THE ROADS NEED TO BE CREATED, VOICES NEED TO BE HEARD
The words are beautiful – Love! Touch! But lustful love? The dirty touch?
The wound inflicted at a naïve and adolescent age does not heal and is left unspoken and unheard! Distant relative aged above sixty violates the trust of a 12-year-old through sexual abuse. She thinks she will tell her mother about it but her words dry up and she says nothing. There is no one in the house and at the doorbell the fifteen-year-old rushes to the door to invite the guest inside. Mother has taught her to behave well with the guest. But while sitting beside him and watching the TV she feels the guest’s dirty touch. The moment of horror and disgust!
The dream and the desire to establish myself as a self-reliant person was very strong with the support of my parents and family. Being the younger daughter, I was always pampered with love and affection. I don’t know why, but the discrimination between boys and girls always used to make me furious. There is no discrimination when it comes to a teacher or a doctor. Or is there?
I have witnessed many classmates who, after marriage, have put her husband’s education first, even though they are of the same profession, and left her own career to take care of the house. We recognize Ms. Anjali as Sachin Tendulkar’s wife and praise her for giving him such a wonderful family but how many of us know or acknowledge the fact that she was a gold medalist in pediatrics? Yes, the society only applauds to this; how well she has managed her household and raised her children. This is her life and it should be her choice however she likes to lead it. Why is marital status so important in one’s biography? What kind of skill does it prove? The times and the ways people stared at me when I tick into “single/unmarried” while being at my late thirties is just unimaginable. A man can easily go around writing just Mr. but when it comes to a woman, she has to either write Miss or Mrs. to establish her association with a man.
I have lost count of the number of times I had to hear people gossip about me, the times when I had to endure the attack of painful words. While leading my life I have considered myself as a human, as a person first. I have led my life according to my own terms and conditions. By ignoring curious glance of youngsters to old aged men, I have completed such a long journey in my life. Once a colleague told me, “Apa! You are a very nice person and everything is good about you except for your feminism”. I smiled and replied, “Except your conservative side, everything else is not that bad, you are not that bad to work with”.
In this male dominated society, a woman is valued for her external beauty only rather than for her achievements and merits. In a society where there is illiteracy and bigotry from rickshaw pullers, bus helpers and tailors to the white-collar jobs employees or political leaders, no one pays due respect to women which is her basic human right. When a girl is obedient, just like a puppet, only then is she considered a “good girl” and family oriented but when she is opinionated and straightforward she becomes labeled as a “bad girl” in society. The social system forces women to dance with their chains and tell them to dance – what kind of civilized society is this? Girls are repeatedly tortured with the blame of determining sex of their unborn child. Even in social media women are heavily objectified. In the name of religion women are being repeatedly suppressed and insulted, achievements are overshadowed by the bad words. No matter how many ‘help lines’ are there, we must break our silence. This social pressure, harassment and violence against women needs be protested. We all have a story to share where we have been afflicted with pain both physically and mentally, where we have been molested and humiliated and so on. We all have to stand with each other, holding each other hands, raise our voice and shout out: “No one has the right to humiliate us no matter who you are and how big of a rank you hold”. Resistance will be the remedy. Family Against Sexual Harassment and Violence – Friendship – There is no alternative to protesting from your respective workplace. Whoever stands against the situation – will win, it must be. The reason- ” the most dangerous woman of all is the one who refuses to rely on your sword to save her because she carries her own.”
Lifeguard And Advocacy Support
START PROTESTING, STOP HIDING
Workplace harassment is an age-old crisis around the globe. In Bangladesh, it is increasing as more and more women are joining the formal workforce. Sometimes even incidents of rape go unnoticed here. So, one may think protesting against workplace sexual harassment is an extravagance. That person is right! It did go unnoticed until its frequency and severity became so high that in 2009, High Court issued a guideline to address the issue of sexual harassment. However, that did not stop people from harassing women in the workplaces. From garments to corporate jobs, we see cases of sexual harassment every day. Most go unreported. Why?
Because of us! Our nature! Our disgusting characteristic of pointing finger towards the character of the victim! Whenever, we hear a case of sexual harassment, the first question we ask is how the victim was dressed. Was she dressed modestly? Does she possess a humble and unpretentious characteristic? Was she submissive? And then, we issue a character certificate of the victim: “The victim lacks integrity and morality”. We hit the gravel and make the judgment: “The victim was luring the harasser to harass! It was the victim’s sole responsibility that she got harassed. If you keep a dessert in an open place without covering it, flies will come and try to eat it. Is the fly doing anything wrong? No! It is the responsibility of the dessert to be covered!” These are the reasons why a woman does not want to even talk about it when she faces harassment sexual. She starts hiding her frustration. She gets depressed, her productivity decreases and sometimes, she leaves the formal workforce.
