Date of Award

2009

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Communications Honours

School

School of Communications and Arts

Faculty

Faculty of Education & Arts

First Advisor

Norm Leslie

Abstract

This dissertation explores the changing public and private paradigms of Bangladeshi women in a modernising society, and investigates the aspects of modernisation that are driving such change. It argues that there is a rising level of violence against women, as traditional patriarchal paradigms meet modernisation and the Western hegemony. While modernisation has been instrumental in encouraging the integration of women into the public sphere, the Western assumption that modernisation will increase women's empowerment in an incremental manner ignores the new issues and tensions that modernisation creates. ·In both the public and private spheres, women's empowerment in Bangladesh is a constant struggle of losing and gaining, and at times of sheer survival. The research employed both traditional and contemporary ethnographic methods. Traditional methods included participant observation and interviews. I conducted 142 interviews with Bangladeshi women; 15 with commentators and 127 with women of lower socio-economic status. To address the problem of Orientalism, the research employed contemporary ethnographic methods combining a phenomenological, constructivist and collaborative approach to create a case study on the representation of an acid attack survivor. The survivor was invited to be an active participant in her representation process. The research includes a photographic book that explores the complimentary and at times contradictory relationship between voices of Bangladeshi women and images by placing them side-by-side. It is acknowledged that both the written and photographic representations are influenced by subjective factors, such as gender, ethnicity and class. However, this is mediated to some degree through the numerous and diverse narratives featured throughout both the written and photographic components, and by recognising the Western filter brought to the research. The study found that several aspects of modernisation, including government initiatives to modernise social and economic conditions, government literacy campaigns, the garment industry and micro-finance are significantly affecting women's lives. However, the effects are both empowering and endangering. Whilst modernisation may bring women out into the public sphere and offer education and employment opportunities, it also opens a window for further discrimination and violence against women in both the public and the private sphere. This dissertation questions the ideology that modernisation will automatically increase Eastern women's empowerment at an incremental level, and investigates the new tensions wrought on Bangladeshi women through modernisation. Acid attack, a modern crime unknown in Bangladesh before the 1980s, is an excellent example of the tensions and resulting high level of violence to women in a society negotiating rapid modernisation. The collaborative representation case study along with the photographic book offer a unique insight into the shared representation of Bangladeshi women and a hybrid context in which the images are read. I argue that the West needs to understand that not all discrimination and violence against women is a result of a 'backward' culture. Rather, sometimes it is a result of rapid change and cultural resistance.

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