Bangladesh is a country with a significant gender gap, steeped in patriarchal tradition. So it may come as a surprise that its Prime Minister is a woman. In this episode, we shine a spotlight on PM Sheikh Hasina.

Sheikh Hasina, who is the daughter of Bangladesh’s first president, has been the leader of her party (the Awami League) since 1981. The opposition (the Bangladesh Nationalist Party) is also led by a woman, Khaleda Zia.

Gender Context

Sheikh Hasina’s position stands in contrast to the country’s patriarchal tradition. It is important to understand the context in which Sheikh Hasina has risen to her post.

While the constitution specifies equal rights for women, reality does not always reflect policy. For example, violence against women is rampant; almost half of women in Bangladesh report having been physically assaulted by their partners.

Likewise, the education gap remains a significant challenge. Bangladesh is doing more than ever to educate young girls, but there is still a long road ahead. The education issue is compounded by the fact that young girls often marry at a very young age — in spite of the legal age of 18 — and are relegated to fulfilling traditional family roles.

Projects and Initiatives

One of Sheikh Hasina’s earliest and most significant successes was the water sharing treaty with India. This codified the sharing of the Ganges and set the foundation for a more amicable relationship with India.

She also ensured that Bangladesh became a part of the D-8 Organization for Economic Cooperation, which brings together countries around the world to achieve shared interests.

Sheikh Hasina’s “Vision 2021,” which her party ran on in 2008, set forward the lofty goal of becoming a middle income economy by 2021. While the country has made significant progress on millennium development goals, it has fallen fall short of fully achieving Vision 2021’s mission.

Controversy

While the episode discusses a number of scandals, nothing has soiled Sheikh Hasina’s reputation more than the 2014 election and its aftermath. She won in an election that many call a farce, because the opposition party boycotted. With a low voter turnout and no real opposition, her party’s electoral mandate is weak.

In response to the unrest that ensued, the administration has reportedly overseen the arrests of opposition members, the suppression of news outlets, and even extrajudicial killings. Sheikh Hasina has denied any wrongdoing.

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