100 years ago from today Begum Rokeya said “Jago Go Bhogini (Wake up Sisters)!” Alas! We haven’t woken up yet. Have we?
But time will change. Until then, should we (the women) wait for a change? No! We should change the time. We should be unified against any kind of sexual harassment. We should start talking about it. Today, if one woman protests against harassment, she will inspire hundreds more to protest. We need to set examples. We need to lead by examples. We need to shut those mouths that thrive in victim blaming and shaming. Whenever, wherever we witness any incident we should raise our voices against it. This will give a message to the society that women are not going to sit idly while witnessing their sister get harassed. The society will understand that no sexual harassment will go unnoticed and unreported. We need to stand by our sisters. Hiding and concealing only gives rise to more intensive offences. The harasser gets encouraged to harass another person. This does not bring any good either for the victim or the society. Only strong unified protests and strict application of laws against sexual harassment will create a gender friendly, healthy and productive working environment.
Ms. Saira Banu
Community Wellness Program
MY IDENTITY IS MY PRIDE
Every so often women become victims of gender discrimination. Even now, a family gets excited if a boy child is born and gets disappointed at the birth of a girl child. While change has taken place, the problems persist. For example, in case of dowry, when the groom’s side demands something forcefully it is considered dowry but when they hint indirectly with sugarcoated words, dowry is practiced willingly and happily.
A family is more concerned about a boy’s career than that of a girl. In case of girls, the bigger concern is marriage over education or career. In most families, a girl child is raised to be a perfect housewife rather than a financially independent woman. Sometimes it is as though a girl’s house is merely an institution preparing her for her in-laws. At every step, she is reminded “This is not your house; your house will be your in-laws.”
When a girl steps into her in-law’s house, she has to bear the majority or even entirety of responsibilities alongside raising her children. However, she does not get any recognition or appreciation for it. There is no institution that addresses the labour of a housewife.
Hence when asked, “Are you a working woman or a house wife?”, a woman’s response is:
Yes, I am a full-time working woman
I work 24 hours a day
I am a mother
I am a wife
I am a mother in-law
I am an alarm clock
I am a cook
I am full time helping hand
I am a teacher
I am a servant
I am a nurse
I am an expert in miscellaneous work
I am a security officer
I am an advisor
I am a counsellor
I never get an off day
Nor can I take a sick leave
I work continuously from morning to night
And after the whole day of hectic work, I get to hear in return
“What have you done the entire day?”
Let us come forward and break this gender discrimination. Women should not be treated like dolls. Women should not be deprived of their rights and should get what they deserve. Women should be respected for their work and not just serve as an object deserving pity.
Livelihood and Advocacy Officer,
ILUEP Project, SAJIDA Foundation
IT HAS TO BEGIN FROM HOME
“Everything that is great in the world, all the works, beneficial and good, half must be credited to woman, and to man half only we should.”-Kazi Nazrul Islam
Years ago poets have written about the equality of men and women, they have written about equal contribution, but even in this 21st century can we say that we have achieved gender equality?
The fight for equality has to start from our home. Even in today’s day and age, parents differentiate between their daughters and sons. When a woman is pregnant she is expected to give birth to a boy by her in-laws, relatives and sometimes by her husband also. There are many times when a woman has to give birth 6/7 times to bring a son into the family and if a boy is not born the blame goes to the mother but not the father. Even now a son is believed to be the heir of the family but not the daughter.
In our society the difference between a girl and a boy starts from their very own house. Born into the same family the son gets to enjoy as much freedom as the daughter’s gets caged with rules and regulations, the girl has to explain all her actions while the son needs none. The son realizes this difference in power and freedom between him and his sister while the girl slowly becomes timid and powerless. And this is how the first difference between a boy and girl is created. As these young boys and girls grow older, the man dominates over the woman whom he considers weak and powerless.
Now I will tell you a story of a person very close to me.
