- and in the next three months would have surely known about
what her chief secretary was up to. Notably Samar Ghosh was given an extension
of six months on completion of his tenure by government which was then a part of the UPA.
Speaking to , Samar Ghosh confirmed-”I did consult Mamata Banerjee and she said we agree, so I conveyed the same to Ranjan Mathai.”
Trinamool Congress insists that ‘national interest’ cannot overrule ‘regional interest’ and by handing over 111 enclaves to Dhaka in exchange of 51 enclaves, New
stands to lose
strategic land. Delhi
Congress’s Pradeep Bhattacharya though argues “people in these enclaves are nobody’s citizens, and this process cannot linger. It is a humanitarian issue that must not be politicized. The
Bengal government had earlier
supported the bill, but why has Mamata-ji now done a U-turn is beyond our
It is a question being asked in
bureaucratic circles. Not to forget an already at unease with the bill BJP
which looks a divided house on the issue. While senior leader and ex Foreign
Minister Yashwant Sinha has opposed the ratification of the bill on grounds of
no consultation with the opposition and lack of consensus building. Another
Former Foreign Minister of the BJP Jaswant Singh says, “There is no opposition
to it.Let the bill first be introduced.” Delhi
It’s worth noting that during her
visit in July this year, Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Dipu Moni had met Leader
of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley to seek his support. A day after,
reports suggested, Bangladeshi High Commissioner Tariq Azim had traveled to
Ahmedabad to meet the BJP’s Chief Election Campaigner on
the same issue. Later on 8th of August Prime Minister accompanied
by EAM Khurshid and NSA Shiv Shankar Menon briefed senior BJP Leaders LK
Advani, , Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley to
address their concerns. Delhi
Despite opposition from the Bengal and
state units of the BJP, party headquarter seems to be now coming around on the
bill. But it is the feisty Banerjee, who earlier managed to derail the Prime
Minister’s attempt at Teesta water sharing agreement with Assam Dhaka,
is the new surprise hurdle on the way of the Land Boundary Agreement.
And with January 2014 elections in Bangladesh closing in, a pro-India Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina can only hope that the failure of the agreement will not provide ammunition to her opponent Begum Khaleda Zia. Meanwhile, New Delhi is still waiting to hear why Mamata Banerjee chose to do a U- turn on a matter of international significance, even as it hopes to try and table this bill sometime again this week in the ongoing Monsoon session.
August 24, 2013
Twitter id: @smita_sharma
Thursday, August 22, 2013
Women and property rights
AN IMPORTANT reason for in recent years has been investment in education of health and education, especially for women. Pick any of the standard measures of development—maternal health, female literacy and life expectancy—and you find that Bangladesh is beating India.
It is young women who stitch garments worth $20 billion in exports, women who own Grameen Bank, an embattled but Nobel-winning micro-lender, and women who have ruled the country as prime ministers since 1991—longer than men have managed, which might make Bangladesh unique in the history of the world’s republics.
Yet look at distribution of land by gender and you might be surprised. There is a very short answer to the question “Who owns Bangladesh?” Men do.
No one knows exactly how unequal the distribution of property is (the government does not disaggregate its statistics by gender). But there is agreement that the share held by women is absolutely tiny. In 1993, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) that women in Bangladesh owned just 3.5% of the country’s agricultural land. Twenty years on, this share has almost certainly shrunk further, .
Bangladesh’s legal system is secular on paper, but the areas of marriage, divorce, alimony and property inheritance are based on what is called personal law, which varies according to an individual’s or family’s religion. Muslim women are allowed to buy or be gifted property or access to land (fallow plots owned by the government), but the main route through which they acquire it is inheritance. (Following Hindu custom, Hindu and Buddhist women inherit nothing). The Islamic laws of inheritance are based on the local school of , wherein a daughter is bequeathed only half what her brother inherits. Even a single generation of marriages and deaths does its bit to distribute land away from women. A widow receives one-eighth of her husband’s property if they have children and one-fourth if they do not.
