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Professor Kathryn B. Ward Discusses Issues of Gender Abuse in Bangladesh and Founding the Nari Jibon Project

by Sabrin


OAA: Hi Kathy, Thank you for being the first Activist to be interviewed by Out Against Violence (OAA)! The team thanks you for your support and encouragement. I’d like to first start out by asking you how you got involved in the domestic violence cause?

KBW: I’ve always been interested in issues around domestic violence and rape crisis work in local USA women’s centers-programs. I came to know about some different & international dimensions of domestic violence in Bangladesh through Dr. Mahmuda Islam (Sociology & Women’s Studies at Dhaka University)—what can one do with no laws against domestic violence, few shelters, issues of honor in leaving abusive households, arranged marriages, dowry, and even the roles of in-laws (mothers, sisters) committing domestic violence against younger wives??? We also saw that domestic violence came along with various immigrants’ luggage and continued in USA where Bangladeshi women remained relatively unaware of resources, but also continued to be affected by cultural norms against seeking help outside of the family. Mahmuda Islam, Ainon Mizan and I wrote a grant on domestic violence funded by ALO-USAID from 2003-2005. From this we developed lists of resources in Bangladesh and USA for South Asians and for Bangladesh, AKM Saiful Islam and I developed brochures in Bangla and English that various groups distributed. All of these resources are also available for download from this website:

OAA: I’d like to also congratulate you on successfully establishing the Nari Jibon Project, a training programme to provide alternative skills for women. Would you like to elaborate on what the project does and how you came up with the idea?

KBW: I knew that the garment workers would face challenges-unemployment with the end of favorable trade agreements in 2004. I also know that many sex workers were looking for alternative livelihoods as well. Many people doubted that garment and sex workers could even learn how to work computers and/or alternative skills, etc beyond handicrafts. Hence, in early 2005, several Fulbright fellows and I decided to develop a training program to provide alternative skills for disadvantaged women in Bangla, tailoring, English, and computers (basic, office software, graphics, repair, and even blogging) as well as links to work, small businesses, and more education.

OAA: From your research and experience in domestic violence issues, what do you feel is the underlying cause of domestic violence?

KBW: Lack of (em)powerment in women’s lives—ability to make choices about their own lives, who they marry, where they live, decision-making—all in context of no or little law enforcement-or societal sanctions against domestic violence and where women’s worth is low.

OAA: Despite the numerous programs that have been set up in the U.S and in South Asia, what do you feel is the mitigating factor that allows domestic violence to still exist and continue? What are these organizations and programs lacking?

KBW: In the USA and South Asia, very few (if any) of our support institutions such as women’s centers, social welfare, and legal programs have the resources to truly make a difference in women’s lives and empowerment—their financial, living, childcare, transportation, social-emotional situations—that could enable to women to leave abusive situations as well as counseling and legal programs that encourage men and families to treat women with respect. Or enable women to have more choices in their marriage, living and work situations. Our governments also do not provide the funding for social welfare programs to enable women to leave-end abusive situations & poverty, get more education, or even have access to affordable housing. Law enforcement and some courts systems continue to ignore these issues and/or perpetuate violence on women and their children. Hence, many women return to abusive situations because they have few other options-choices.

OAA: How do you propose that more young people get involved in the cause and what can they do to help alleviate our community of domestic violence?

KBW: 1) Talk with one another about these issues. 2) Notice what is going on in your own family. 3) Before getting married—check out what is going on in the spouse’s family—mothers-daughters-daughters in law treated with respect? Allowed to continue their education and work after marriage? Does one family want to control all the decision-making? 4) If you see women in abusive situations—speak up and offer support—instead of adda or gossip. 5) Support local activists and institutions on these issues, beyond signing up for a Face book group.

OAA: What suggestions or words of wisdom do you have for our readers regarding domestic violence, how to deal with it, how to fight it, etc…

KBW: believe the women…and the suggestions I gave in the previous question. Also provide financial support to shelters, know about the resources, and also get training to work as volunteers, translators for local shelters and projects. Insist on effective laws on domestic violence and effective law enforcement and training for police, courts, etc. Same-same for NGOs providing micro-credit and other services…many are bystanders…instead of working women and men in their programs.


Kathryn B. WardJan 27 2008 - -

If you readers would like to know more about the Nari Jibon Project and its English and Bangla blogs or my blog, they can go to: (website) (Bangladesh from Our View) Amader Kotha-Our Stories (Bideshi blue) kbward's blog Bhalo thakben!

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