Bangladesch: Sufia Khatun

Sufia could see that when she spoke alone about her concerns, she spoke to deaf ears. Collective action, however, provoked the local adminstration to examine and revise entrenched practices.

— Sufia Khatun

A silent victim of domestic violence until 1984, Sufia Khatun's life changed dramatically after she met with activists from the NGO Nijera Kori (which means doing it ourselves) who told her about human rights and the need for collective action to assert those rights. Mobilizing women, she set up a women's group first in her own, then in neighboring villages, where organizations of landless people formed a regional committee. Her mobilization has led to a reduction in domestic violence in the area, and the weakening of fundamentalist forces.

Sufia Khatun (born 1967), married at the age of 14, silently bore marital violence until, in 1984, activists from Nijera Kori changed the course of her life. They spoke rousingly about fighting against injustices, the rights of the landless, and the importance of collectively raising voices on issues affecting their lives and livelihood. Sufia related directly to the fact that women and men earned unequal wages; she saw the prevalence of domestic violence, dowry, and child marriages, and that women were prohibited from approaching the village courts. She also realized that when she spoke alone, she spoke to deaf ears. Sufia then started mobilizing people, establishing a women's group in her village. Under her leadership, the organizations of landless people formed a regional committee, which hears out issues of human rights' violations, and organizes protests and discussions. One of the effects was a steep drop in domestic violence in the area. Sufia began questioning the vaunted microcredit programs that caused farmers to sink deeper into debt, and chemical-based agriculture that reduced land fertility. She promoted indigenous methods of cultivation, which has led to higher crop returns. Sufia has also struggled to weaken the fundamentalist forces and the ubiquitous fatwa (legal pronouncement) culture, retorting to the various fatwas issued against her with demonstrations, mass gatherings, and memoranda. This has led to the administration investigating and declaring the rampant pronouncement of fatwas illegal. This young, illiterate woman, who had braved almost incapacitating personal odds, is today a pillar of strength to once lost causes.

Landless Organization of Atabarpur Regional Committee of the Landless