“When are you getting married? When are you getting married again? Are you going to have children? WHAT, only one child?"
Last year, the very first production of It's a SHE thing, a play that is inspired by Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues, put into words the experiences of thousands of women across Dhaka, who have been faced with such personal and probing questions. Not only that, the monologues drew on the experiences of women from diverse backgrounds to tell the stories of gender discrimination – the sort of stories that are kept hidden in a society where women's bodies, attitudes, behaviour, choices and even tone of voice are open to judgment.
It's a SHE thing is back again this month, running from 19-20 August at Spectra Convention Centre Limited in Gulshan, and is brought to you by 'Bonhishikha – unlearn gender,' an organisation that believes that gender stereotypes and roles constrain the potentials of individuals by holding them back. This week, we chat with Syeda Samara Mortada, Coordinator of Bonhishikha, and Anika Karim, both of whom will be performing in the play.
How did this play come about?
Tasaffy Hossain, founder of Bonhishikha, first started staging The Vagina Monologues in Dhaka, of which we were a part as well. During the process, we realised that while The Vagina Monologues was something many of us could relate to, it didn't actually have mass appeal. It's not really about Dhaka people and their lives, where the context is very different. So we wanted to speak about issues that were specific to women in Dhaka. We had been collecting stories for a while, and we found many interesting ones that needed to be told.
What's different this year?
This year we will be featuring different stories but with more or less the same cast. The concept is the same, but while planning for the play this year, we focused on the issues that are current and affecting us right now. It was always a group effort, so we split up and gathered the necessary information, and wrote the scripts accordingly. Overall, I think we are also much more organised and professional than our efforts last year.
What are some of the issues you're focusing on?
We are really focusing on mental health and emotional abuse this year. We are also talking about the fact that women are always expected to play these multiple roles – of mother, wife, daughter, colleague etc – and do it all seamlessly with minimum effort. We will be focusing on how people view feminism and the different myths that come with it, and there is also a bit about sex workers and the very real abuses of their rights. Just like the rest of the pieces, this performance is also based on real interviews with sex workers in Dhaka. There are also group pieces that address stereotypes about women and the different views associated with womanhood, and also focus on issues of consent.
How was the reception to the play last year?
Even when we were staging The Vagina Monologues, the venues have always been full, and that was the case at the staging of It's a SHE Thing last year as well. And it's not even just the reception during the play – last year, we had so many organisations calling us and asking us to stage the play again. We were part of the Dhaka Literary Festival last year, and performed at the British High Commission as well. We were really happy with the response, from both women and men.
Are there security concerns for a play such as this?
We're providing as much security as we can. We're asking people to register from before and using ID checks, and the venue will have full security as well. Obviously there are concerns, but these are concerns that stay with us all the time – not just for staging the play. So we're not worried about this separately because there is a lot of security within and outside the premises. However, we decided not to push back the play because we think there is a need for these kinds of events that people can come out to and be a part of – kind of like a counter-terrorism effort, because women's rights and issues are inseparable from what is happening today. Also, these are all issues that continue to be a part of our lives, and despite the security threats, we still need to talk about life as it is.
What is the next step for Bonhishikha?
It's really important to mention that the proceeds from the play will be donated to Leaping Boundaries, which is an organisation that, through a girl-focused project, aims to increase visibility of madrasah students on mainstream national platforms where they are traditionally underrepresented. Currently, they are working with 120 girls and 80 boys from two alia madrasahs in Dhaka. We also have many other plans from Bonhishikha to address gender issues, such as arranging talks and related events. We also have a special event coming up in November, but don’t want to give away the surprise yet.
To learn more about the play, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/835311383270054/
Tickets are only available at imdhaka.com