• Wednesday, Dec 11, 2019
  • Last Update : 07:54 pm

Working towards a better tomorrow

  • Published at 05:16 pm August 7th, 2019
Zaiba Tahhya
Mahmud Hossain Opu

In conversation with Zaiba Tahyya -- an inspiration for the youth


Zaiba Tahyya is the founder and CEO of Female Empowerment Movement (FEM). She received the Queen's Young Leaders Award, 2017, in recognition of her efforts to promote equality in society and reduce violence against women in Bangladesh through training and employment of women from low income areas in Bangladesh. In a recent conversation with Avenue T, Zaiba Tahyya talks about her wide range of works, future plans, and dreams.

Zaiba was born in Dhaka, and she received her education in different parts of the world. She completed her kindergarten in Bangladesh, went to elementary school in Canada, then came back to Bangladesh again for middle and high school. Zaiba then completed her higher education in the United Kingdom. “I have been very lucky and privileged to have had very different experiences and exposure. I majored in Criminology and my particular interest was violence against women and its contributing factors. I am so grateful for my exposure to different cultures and for my freedom in education that I wanted to give back and add value in my country,” she informed.

Most of your work is based on women empowerment, gender equality and self-defense. So what drives your interest to work in these areas?

Coming from a patriarchal society, I realised the need for gender equality especially for south Asian women. I did an internship in BLAST one summer in 2011 where I had to research on women, rape and the criminal justice system. I realised then that one of the main factors for gender inequality was how women were perceived. I was constantly asked to sit inside and not go into the field simply because I was a woman. 

What motivated you to come up with FEM? What is the ultimate goal of FEM?

As previously mentioned, I was really motivated to change how women were perceived and took it upon myself as a challenge. I decided to start an organisation which would increase the mobility of women, thus creating visibility in order to change perception. Consequently, FEM’s main vision is to increase mobility and decrease vulnerability of women.

Tell us about ‘Project Attorokkha’ and the workshops that you’ve been conducting at different educational institutions. What kind of response have you received at these workshops?

Project Attorokkha is the first ever project of FEM. It is designed as a self defence project to increase mobility and confidence of women in Bangladesh. The project started with resining twenty girls in the pilot and now we have trained over five hundred girls around Bangladesh. In order to sustain the project, we recently started offering self defence classes to schools and corporates as services from which the profit goes towards the training of women in urban slums areas. Project Attorokkha workshops have had positive feedback where after one class, some women claimed that they don’t even feel the fear to raise their voices when needed, and they instantly feel confident.

What other projects are you currently working on under FEM?

FEM is coming up with some very exciting projects to help mobility and safety of women. Our most recent collaboration is with LCLS South, which is called “I know, right?” which started off as a legal blog and plans on going further. Typical format of the blog states a common problem (such as cyber harassment, consumer rights etc) followed by appropriate rights and acts that help solve the problem. Advocates from LCLS South look over the legal aspects while FEM assures the integration between the legal experts and the common people. Moreover, FEM is also prototyping low cost biodegradable sanitary napkins made out of banana fibre so that women are healthy and continue being mobile.

What are the obstacles that you had to face while working on this initiative?

I have had a lot of obstacles while trying to start FEM. First obstacle was with myself when I decided to take the leap of faith and quit my job. Second obstacle was gaining the trust of the communities that I initially started working with. It was difficult explaining my vision to everybody else.

Do you think there's a way in which parents and teachers can incorporate self-defense training in the education of girls?

If not self defence, I think parents and teachers should definitely encourage girls to engage in physical activities and sports from a young age. Girls should not be told that sports or just going outside to play is for boys. It limits them from a very young age and decreases their confidence.

What are your future plans regarding FEM? Where do you see yourself – say 5 years down the line?

My future plan regarding FEM is to expand our service and make it more accessible for women everywhere. At first, the goal was to go nation wide and go around Bangladesh but now the goal is to go world wide and expand our services.