Orunima (pseudonym) was a dear friend of mine. I met her when I was in grade eight. Not only she was a very bright student but she was also a great human. She used to live beside our school. She had 4 more siblings, one sister and two brothers and her parents were also quite educated. I used to visit her house quite often. Orunima used to be very embarrassed every time when her male chauvinist father disrespected her mother in front of me.
We both loved reading books. Right beside our school there was a public library which used to stay open on public holidays too. During our long vacation, I used to go to the library to read books and used to pick Orunima from her house so that we could go to the library together. Her father was always resistant to her going to the library. There were times when she was not allowed and the times when she was allowed she had to give explanation of the books she read or she had a time bound of an hour within which she had to return home. If her father was not home, Orunima had to take permission from her younger brother who used to set similar restrictions for her just like her father. Her younger brother also used to go to the library to read books and he used to spend hours after hours at the same library without any restriction.
When Orunima was in grade 9 her father started looking for a groom for Orunima. He used to believe that there is no point in investing in Orunima’s education, instead he wanted to spend whatever limited income he had on his sons’ education so that they become successful when they grow up.
When Orunima was in her high school her father made her married to a good guy (according to her father) who was 10 years older than her.
After a year Orunima was pregnant and while giving birth she lost her life.
Maybe Orunima’s father was sad for the loss of his child but he was also happy because Orunima gave birth to a baby boy.
The story doesnot end here. After a year of Orunima’s death, her younger sister who was 5 years younger to her, was made to marry Orunima’s husband.
Hence I am saying, women empowerment needs to start from home. A woman needs to be valued like a human. Every man is born and raised in a family, so when the teaching will start from home women empowerment will automatically follow.
Nazma Khatun, Senior Officer,
Human Resource, SAJIDA Foundation
“START PROTESTING ALL AROUND THE WORLD, AND RESPECT WOMEN”
“Whatever great creation in this world has ever seen, half of it has been made of women, and the other half, men” – words by Kazi Nazrul Islam.
But does anyone really believe this statement anymore? Even if they do, women are still neglected in every way. They are not able to keep the up pace with everyone today, and they are unable to meet their rights. Do you know who is responsible for this? I think the people responsible for this are the people who take advantage of women – starting from home, in the field, office, courts, various institutions, roads and halls, vehicles, etc. If men do not stop this inhumane behavior then this problem will never be solved. Women are sexually harassed especially in garment factories, NGOs, corporate offices and private organizations. In these institutions, women are subjected to sexual harassment in various different ways. Women secretly endanger their life because they feel helpless and cannot voice out their troubles. Many try to illustrate women’s problem as unwrapped sweets in the open and how mosquitoes can taint that unwrapped sweet just because they’re out in the open.
If men do not change their mentality, it will be impossible to live equally for a woman in this man’s society. In our country, the contribution of women who work as breadwinners cannot be denied, and even with this we do not value them. Sadly, this is being done because the society is ruled by men. In this modern day and age, a woman cannot walk on the road without any distress and this is because men of all age do not stop from making bad comments. I am talking about a change in this mindset. We often talk about equality, but how will we become equal if we do not change our vision?
If men do not change themselves, a fair environment will not be created. Men attain education from women from the beginning of their life, so when they disrespect women, the value of this education gets diminished. Whatever family a man is born to, they are born from a woman’s womb. Thus, their mentality should be kind and inclusive.
“START THE PROTEST, STOP HIDING”
With the overall economic development of the country, the presence of women in the workplace is increasing day by day. Sadly, concurrent to the progression of women empowerment, the incidents of torture and sexual harassment of women are also increasing. In most cases, women often avoid these issues because of shame, fear of losing their jobs and losing respect from society. In general, women do not voice out these issues until the limit of tolerance for this torture and harassment exceeds. This entire ordeal is a huge obstacle towards women being self-sufficient and economically empowered.
But what is the reason behind this?
Women, themselves. Women are their own enemy.
The social system of this country is set up in such a conservative mentality that when a woman gets harassed, society blames how she presents herself, and attacks her character. Whenever there is a complaint of sexual harassment, most of the victims get shamed for the way they dress up, and women are often mocked and jeered at because of this. Against this backdrop, many crooked individuals are falling through the cracks. Most of them are harassing their female colleagues using their position of power. Most women refuse to seek action from the appropriate authorities due to fear of shame or additional harassment. So they grit their teeth and go on with their work. And when they are unable to continue this, they quit their job.
