The future generations are better equipped in developing their skill, education and vocation. This will help them understand the realities of a prosperous tomorrow.
Shahamin S. Zaman is the CEO of CSR Center & Focal Point of UNGCLN, Bangladesh. She did her schooling in the United States, after which she came back to Bangladesh to study Economics at the Dhaka University. As an economist, she worked with the development sector of multiple international organizations including Harvard Institute for International Development (HIID), Ashoka Foundation, the Canadian Internatinal Development Agency (CIDA), Actionaid, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the Department of International Development (DFID). Shahamin is a founding member of SANSAR (South Asia Network for Sustainability and Responisbility). She is a board member of the UN Working Committee for Labor and Human Rights, the World Humantarian Summit (WHS) and the Board of Governor of Underprivileged Children’s Educational Program (UCEP).
You have acquired many years of success in this sector. Why did you choose to get involved in it in the first place?
My involvement started at a very young age. My father, Dr. Shadatullah was the Chief Economist of the Planning Commission of Pakistan. He would allow us to read the Statistical Year Books that we brought back from his office. My mother would also bring books from the Harvard University Library. She consistently emphasized the necessity for education and building a career. Upon starting work for the development industry of Bangladesh, I realized there were hardly any women in the working field. This inspired me to design projects that catered to women in rural and urban settings to develop their skills, provide training, educate, and empower them to become decision makers. For the past 8 years, the CSR Center has engaged academic institutions, the government, and private sector firms to create a dialogue regarding the need for corporate social responsibility.
Thankfully we have observed positive changes over the last decade or so. More and more women are working and attaining better jobs. Some of them are going for their higher studies abroad and coming back with greater qualifications. However, it is still important to remember our traditions and culture so that a balance can be struck between work and family lives.
New spaces need to be created for newcomers so they can blossom. Since 2007, we at the CSR Center have been trying to initiate dialogues to engage the government, academia private sector and our development partners to understand the importance of corporate social responsibility. We have been trying to highlight how the empowerment of women is a part of the core principles of CSR.
There are a number of barriers, which include a male centered mindset and the unwillingness for people to grow out of these mindsets. Do you think these problems are changing over time?
The socio economic climate structure has drastically changed as a result of globalization. For example, child marriage was a common phenomenon. However, with the easier access to knowledge through the internet and media, these girls now have the knowledge and outlook that these social constructions are not a productive solution. The future generations are more equipped in developing their skill, education and vocation as well as the realities of a prosperous tomorrow. There are still a handful of people who abide by local cultural mindset but within ten years it will change and I think it will change for the better.
How have the dynamics of women changed over the years?
I was raised in the USA, where the distinction between men and women are not nearly as definitive. Upon my arrival in Bangladesh, I observed a stark difference between women in the USA and in Bangladesh. However, this has changed over the past fifteen years. With the changes in the dynamics of our economy and increased financial pressures burdening families, the roles of women have drastically evolved. There are more women in the workforce as it has become increasingly difficult to sustain a family on the husband’s salary alone. It would be extremely rare to see wives or daughters in these positions fifteen years ago. Again, with globalization and better communication, women are realizing that they have the right to choose the future they desire and slowly more and more women are working towards achieving that.
What is your dream for women in the future?
I would like the knowledge, education, and information that have I received to be disseminated to every corner of Bangladesh. I want all of the women of this country to have their voices be heard; we are equal contributors to society and should be recognized as such.