Female Leadership in the Local Governments: Reconstruction of Traditional Gender Identity of Women in Rural Bangladesh
The local government bodies of Bangladesh have always been dominated and controlled by men––the traditional power holders. Bangladeshi rural women are mostly confined to household chores and engaged in subsistence agricultural activities due to the patriarchal social system and a rigid gender division of labour. Moreover, women’s lives are controlled by cultural and religious gender norms which limit their mobility in public spaces and political participation. Hence, women’s participation in local government has always been a symbol of tokenism up until the introduction of a direct election system for women. Given this context, this study explores how Bangladeshi rural women have proved themselves to be the change-makers in the rural society and what influencing factors supported them in reconstructing their traditional gender identities despite social and structural constraints. The study was conducted through a qualitative inquiry by adopting a case study approach. Data and information for the study were collected through 12 in-depth (IDI) interviews of elected female Union Parishads (lowest local administrative unit) (UP) chairpersons, UP members and Upazila (subdistrict local administration council) female vice chairpersons along with four focus group discussions and five key informant interviews from four selected districts of Bangladesh. This study concluded that these female leaders are enormously motivated and committed to reshaping their traditional gender identity and altering unequal gender power relations that predominantly factor in the rural social fabric of Bangladesh.
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