Begum Rokeya (December 9, 1880 – December 9, 1932) was a famous Bengali feminist thinker, writer, educator, and political activist from British India (at present Bangladesh). She is known as a South Asian women’s liberation pioneer.
She fought for equal treatment of men and women as rational beings, criticizing the lack of education for women’s economic inferiority. Matichur, Sultana’s Dream (1908), Padmarag, and Abarodhbasini are the major works of Begum Rokeya.
Rokeya saw education as the key to women’s emancipation and founded the first Muslim girls’ school in Kolkata. So she went around convincing parents to send their daughters to her school in Nisha. She directed the school until she died, despite social and political opposition.
She created the Muslim Women’s Association in 1916 to promote female education and employment. In 1926, Rokeya presided over the first important attempt to bring women together in support of women’s education rights. She participated in feminist discussions and conferences until her death on December 9, 1932, shortly after presiding over a session of the Indian Women’s Conference.
Every year on December 9th, Bangladesh commemorates Rokeya’s works and legacy. On this day, the Bangladeshi government also honors extraordinary women with the Begum Rokeya Padak. In 2004, Rokeya was voted the 6th Greatest Bengali by the BBC.