Navigating Economic Empowerment and Sexual Agency among Middle-class Women in Muslim Marriage in Bangladesh

By: Ishrat Khan  

This research aims to understand how middle-class women experience empowerment and sexual agency within Muslim marriage in the context of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Like other South Asian countries, the discourse of sexuality in Bangladesh is often understood as a realm of intimate contact (Connell, 2002) in which gendered power dynamics function most explicitly (Correa & Parker, 2008). Socio-culturally induced silence regarding sexualities and indeed intimate partner violence fundamentally impacts women’s choices and rights within marriage in Bangladesh (Hossen, 2014). This situation does not get better with the economic engagement of women in the public domain, as in Bangladesh, men dominate, oppress, and exploit women through private and public patriarchy (Chowdhury, 2010). Though women’s increased participation in labour force has resulted in shifts in power dynamics within families (Hussein, 2017), women were barely given the access to the entire control of their own income. Men’s authority and control over their wife’s income was rather justified as a natural phenomenon considering women as their private properties (Chowdhury, 2010). Such economic gains give women a significant right in their familial negotiations but they have failed to eliminate conventional expectations of middle-class ‘respectable femininity’ (Hussein, 2017). Considering such trajectories of empowerment among urban, middle-class women in Bangladesh, their contribution to social transformation, the diversities of gender dynamics and sexual agency within marital relationships are yet under-researched (Lewis, 2011). This research navigates women’s economic empowerment and sexual agency within middle-class Muslim marriage and whether it has consequences of intimate partner violence.

Identity and Belonging
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Ishrat Khan

University of Dhaka

I teach in the Dept. of Gender Studies at the University of Dhaka. I have graduated from the same department in 2009. Later, I was awarded the Erasmus Mundus GEMMA Scholarship to pursue my Masters in Gender Studies from the University of Hull, England. Currently, I am a Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Sussex. Besides academic excellence in Gender Studies, i have specialization on several areas of research on gender issues. My earlier professional exposure at several development organizations also contributes in generating knowledge in the field of Gender and Development. I taught Gender, Media & Communication; Gender & Development; and Social Science Research Methodology at the department. I also contributed to diverse gender-based research jointly done with FAO, United Nations, Promundo USA, ActionAid Bangladesh, CARE Bangladesh, UNFPA, UNDP, WHO and many more. My current engagement with diverse research networks encompasses areas of Gender in Media, Health, Natural Resource Management and masculinity addressing gender equality is worth mentioning.