But to concentrate on the unfairness of the inheritance laws would be to ignore the broad majority of women (and men)—approximately two-thirds of Bangladesh’s 160m people are landless. Imagine if seats on a public bus of the standard size were distributed in the same way that Bangladesh’s productive land is. The conductor would have reserved only a single seat for all the women who might board. But he would be holding no tickets at all for two additional busloads of people, left waiting at the kerb.
Often women do not claim any of their inheritance, leaving it in their brothers’ possession. Activists in Bangladesh call it the “good-sister syndrome”: hoping that the brother will look after his sister’s rights. In their experience, more often than not “the good brother does not reciprocate in the way the good sister anticipated”.
In a study titled Jenneke Arens, a Dutch researcher, finds that sons and husbands are often at fault.
“Khadija, rich peasant widow, called me into her house. She was clearly upset: 'I inherited nine (three acres) of land from my (uncle) who brought me up, but my sons have registered my land in their names, they took my fingerprint.”
The injustice has not gone unnoticed. There was a move towards a uniform family law in the early 1980s, one that would respect the rights of women and men equally, or at least less unequally. The Awami League (AL) of Sheikh Hasina pushed for it when it was in government in the late 1990s and between 2007 and 2008 an army-backed government drafted legislation to give women equal access, use and control of land.
Indeed in its the AL, which holds office once again, had vowed to rectify “discriminatory laws [that are] against the interest of women”. But that item remained on the “to-do-list” of the same AL government that came to power after winning a landslide victory in late 2008. (It has however made some progress in other areas, such as protecting women from sexual harassment and violence.)
Various plans to change the inheritance laws have been met with violent protest by the Islamic right. It appears that even the AL government cannot afford to enforce the constitution in this matter; it calls for women to be recognised as having equal rights in every sphere of life. (The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which is strategically aligned with the conservative right, does not bother in the first place.) “Politicians are afraid to touch religion because they are afraid of losing votes, says Khushi Kabir of Nijera Kori (“We do it ourselves”), an NGO that fights for the rights of landless people. The formation in 2011 of a fundamentalist group called Hefazat-e-Islam (“Protectors of Islam”) was a direct response to a plan for legislation which would ensure that all descendents inherit equal portions of an estate. And so the AL’s three-fourths majority has made little difference.
The prospects for change look gloomy. But, as Ms Kabir says, “with the exception of inheritance laws, we are much better off than Pakistan.” She points to some of Bangladesh’s relatively progressive policies, including some that favour augmenting women’s access to public land, as well as a judiciary that is much more sympathetic to women’s rights than Pakistan’s.
The government has also set in motion a project to digitise all of Bangladesh’s land records (the European Commission has chipped in €10m, or $13.3m). This will be very good, Ms Kabir thinks, because making the public records transparent would make women’s claim official. A small step towards making those greedy brothers behave better, but perhaps an important one.
First published in The Economist, August 20, 2013
Thursday, August 15, 2013
|Islamist protest critics of Islam, Koran and Muhammad in London|
Now that Jamaat-e-Islami has been disqualified from contesting in future elections, analysts are asking whether
leading Islamist party can regroup as a political force without resorting to
further violence. Bangladesh
On August 1st, a three-member panel of the High Court Jamaat's registration as a political party illegal, because some sections of its charter go against the constitution and the 1972 Representation of the People Order (RPO).
Jamaat lawyers immediately appealed to the Supreme Court to stay the verdict, but the appeal was rejected on August 5th.
The relevant Jamaat charter passages stipulate that only Allah is sovereign, and the rules of Allah are the ultimate law. The constitution of
the other hand, states that the people are sovereign, and the RPO bars
registration of any party that may pose a threat to communal harmony. Bangladesh
Jamaat – believed to command around 10% of the popular vote – registered as a political party under newly-revised Election Commission (EC) guidelines in November 2008. Two months later, a leading Sufi group filed public interest litigation seeking to scrap Jamaat's registration.