According to an estimate by ActionAid, 78% of women in Dhaka city are subjected to harassment, which not only includes workplaces, but educational institutions, roads and transport systems. It should be of note that 34% of our country’s GDP growth is from contribution of working women. Statistics shows that in Bangladesh, about 18.4 million women are involved in the labor market, and this large number of women are not safe in their workplace. A survey carried out in garments workers shows that only 2.2% women protested against sexual harassment.
So, will this culture of harassment and injustice continue? Is there no solution to this?
On May 14, 2009, the High Court of Bangladesh created a policy focusing on sexual harassment at the workplace. Yet, this could not stop the harassment of women in the workplace. There is a women’s movement in Bangladesh, but there is no evidence that there is a change in the public’s opinion due to this movement.
However, one question has been answered in all this. Women have to fight against sexual harassment, they have to fight for their rights. There is no time to wait for the liberal modern men to assist women to bring about these reforms.
Thus, women have to fight by themselves. Women who have initiated this fight need to know that the goal is to improve their personal self-esteem, and to make their own place in the society. And to prevent sexual harassment, abuse of power needs to be stopped. This will only happen if women themselves ascertain positions of power. However, till this reform does not occur, will women stay as it is?
Sarah Selzer, writer and feminists says, ‘Not at all!’ Her advice to women is not to be silent, and to protest and tell each other about the harassment they face. Every information should be exchanged, and coordinated. Every woman in the workplace needs to be more conscious. Her advice is to not keep any incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace a secret, and not to allow the culprit to stay unpunished. She says, to ensure a healthy and creative workplace for women, patriarchal attitude needs to be prevented, strong and united protests need to be done against it and the proper application of law needs to be implemented against sexual abuse.
Dil Afroze Mila, Branch Manager
Micro-finance, SAJIDA Foundation
A FIGHTING BATTLE OVER GENERATIONS
What do we understand when we talk about gender or gender based violence? Generally, we talk and think about the women experiencing physical and/or sexual violence, harassment, and of victims trafficked for sexual exploitation. Obviously, these are big causes, and cannot be thrown away to the side, but what about another much quieter issue that quietly rages among women, especially from South Asian continents? I am talking about the psychological concerns like depression, anxiety and other form of mental illnesses that occur in women and get swiftly hidden behind locked doors by the very women themselves.
Let me share two incidents which has occurred to two female members in my community among my family and friends for you to understand what I mean. Rehana grew up with 9 brothers and sisters – 4 male and 5 female siblings. She was amongst one of the older siblings and came from a well off, middle class family. She was given the task of looking after her younger siblings, one after another, and she had no room to have a childhood for herself. To make matters worse, she and her sisters were always fed the substandard parts of chicken and eggs whereas the males in around were given the better pieces every time they sat to eat. This was purely due to the social conditioning of the females in her life during that era, and unfortunately particularly by her own mother. Adding to this, she also faced some of the civil atrocities during the War in 1971. As she grew up, she was married off to a wealthy man and had children of her own – a son and a daughter. Even though she felt inferior being treated the way her mother treated her – she continues to treat her daughter in the same manner, even subconsciously. Even though she is now in the higher level of social and wealth strata, she gives her son better facilities such as a providing him a car and a chauffeur to be picked up from school, whereas her daughter Anindita is instructed to walk back from school.
As time passed, Anindita grew up and got married to a very well off family herself. Her in laws can be found in the prominent list of socialites of urban Dhaka, and are considered to be broad minded and posh. However, one day Anindita was faced with severe shock as she found her husband’s ex-girlfriend and her family seated at the dining table of a dinner hosted at her in laws house. This caused her with severe stress and emotional pain that she had to accept and bury, and not address these complex emotions and move on.
I refer to these two stories to only point out the many mental and emotional pain that women face due to countless factors of psychological abuse. There are countless other women like Rehana and Anindita – their stories may be different, but their pain is the same – neither can they shout it out, nor can they be easily placed into marginal groups, as such cases are not even considered to be included into marginal groups. Their troubles are not considered troubles as they come from a higher part of society.
It is very difficult at times to be kind, but it is such a significant trait to accommodate in our daily lives. Due to the strong influence of social conditioning from our childhood – our sisters, our mothers, fall victims to psychological roller coaster rides which can turn their world upside down. The sad fact is that it is the women themselves who make it difficult for other women. Let’s be empathetic and try to put ourselves in our daughters, our daughter in laws shoes and not make the same mistakes as we went through.
“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”
Coordinator, Capacity Building