The march towards women’s empowerment cannot be halte
In 2018, a movie named “Padman” was released in India based on real-life events. The film’s story was about a simple young man from Madhya Pradesh. After he gets married, the young man comes to learn about menstruation and the prejudice and stigma surrounding the matter.
Simply discussing the topic of menstruation is still in taboo in our society. And because of all the superstitions and misinformation surrounding it, women continue to suffer in both physical and mental ways.
A doctor friend of mine was once visited by a girl and her mother. The mother was quite tense and anxious about her daughter’s recent “health complications.” It was later found out that the girl was on her period, and her father had denied getting her any sort of sanitary napkins or tampons -- and so, the girl had to resort to using stray pieces of cotton and dirty rags.
My doctor friend tried to make the parents understand the situation, but they simply would not have it, and demanded that my friend prescribe some sort of medication to stop the pain their child had been experiencing from her menstrual complications.
The story left me dumbfounded.
According to Bangladesh Hygiene Baseline Survey, 41% of all female students become absentees during their time of the month. The cost of sanitary napkins is still quite high in our country. While this might not put much of a dent in the pockets of those who can afford it, for the urban and rural poor this is unsustainable.
In India, the situation is different. Women’s sanitary supplies are relatively cheap and affordable, in fact they are often provided to women free of charge in certain places. With the government subsidy, Indian women can afford this basic necessity in life.
In Bangladesh, the government has mulled over imposing additional VAT on this hygienic necessity for women.
According to information from the National Cervical and Breast Cancer Screening and Training Centre under Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, a total of 8,086 women were identified as patients of cervical cancer last year, while 5,214 women died of it.
The main reason behind the sudden surge in cervical cancer can be attributed to having children at premature ages, having children frequently, and, of course, a lack of hygienic practices when it comes to menstruation.
Of course, women and girls in Bangladesh have a lot more to fight through in addition to negligence about their physical wellbeing -- sexual harassment is part and parcel of what it means to be a woman in a country such as ours, after all.
According to the information from Ain o Salish Kendra, between January to June this year, there have been 630 reported incidents of rape. Among these incidents, most of the victims are of 18 years or under.
One of the main reasons behind the increasing instances of rape and sexual assault is the lack of any exemplary punishment. It is because of the lack of any real punishment for rapists that they become repeat offenders. According to a survey by Nari Pakkha, a total of 4,372 cases were filed on rape incidents between 2011 and 2018.
And yet, women march on.
The RMG industry is our biggest engine of economic growth, and the sector comprises primarily of women -- at least 80% according to information from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.
I want to ask humbly to those who routinely tease and harass women in public spaces: What do you gain from it? Is it a part of your long-term plan to halt the empowerment of women in our country?
Because if that’s what it is, know that you will fail. Progress is inevitable.
Benoy Dutta is an author and journalist. This article has been translated by Mohammad Al Bahlul.