Jamaat leaders and workers took to the streets and vandalised vehicles throughout Dhaka to protest the August 1st ruling, and called for on August 13th and 14th.
Critics of the ban say it is important that Islamists in
have a stake in the
democratic process. Marginalising them, they argue, will foster resentment and
possible radicalisation. Bangladesh
"Scrapping the registration through judiciary is a wrong approach," Mahbubur Rahman, a member of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party's (BNP) highest policy-making committee, told Khabar South Asia. "If they are stripped of their political rights, they are almost certain to resort to the path of violence for existence."
"Violence will not help them"
Yet there are avenues open for the group to re-enter politics, without resorting to violence, experts say.
The EC has hinted Jamaat could regain registration by making its party charter consistent with the constitution and the RPO, political analyst Nazim Kamran Chowdhury told Khabar.
Jamaat members could also join up with their major political ally, BNP, and attempt to re-register under a potential future BNP administration.
"In case of its failure to restore the registration as a political party under the present election commission, they are likely to contest under the BNP's banner in the next polls.
Then they would get registration afresh after installation of a reconstituted election commission," said Chowdhury.
"Violence will not help them," he added.
Syed Abdullah Md Taher, Jamaat's central executive committee member and secretary for foreign affairs, told Khabar the cancellation of its registration as a political party was aimed at blocking the party from contesting the next national elections, expected in January 2014.
"Keeping Jamaat away from the polls will, of course, create some 'imbalance' in politics," he said, without elaborating. He, however, insisted that Jamaat 'certainly' wanted to be in the political process, and does not believe in violence.
Taher declined to comment on whether his party launched attacks on law enforcers while against its party leaders.
Asked if Jamaat will re-register with the election commission, he said, "we will consider it".
Syed Ashraful Islam, general secretary of the ruling Awami League, told reporters his party has no intention of banning Jamaat's political activities. The registration issue, he said, would be settled by the court and the election commission – two independent bodies free from government influence, he said.
He agreed, however, that Jamaat's party charter had some provisions contradicting the country's founding principles. "They must amend their party charter in line with the constitution for getting registration as a political party," Islam added.
First published in Khabar South
Asia, August 15, 2013
|Garments workers, union activists protest unsafe workplace in front of garments owners association in Bangladesh capital|
In the aftermath of horrific tragedy, you’d think any efforts to lessen the chance of recurrence would be welcome, especially efforts fueled by significant corporate resources.
No doubt the U.S.-based retailers, including , , and , that to the were realistic enough to expect some criticism of their to improve labor conditions after April’s building collapse in which 1,100 people died. (A killed 112 Bangladeshis in November.)
What they may not have expected, or even currently understand, is that by signing on, these companies have provided their adversaries, spearheaded by organized labor, with a potent weapon to advance a multifaceted anti-corporate strategy of which the situation in
is just one part. Bangladesh
Indeed, labor groups like the went on immediate counterattack, excoriating the agreement as essentially toothless and, for want of third-party monitoring, a “sham.” Meanwhile, in early July, 80 retail companies (only three of them American) signed the to fund substantial safety improvements. The refusal of American companies to join the Accord was likewise excoriated, when, for instance, UNI spokespeople claimed that the provisions would only add two or three pennies to the cost of a tee-shirt.
I am persuaded that both labor and management share a heartfelt concern for the victims at
, and that both sides sincerely
hope for effective remediation of the unsafe conditions that led to the
tragedy. But that is where the comity ends. Labor seeks a united front to
attack virtually all human rights issues across the board and around the world.
