Khushi Kabir (born 1948) embodies the very spirit of the socioeconomic empowerment of women, peace, and democracy in Bangladesh. For more than 30 years, she has been involved with working-class rural communities on issues ranging from people's control over their own resources, challenging antipeople policies and programs, secularism, and human rights. She has been integral to the forging of strong national coalitions of civil society groups, and the creation and sustenance of global networks and coalitions for human rights, gender equality, and democracy.
When Khushi Kabir was finishing her graduation in fine arts from Dhaka University, Bangladesh was going through tremendous turmoil. The country had just won its independence from Pakistan in January 1972 after being struck by a megacyclone two years before. Deeply affected by the crisis, Khushi began work with the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, becoming among the first middle-class, educated and jeans-clad women to join an NGO or work in the remote rural areas. In 1980, Khushi joined Nijera Kori (which means doing it ourselves). The organization, which started in a small way in 1974, today works in 38 thanas (administrative units) and 1126 villages in Bangladesh, organizing 175,000 landless women and men in their socioeconomic struggles; it facilitates better access to rural services and available resources by building self-reliance and improved production through mobilization and collective action. Khushi's work with Nijera Kori has been instrumental in giving it a new direction and dynamism. "It is the people themselves who have resisted this invasion into their communities and their lives," she says. "We came to strengthen the movement, add voice, and support it." Khushi had understood fairly early the need to build common platforms for similar-agenda civil society groups. She played an important role in augmenting the Association of Development Agencies in Bangladesh into a potent network of NGOs. Khushi also built and sustained global networks and coalitions and other peoples' movements for human rights, justice, gender equality, and democracy. Over the long haul, Khushi has braved criticism, threats, and attacks for, and on, her political stance and work among the dispossessed. But it has not dented her appetite for goal convergence across the NGO board.