Systemic discrimination and culture of victim blaming in Bangladesh need to be addressed
The failure to implement policies for the preservation of women’s rights and change the patriarchal mindset of society are curtailing efforts for women’s empowerment, speakers at a discussion have said.
Empowered women are taking Bangladesh forward through their leadership in various sectors but society is still reluctant to recognize their role, they added.
Dhaka Tribune and Sunsilk jointly organized the program, titled “Unmute: End the silence on domestic violence,” and a concert, titled “Opening Up Possibilities,” to mark International Women’s Day 2021 at King’s Hall of Spectra Convention Centre on Monday.
Dhaka Tribune Editor Zafar Sobhan moderated the discussion, while Sadia Khalid Reeti, editor of Dhaka Tribune Showtime, hosted the concert.
Speakers and musicians joined the program both virtually and in person.
In his address, Zafar Sobhan said: “We must concentrate on women’s issues 365 days a year, not just on one particular day. There are real concerns over how women are facing additional challenges in every sphere.”
Lamenting the deeply-entrenched patriarchal values in Bangladesh society, Centre for Policy Dialogue Executive Director Dr Fahmida Khatun said: “There are many people who still think that women should not concern themselves with development issues. It is very disheartening to learn that people think this way while outwardly speaking of bringing a change to society.”
Barrister Rashna Imam, managing partner and founder of Akhtar Imam and Associates, said women need to play a key role in changing the mindset and behaviour of men.
She also called for the formulation of a policy to protect survivors of domestic violence and put an end to the heinous crime, once and for all.
Furthermore, the barrister cited a section of a book approved by the National Curriculum and Textbook Board to highlight the systemic discrimination and culture of victim blaming in the country.
“The book says that girls need to dress appropriately. If a woman faces harassment for the way she dresses then she is the one who is responsible, according to our teaching method,” she said.
Nadia Samdani, owner of Samdani Art Foundation and president of Dhaka Art Summit, said: “When I started the summit, I came into an open field. The most challenging part was making people understand why I was doing it when I am a woman. Society thinks only men should take the decisions in some areas.”
Zara Mahbub, country director and CEO of Kazi IT Centre, said efforts to change society need to start with the way children are raised at home.
“It is not easy to break the chains, but men and women need to start helping each other to demolish all forms of patriarchy,” she added.
Maliha M Quadir, founder and managing director of Shohoz, said: “We do not teach boys and girls how to treat women from childhood. Our books need to show women being empowered, but most expensive schools in Dhaka do not showcase this.”
She suggested introducing sex and gender education from an early age, as well as a gradual reformation of the education system.
Nasreen Zamir, an interior designer, criticized the efforts of some of the organizations working for women’s rights and said they needed to be more professional.
She also urged the youth not to give up on their dreams and to raise their voices against discrimination.
Actor Banna Mirza highlighted some of the problems women face when trying to enter the acting industry.
“People would often mock me and try to make me lose my resolve. They would say things like women who go into acting are bad,” she said.
She added the problems of women outside Dhaka are often neglected, and the focus cannot only be on urban areas.
Bitopi Das Chowdhury, head of corporate affairs, brand and marketing at Standard Chartered Bank, urged women to get out of the habit of “self-censorship” and to raise their voices against injustice, oppression and discrimination.
Shakshi Handa, head of the human resources department at Unilever Bangladesh, suggested developing new strategies for the empowerment and security of women.
Tasaffy Hossain, a gender empowerment consultant, said: “If you are trying to create a comfortable space for women, there are more things to overcome.”
Rubaba Dowla, country managing director of Oracle, said personal biases need to be overcome when measuring the quality of a person.
Sadaf Saaz Siddiqui, founder and CEO EskeGen pointed out some of the additional challenges for women in professional fields, and said they need to work harder to prepare themselves as a result.
Sylvana Quader Sinha, founder, managing director and CEO of Praava Health, said women entrepreneurs have been fighting against the odds for a long time and the positives need to be displayed to encourage them.
Dilshad Karim Elita, Palki Ahmad, Trirotno, Laisfita, Armeen Musa performed at the post-discussion concert.