By their lights, that purpose is disserved when Corporate Social Responsibility
(CSR) programs reassure the world that global corporations can be powerful
agents of humane systemic change. Rana Plaza
But second, they’ve set up the game so that CSR can be used against the corporations themselves. The signatories to the
for Bangladesh Worker Safety would
do well to reread , who wrote the book on how to make
corporations choke on their own good intentions. As Alinsky says in ,
“Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules. You can kill them with this,
for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up
to Christianity.” Alliance
By this code, no specific CSR provision will be good enough because the implicit strategy is to define CSR programs as self-serving, and as mere band aids. At the same time, if corporations do not join initiatives like the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in
it only proves their indifference. Bangladesh
Either way a company like Walmart loses as the balance of power continues to shift. Walmart, for one, has already felt some pain as a result of the unions’ focus on CSR, at least enough to encourage the opposition that they’re on the right track.
In July, two large European pension funds, and , announced they’re in Walmart because the company does not adhere to international labor conventions. The operative word is “international.” That’s how Walmart is growing and that’s how unions are growing.
It’s instructive that the funds were reportedly rebuffed by Walmart in their efforts to get the company to adopt conventions. Walmart may have left a that union messaging ably filled. Of course global conventions are written for countries, not companies. One pension fund that fact, but so what? “We only want to invest in companies with those standards,” said the firm’s head of responsible investment.
It’s hard to imagine these pullouts occurring without the union campaigns to create an environment in which companies like Walmart are constantly vulnerable. A May 2013 document by UNI’s that’s come into our possession sheds further light on the strategic motives driving the Walmart campaign. It underscores Walmart’s plans “to increase its workforce to 3 million over the next five years, which represents a 36 percent increase from the current figure of 2.2 million workers.
The opportunities these numbers suggest are not lost on a labor movement that for years read about nothing except its own attrition. But it is not a kneejerk reaction to just one corporate spreadsheet. Globalization is organized labor’s strategic driver simply because that’s where the headcounts are.
From a historical standpoint, the targeting of Walmart feeds into a five-year plan formalized at UNI’s in
. This time frame coincides tellingly
with the accelerated controversy surrounding Walmart’s labor practices as well
as the series of workplace tragedies of which Nagasaki
will sadly not be the last. Rana Plaza
The anti-Walmart activities typify how the
principles are being carried out in action. Among the interminable highlights
in the UNI Commerce document: the 2012 launch of the ; the first-ever
cross-union strike in Brazil; extremely aggressive use of “Twinning” via phone
and skype for Walmart employees to communicate around the world; and a
concerted use of social media with new communities like the . Nagasaki
Beyond tactics, the UNI Commerce document provides three crucial strategic takeaways for any company that is or will be intensively targeted.
First, the unions aren’t fighting guerilla war. They’re waging sustainable combat. If corporations want to fight back, they too must think long-term even while extinguishing whatever brush fires flare up on a daily basis. What, for example, is the long-term viability of a CSR plan? How do companies advance and build on the plan even as they fully anticipate that the unions will use whatever they do against them?
Second, the campaigns go well beyond specific labor issues. CSR is an open invitation to be judged by multiple tribunals focused on everything under the sun from antitrust to environmental. If a company wants to subsidize green construction projects, the union might want to know where it stands on Ecuadorian rainforests.
Accordingly, the UNI Commerce actions points include, for example, research into corruption. (Earlier this year, the union held a public hearing in
on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, specifically to
encourage whistleblowers to come forward.) Everything is at play. In a document
for a campaign targeting the leading global hotel chains, the union even wants
to know revenue figures on in-room pay-per-view pornography. El
Third, the unions have taken the fight inside the corporation. Their strategy plays out at shareholder meetings in the now-familiar form of investor activism. No wonder the UNI Commerce document specifically calls for “international delegations to attend annual shareholder meetings.”
An earlier (2004) UNI planning document that also came into our possession discloses the breadth of the campaign to influence both corporate governance and CSR at public companies. According to this document, the corporate governance “crisis takes unions closer into corporate power issues than ever before. It also sharpens ongoing CSR opportunities…. It makes possible…influential linkages between shareholders and other stakeholders – primarily workers and their unions. It widens “the agenda of workers’ participation in management…taking the unions’ public voice on environmental and broad social issues closer to the doors of corporate power” [both emphases added].
