Monash University
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Negotiating the silenced ‘self’ purdah, globalization and tradition: resistance and agency among Muslim female university graduates in Bangladesh

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posted on 2017-03-02, 02:13 authored by Khan, Farzana Zebeen
Education is seen as a gateway to women’s emancipation where women can exercise their sense of agency to make the life choices that they themselves want for them. But in Bangladesh women are still the victims of inequality, abuse, suppression and exploitation both in the domestic sphere as well as the public sphere. There was a time when fighting for the rights to attend school and the university was one of the main concerns for women. With the rapid change of globalization this situation has improved as women are now less restrained from acquiring education. But does acquiring education really change the patriarchal structure or framework of women being the sole stake holder of family image? The family image that women are supposed to uphold is realized through the embodied shame or hya or modesty. Shame and modesty remains a complex cultural concept as they refer to both internal states and a repertoire of behaviours indicative of modest clothing, behaving culturally or in a more socially attuned way. Veiling or purdah transcends its literal meaning of spatial segregation in public sphere, or its visual embodiment of religious Islamic identity maker. The ways and norms become a metaphorical disciplinary agent to control women’s sense of being and compartmentalizes their bodies as the bearer of that embodied shame that women keep on materializing that shame all through their lives. They are in a constant dilemma whether to pay attention to their agency and their dreams of doing what they want or to fit into the ‘image’ of a ‘good girl’, a good daughter/in-law or mother or wife; the way society expects them comply with. In these complexities women’s bodies become the locus and the outward behaviour of the body constitutes both the potentiality, as well as the means through which an interiority of self is realised. Women’s mobility and sense of self becomes bound by shame and guilt impeding gender justice. This study is a phenomenological multiple case study of educated Muslim women in Bangladesh. I have used Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis to analyse my data. The data was collected in four months via face to face interviews in my country, Bangladesh. I had fifteen participants and out of fifteen I chose six case studies that highlight the overarching themes that emerged from the analysis of all the fifteen participants. This study is an attempt to raise questions regarding women’s agency and sense of entitlement to start a dialogue of the untold injustices of the home bound and silenced. My study looks at embodied shame and through the representation of embodied shame how identities are negotiated, appropriated and constructed within the given social milieu where the core understanding of religion is used as a locus of oppression or resistance or agency.


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Principal supervisor

Jane Elizabeth Southcott

Additional supervisor 1

Fida Sanjakdar

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Faculty of Education

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