The Department of Women and Gender Studies of the University of Dhaka is a multidisciplinary program that encourages the development of critical perspectives regarding women and gender issues in both intellectual and activist level.
The program has grown admirably since its inception in 2000. The department of Women and Gender Studied first started its journey with the name of ‘Women’s Studies’ in 2000. Gradually by addressing the demands of the students, particularly male students and due to global shifts in the academia, the name of the department was changed to ‘Women and Gender Studies’.
It started with MSS program in December, 1999. Its four years bachelor in social sciences program started since January, 2000 with only 12 students, among whom 5 were girls and the rest 7 were boys. It was the first department in the entire Faculty of Social Sciences to start semester system and run it successfully. With time the number of students increased and now every year at least 35 new students are getting opportunity to be a part of this vibrant department by starting their bachelor degree in the department.
However, the journey was not smooth. Initially, it did not even have any office room; all the academics as well as administrative works were conducted from the office room of Emeritus professor Dr. Najma Chowdhury at the department of Political Science in Dhaka University. The department is a result of years’ of struggles and strong lobby by the many of the academics as well as activists. Key persons who played a decisive role in foregrounding Women’s Studies are Dr. Najma Chowdhury, Dr. Mahmuda Islam, Dr. Nazmunnessa Mahtab, Dr. Sadeka Halim and Late Dr. Asaduzzaman along with a group of committed feminists and activists. Soon after its establishment, with the scholastic aptitude of Dr. Najma Chowdhury and her team, the department secured a huge project entitled ‘Institutionalizing the Department of Women’s Studies’, from the Kingdom of Netherlands, The Hague, The Netherlands. This was a five year project (2004-2009) with funds for higher studies, research and publication; curriculum development; training, scholarship and stipend for students and student exchange program and engagement with a feminist network called ‘Kartini Network’. The project was implemented in association with the Institution of Social Studies (ISS), The Hague.
This grant played a key role at the initial stage of the department for its infrastructural as well as human resource development. Many of the faculties and some meritorious students of the department got funding from this project to go abroad and accomplish higher studies such as Masters’ and PhD degrees. The department improved and developed its earlier syllabus through rigorous addition and change and made it up to date with the help of national and international scholars through several works shops and conferences. Feedback from the current and ex-students were also sought while modifying the syllabus. In order to improve the student-teacher relationships regular retreat/exchange programs were inbuilt in the project. Students were engaged in research and publication with opportunities to attend courses and semesters along with the young faculties.
Drawing support from the above mentioned project, the department built class rooms, teachers’ rooms, a tea room and a rest room on the space provided by the university authority. The class rooms were all equipped with multimedia, laptop, modern furniture and air cooler. Latest journals were subscribed; books were purchased for the Najma Chowdhury resource center. The centre was made equipped with computers for the students. Photocopy machine, printers and computers were installed in the office. The Chairperson’s room was decorated with necessary furniture and equipment while faculties were also provided with computers and printers along with required furniture. However, as the project came to an end, with time, many of the services, provisions and amenities got dilapidated (mainly due to lack of a maintenance fund). It was soon felt that if the department wants to continue with the state of art teaching-learning atmosphere, it needs to seek for long term projects which are designed in our own terms and also ensures maintenance fund for future. Apart from the Dutch project, the Department also had many international networks with Queens University, Belfast, and Virginia Tech University USA etc. Nonetheless, the main support should be endorsed by the University authority to ensure an international level teaching-learning environment.
At present, in its 22nd year, the department has 19 members of faculties and a good number of alumni who have proved their brilliance in national as well as international arena. Today the department is in a position to offer financial help to its less privileged students. Faculties as well as students are managing scholarships to study abroad and securing research grants with their own capacity. Among the nineteen full time faculties (till 2017), there are there are 9 faculties with PhD degrees while another two are on PhD leave. Many young faculties have MA or MPhil degrees from abroad.
Starting with the books donated from personal collection of the teachers, the department now has a resourceful seminar library with almost 3557 books, 1100 journals and various publications materials from Government as well as non-governmental organizations. Named after the founder of the department, this seminar library – the ‘Najma Chowdhury Resource Centre’, is also a knowledge hub for students and teachers with more than four thousand books and journals; here students prepare their group projects and assignments, as well as many teachers prepare their course packs here.
The department started its journey with nothing in hand but now, it can proudly claim that despite many challenges it is one of the best departments in the Faculty of Social Sciences. The department wishes to expand its activities in higher studies in future. It has a dream to set up a research centre, which will be an excellent knowledge hub for its students as well as faculties, and the department envisages to work hard to make this research centre a ‘Centre for Excellence'.