Rainforests, corruption, pornography – we’re a long way from
and worker safety. Yet it’s been the genius of the labor movement to gather its
diverse allies and spin just such a comprehensively interwoven net in which
every knot is a potential focal point. They had to, in order to survive as an
organized antagonist in the ongoing war of labor and management – a survival
they see as essential for both humanitarian and business reasons. Bangladesh
In turn, corporations must be equally holistic, looking around and beyond every corner to identify issues that will shadow their brands and reputations in the years ahead. They cannot just build a fortress on the labor/employment front. In this global confrontation, not a single social, political, or legal issue is unimportant.
Their intent of the
for Bangladesh Worker Safety and the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in is
noble, and the efforts they make will likely directly benefit those for whom
they’re intended. If so, there is all the more reason for these corporations to
carefully think through the unintended consequences – and the real possibility
that every conversation about social problems will turn into a shouting match
only the enemy can win. Bangladesh
First appeared in Forbes, August 12, 2013
Richard Levick, Esq., Chairman and CEO of LEVICK, provides public relations and communications counsel to corporations and countries on multiple labor and human rights issues. Mr. Levick was honored for the past four years on NACD Directorship’s list of “The 100 Most Influential People in the Boardroom,” and has been named to multiple professional Halls of Fame for lifetime achievement. He is the co-author of three books, including The Communicators: Leadership in the Age of Crisis, and is a regular commentator on television, in print, and on the most widely read business blogs.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
|Family Planning bare-foot health workers explain birth control pills|
A researcher dedicated to bringing risky medical abortion to developing countries has set her sights on
. Her new study demonstrates a plan to expand
access to abortion pills by using misleading language and an unusual set of
The study proposes redefining “menstrual regulation” to include medical as well as surgical methods.
Since the 1970s, “menstrual regulation” took advantage of a legal loophole in
outlaws most abortions. After missing
her period, a woman could undergo a uterine evacuation, ostensibly to induce
her menstrual cycle. While the procedure
was technically identical to an early-term abortion using a manual vacuum
aspirator, it was not legally classified as an abortion unless a test confirmed
the pregnancy first. Bangladesh
“Abortion remains a very sensitive topic in
,” wrote Julie DaVanzo
and Mizanur Rahman in an article on Matlab, a region that has been the focus
of several studies on abortion and family planning. “In fact, many of the restrictions for MR [menstrual
regulation], particularly its availability only before pregnancy is clinically
confirmed, are to reinforce the perception of MR as something other than
The new study reaffirms that any such perception is merely semantic. The method being tested is identical to the procedure for medical abortion, and the authors compare their results to those obtained using “this regimen in other settings.” In the other settings, no euphemisms for abortion were used.
Study coauthor Dr. Beverly Winikoff is a longtime champion of medical abortion. Her organization Gynuity led the effort to convince the World Health Organization to classify drugs that can be used for abortion as “essential medicines.”
Collaborating with Winikoff on the project were researchers from the
Center for Diarrheal Disease Research
in . In addition to studying diarrheal disease, the
group focuses heavily on reproductive health. According to its website, “One of the greatest challenges in Bangladesh is
population control,” and their efforts to reduce births range from the
distribution of “behavioral change materials” to this recent study aimed at
increasing the acceptability of medical abortion by another name. Bangladesh
While the study concluded that medical abortions would be feasible in Bangladesh, health care providers in focus groups raised concerns about drug quality and medical oversight given the lack of regulation of pharmacies and the widespread availability of drugs without prescription. They also noted that the trial did not look at rural areas.
A doctor who reviewed the study points out that of 651 study participants, 22 were lost to follow-up after being given the drugs. “Are they dead?” asked Dr. Donna Harrison. “Who knows?”
Today, “menstrual regulation” remains largely unique to
product of the majority-Muslim nation’s willingness to turn a blind eye to
early abortion while appearing to enact tough restrictions on it overall.
