Shirin Banu (born 1951) has blended very effectively her experience in politics and with the women's movement in her work on the empowerment of grassroots-level women leaders. She has motivated women leaders of the Union Parishad (grassroots legislative unit) to coalesce into an elected women's forum that can collectively bargain to assert their rights and powers. She has also worked to create local women's groups to unite women in rural Bangladesh against fundamentalism.
Shirin Banu comes from a liberal, politically active background. Both her parents were active members of the communist party. Her mother was the first female whip of the parliamentary party and the first general secretary of the Mahila Awami League. It obviously led to Shirin being politically active from her student days. One of the country's best-known freedom-fighters, Shirin was perturbed that women were denied the opportunity to fight on the frontlines. Therefore, she disguised herself as a man and joined the war, living daily with the fear of being unmasked. Postwar reality was a big disappointment. Bangladesh's secular constitution was replaced by an Islamic one and the people did not, Shirin says, "get freedom of religion, freedom from hunger, or freedom from discrimination." Shirin's work with the women's development program of the Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development set the course for her life's work. The spirit of the women in rural Bangladesh stirred her, leaving a lasting impression. Around 1998, she joined the Prip Trust. She now works with women leaders in rural Bangladesh, her most remarkable achievement being the setting up of a forum of elected women in the Union Parishad (Bangladesh's smallest legislative unit), who would work together to assert their inalienable rights and power. Predictably, Shirin faced raucous opposition from fundamentalist groups. But she knew that if the community stood together and raised its voice, it would stymie the fundamentalists. It was to this end that she created several local women's organizations. "We are all warriors in our own small orbits and these small efforts will lead us toward a society free of religious obstacles, bring freedom from hunger, and end all kinds of discrimination," she says.