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Celebrating Habiba Zaman’s Retirement
By Casey McCarthy
After 27 years and countless memories with colleagues and students at Simon Fraser University (SFU) and the Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies (GSWS), professor Habiba Zaman retired in 2022.
Habiba’s interest in gender, sexuality, and women’s studies began 50 years ago as a political science student at the University of Dhaka, where she completed both her BA (Hons) and MA. In 1975, Habiba joined the University of Rajshahi as a lecturer in political science. Inspired by the efforts to advance women’s rights at the UN’s first international conference on women 1975, Habiba presented a paper titled “UN Human Rights and the Position of Women in Bangladesh” at the World University Services Forum held at Rajshahi University in 1976, sparking her career-long interest in women’s issues.
In 1981, Habiba arrived in Canada as an international student at the University of Manitoba, where she completed her MA in political studies and PhD in anthropology. There, Habiba found a mentor in Professor Louise Sweet, “She provided me with significant guidance on my research into women’s work, both paid and unpaid, in Bangladesh.” While writing her PhD dissertation, Habiba taught at the University of Lethbridge. After completing her PhD, she taught at the University of New Brunswick and the University of Victoria. “My research shifted from local to national to global, and my interests became women’s issues, migration, settlement and employment,” says Habiba of the evolution of her scholarship.
In 1995, Habiba joined SFU and the Department of Women’s Studies, as GSWS was known at the time, becoming a valued member of the university community. “Habiba is a caring professor who treats students with the utmost kindness,” says GSWS Chair Helen Leung. “She is also a storyteller and often regales colleagues with fun anecdotes from her travels. Her warm presence will be missed around the departmental corridor.”
Habiba also leaves a legacy at SFU Labour Studies, where she was an associate member. “Dr. Zaman was a long-standing member of the Labour Studies Program Steering Committee and served as Acting Director for the Program for one semester in 2020,” says Director Kendra Strauss. “Dr. Zaman made huge contributions to the development of Labour Studies’ programs and the research agenda of the SFU Morgan Centre for Labour Research, reflecting her commitments to research and advocacy on issues of migrant and immigrant women’s experiences of paid and unpaid work.”
Many of Habiba’s contributions as a scholar – such as her 2006 book Breaking the Iron Wall: Decommodification and Immigrant Women’s Labor in Canada – raised awareness of the struggles of immigrant women workers. Her 2007 report Workplace Rights for Immigrants in BC: The Case of Filipino Workers, co-authored with Cecilia Diocson and Rebecca Scott and published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, was downloaded 20,000 times in its first year. “We created a summary of the report in Tagalog, which was accessible to the Filipino community,” explains Habiba. Cantonese and Mandarin translations are also available of Habiba’s research. Habiba’s book Asian Immigrants in ‘Two Canadas’ was translated in Mandarin by Professor Shaojun Chen and published by Hohai University Press (2021). Habiba felt fulfilled when she and Dr. Sanzida Habib, a former GSWS graduate student, successfully organized a two-day conference on Migration of Bengalis to Canada in 2017. Under their editorship, the journal New Routes published several selected articles as a special issue in 2019.
A dedicated educator, Habiba helped many students to find their path. “Habiba is a rare mentor, teacher and friend,” declares Somayeh Bahrami, a GSWS graduate student. “Under difficult circumstances, she fostered my freedom to imagine the best. She planted within me a growth mindset in my academic journey. I am grateful for her patience and creating an environment that allowed me to slow-down, self-reflect, sometimes pause, and ultimately succeed.”
Students provided some of Habiba’s fondest memories, such as the mock conference she organized for in 2017. “I was so impressed with the students,” Habiba recalls. “They were professional, they even dressed up and used technology in their presentations. They were all so happy with their experience, we took a photo together to remember the day.” During the uncertainty of the pandemic, Habiba connected with her students in new ways. “I was so grateful to SFU Distance Education and Online Learning [now the Centre for Educational Excellence] for their support,” explains Habiba. “The students were fabulous, with their level of enthusiasm and interest in learning the material. In the end, I totally enjoyed teaching in the summer of 2020.” Wishing the best for the next generation of students, Habiba says, “As a feminist my advice is, please, complete your degree. You have a wonderful opportunity to improve your life. Pursue your education with determination.”
After a meaningful career, Habiba is thriving in retirement. A lifelong learner, she delights in trying new things and meeting people. She often attends community events and participates in activities at her local community centre, from culinary classes to badminton to Zumba. She continues to exercise her gift for writing and is currently working on a manuscript titled Stories of a Bengali Woman: An Untold Life Journey. “I am also writing stories in my native language, Bangla, for local community journals,” she explains. “Most of all, I want to spend time with my family, especially my two grandchildren,” Habiba says of her plans to make the most of this exciting new chapter ahead of her, after her wonderful career at SFU.