Abortion promoters in the early 1970s saw its potential for gaining unwitting
acceptance of abortion methods. Gynecologist Geoffrey Davis posited in
1972 that the euphemism could have a worldwide impact. Bangladesh
“Perhaps one of the greatest contributions that somebody could make to this is a new term that would do for abortion what “family planning” did for “birth control,”
wrote. “If we could call this something more acceptable than abortion, we
could get the public’s attitude changed a little faster.” Davis
First appeared in LifeNews.com, August 12, 2013
LifeNews Note: Rebecca Oas, Ph.D. writes for the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute
Saturday, August 10, 2013
The pendulum swings away from Sheikh Hasina and her government
AHEAD of the festival of Eid-al-Fitr on August 9th-11th, the two quarrelling heads of
’s political dynasties
exchanged greetings cards. But the outward signs of peace between the prime
minister, Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League, and the opposition leader, Khaleda
Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), mean little. A European diplomat
says he has just sent two cables to his capital. The first discusses the
growing chances of the League’s defeat in elections due by next January. The
second is about the dynastic succession plans of the battling begums. Bangladesh
One political party is likely to be missing at the coming election. On August 1st the High Court ruled that the country’s biggest religious party, the Jamaat-e-Islami, is unfit to contest national polls because its charter puts God above democratic process. The court has cancelled Jamaat’s registration. A few months ago this might have sealed victory for the League, for Jamaat has been a crucial vote-winning ally for BNP.
Yet growing numbers now doubt whether the League can win a second consecutive term, and not only because no elected government has ever done so in
In early 2013 judgments by a flawed but popular court, investigating crimes
committed by current Jamaat members during Bangladesh Bangladesh’s
war of independence from
in 1971, seemed to boost the nominally secular League, which revived the
tribunal. Nearly all the leaders of Jamaat are likely to be sentenced, probably
to death, by election day. Pakistan
In response, the opposition framed the trials as a struggle between anti-Islamist forces and the pious. That paved the way for marches on
Dhaka, the capital, by
Hefazat-e-Islam, an Islamic splinter group with fundamentalist demands. The
second time they marched, security forces killed up to 50 of them. The message
young men took back to their villages was that thousands had been slaughtered. Across
the country, the effect on the government’s popularity has been devastating.
Ever since, the BNP has been in the ascendant. It thrashed the League in mayoral elections in June and July, notably in Gazipur in the industrial belt, hitherto one of the League’s safest constituencies.
In an attempt to reverse its fortunes, the government plans to raise wages for 4m garment workers, who are angry at its failure to make factories safe and to compensate relatives of more than 1,100 killed in a ghastly factory collapse in May. A wage rise could sway many voters, but factory bosses are likely to resist a deal. A push against party corruption would also boost Sheikh Hasina’s popularity. A good third of her MPs dare not visit their fiefs for fear of being lynched for treating their constituencies as cash tills. Yet no precedent exists for firing miscreants, and appointing credible candidates would probably split the party. As a last resort, Sheikh Hasina’s son and heir apparent, Sajeeb Wazed, was handed around for three weeks in July before flying back to the
. At this point, he
looks like a non-starter. United States
His dynastic counterpart, Tarique Rahman, Mrs Zia’s son, is wilier. He would jump on a plane from
tomorrow. His mother is in poor health
and keen to pass power to her first-born. But he faces charges of corruption
and money laundering in London :
Mr Rahman was instrumental in ensuring that the BNP’s last stint in power was a
glorious plunder. He would go straight to jail unless the League agrees in the
coming weeks to pass control of the country’s institutions to a caretaker
government for the elections, a sticking-point that could trigger a
constitutional crisis. Bangladesh
The League will fight bitterly. But if it loses an election, the BNP would rehabilitate its disgraced heir and its Jamaat allies (at least, those not executed by then). Once a party is in power in
is the unalterable tradition to declare nearly everything decreed by your
opponents to be null and void. Bangladesh
First published in Asia print edition The Economist, August 10th 2013