Politicians, rights activists and academics have demanded steps against Shah Ahmed Shafi for his comment on girls' education as they find it conflicting with the spirit of the Liberation War and the constitution.
Addressing a rally in Chattogram on Friday, the Hefajat-e Islam supremo made parents promise that they won't send their daughters to school.
“At most, you can allow them to study up to class IV or V, so that they can maintain their husbands' accounts and can write letters to them,” he further said, igniting a firestorm of protests from various quarters including social media users.
The 99-year-old Islamist is no stranger to making outright vulgar remarks about women. In 2013, he compared women with tamarind, a fruit that, according to him, would make any man salivate.
Rights activist Sultana Kamal yesterday said the Hefajat chief's comment goes against the constitution and poses a challenge for the government in fulfilling its pledge of empowering women.
“The government should face the challenge,” she said, adding, “It is the government's responsibility to take steps in line with its policy on anti-constitutional statements.”
Former Dhaka University vice-chancellor AAMS Arefin Siddique said it is unbelievable that someone made such a comment in this twenty first century.
“I don't understand how a religious leader can talk about keeping women confined denying them fundamental and constitutional rights.”
Maulana Farid Uddin Masoud mentions that men and women have equal rights to education in Islam.
Educating all is necessary for nation building, and Islam never prohibits anyone from receiving the highest education maintaining decency, said the acclaimed Islamic scholar.
Bangladesh Mahila Parishad President Ayesha Khanom said she wants to know from all -- the government high-ups, politicians and intellectuals -- if Shafi's statement is consistent with the state policy for women development and empowerment.
“The countrymen very well know our reaction. I rather want to know how the government views this statement.”
Telecom and ICT Minister Mustafa Jabbar at a programme in the capital yesterday countering Shafi's comment said it is no longer possible to confine girls to their homes.
The prime minister has already brought them out for education and a huge number of them are engaged in development activities, he added.
Deputy Minister for Education Mohibul Hassan Chowdhury Nowfel, at a view-exchange meeting in Chattogram said it was Shafi's “personal opinion”.
There is no scope to accept that comment as it is “discriminatory” and “inconsistent with the state policy”, he added.
“Everyone should keep in mind that all the citizens have been guaranteed equal rights by our constitution. We should not make any discriminatory remark.”
Campaign for Popular Education Executive Director Rasheda K Choudhury said Shafi's statement was totally reactionary and it “denies women development and empowerment”.
“Are they also denying women leadership?” she asked.
“It is necessary to identify the motive behind the comments,” she said, adding such a comment can incite fanaticism among countrymen.
“We should demand a statement from our political leaders including the prime minister to end this kind of negative comments against women.”
Dhaka University Women and Gender Studies Professor Tania Haque said Shafi's comment reflects the existing patriarchal attitude in the society. “Such comments will create obstacles to women education and empowerment,” she said.
“Politicians should cut ties with these people if they really want women empowerment and progress.”
Ruling alliance component Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal's President Hasanul Haque Inu and General Secretary Shirin Akter in a statement condemned Shafi's comment.
Besides, Samajtantrik Mahila Forum and Samajtantrik Chhatra Front in separate statements demanded steps against Shafi for his “anti-constitutional” comment.
The constitution says the state shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds of sex and women shall have equal rights as men in all spheres of the state and public life, they added.