In conversation with Trishia Nashtaran -- Founder, Meye Network, feminist organizer, transdisciplinary designer, and foresight strategist
Meye is a feminist grassroots organizing platform that works for the equity of genders in Bangladesh. It works for gender equity in Bangladesh through storytelling and design thinking across physical and digital spaces. Meye started as a women-centric online platform and evolved organically into a multi-faceted network, battling discrimination based on gender, race, sexuality, class, ethnicity, ability, and other intersections through advocacy and entrepreneurship, and philanthropy. On the occasion of International Women’s day 2021, Trishia Nashtaran, Founder, Meye Network, sat down with the Dhaka Tribune to discuss community building.
Trishia is a foresight strategist, a feminist organizer, and a researcher. Her focus lies at the intersections of marginalized lives across different spaces and cultures. The founder of Meye Network believes in the power of empathy and imagination. She aims to co-create a life-centric future, through story-telling and design thinking. To build a locally rooted, globally connected community of moral leaders, Trishia is also one of the change-makers, among those selected for Acumen Fellowship Program in Bangladesh in various sectors.
Trishia Nashtaran was born in Bangladesh and moved to Iran to spend the first six years of her life in a village called Ebrahamabad. When she was nearly six, she moved back to Bangladesh with her parents and started school in Dhaka. Nashtaran studied for twelve years at Holy Cross Girls’ High School and Holy Cross College. She completed her undergrad in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from BUET, and worked as an engineer for seven years in Dhaka before she went to Canada to study at OCAD University.
“Meye and my career as an engineer started almost at the same time, and evolved together. Having an academic background in a highly technical field and the experience of activism with a feminist focus, I was looking for an interdisciplinary course that would allow me to weave through the intersections and design a brighter lens for the future. That is why I went to OCAD University to pursue my Master of Design in Strategic Foresight and Innovation, an interdisciplinary program curated to bring professionals from various fields in the same room to brainstorm and redesign the future. Meye was my case study for the final research project of the Masters. The research helped me investigate the existing reality and seek plausible futures for women-centric digital spaces that attempt to co-create feminist futures with women in a patriarchal society. I came back to Dhaka by the end of 2019 and started implementing the ideas inspired by my research findings. I call myself a feminist organizer, a transdisciplinary designer, and a foresight strategist now,” said Trishia, while talking about her journey.
Meye started from a women-only Facebook group in 2011 and evolved organically into a feminist grassroots organizing platform that works for gender equity in Bangladesh across physical and digital spaces. Nashtaran started Meye as a response to the gender discrimination she was facing in the workplace. “When I was looking for jobs as an engineer, some employers would reject my application because of my gender. Some would say I could not do the jobs involving field visits as a woman. Some would ask if my parents would be okay with me travelling for work. What if my husband did notallow me’ after I got married? What if people refused to accept a woman in a particular professional role?” informed Trishia.
Finally, she was happy when she landed a job as an engineer in a small company headed by a woman. “I thought my days of gender discrimination were over until I realized that patriarchy is gender-neutral. My boss would often exert power declaring that she was a man and preferred to hire men since women had ‘limitations’ like menstruation. I was baffled and angry. My confusion and rage inspired me to create a space where I could ask difficult questions that no one else was asking, let alone answering.”
Trishia then opened a Facebook group and invited all the women she knew to join and talk. “I did not think much when I named the group ‘Meye,’ which means woman/girl in Bangla. I did not have any visions yet, neither I knew what to expect. I went with the first word that came to my mind. Later, when I proposed to change the name into something more specific, the members of the platform opposed the idea, saying that they found the fuss-free and generic nature of the word more suitable to the nature of Meye. The only change we made was calling it Meye Network instead of Meye Group, as it had outgrown the group and had turned into a women-led multi-faceted network with multiple wings and projects.”
The objective of Meye evolved or became more precise as it grew. When Trishia started Meye, the primary purpose was to ask questions and find answers with women from all walks of life. When the women of Meye discovered that they were a bunch of misfits in a patriarchal society who had the same adventures and questions, seeking refuge in the group from the hostility of the system, Meye worked to sustain a safe space for women to tell their stories. “Through our stories, Meye evolved organically into a network of women battling discrimination at different levels, which inspired organic leadership, philanthropy, and entrepreneurship. Now a grassroots organizing platform, Meye aims to keep questioning patriarchy every day and welcome more people to join the journey,” she added.
The main projects of Meye that are currently active are Sisterhood (a support group for women), Bondhu Manush (gender-inclusive support group), Benami (an anonymous storytelling service), Shondhi (welfare project), Rangtaa (entrepreneurship platform), and OGNIE (a service-focused project for gender-inclusive future). There are many other wings to these projects led by different volunteer teams.
While Sisterhood and Rangtaa have been respectfully the most popular and visible projects, Trishia considers Shondhi, the welfare wing, the most successful project with Meye so far. “It is one of the most impactful projects of Meye that inspired the platform to expand its horizon to other forms of marginalization intersecting with gender,” informed Trishia.
Shondhi originated as a response to the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013 and pushed the boundaries of Meye by inspiring women to step into the relief of disaster-stricken communities physically. Shondhi sustained a small, yet committed team of volunteers who have been working with natural and human-made disasters by sending aid, organizing workshops, and arranging sponsorships for children in marginalized communities.
Discussing her future plans with Meye, Trishia says, “An organic network has its own life. I would like to let Meye evolve on its own, and let myself grow with it. I would instead plan for OGNIE, the latest project of Meye. I aim to create gender-focused knowledge and services through storytelling and design thinking here. Meye taught me how much power stories hold. I believe our experiences are the testimony of our struggles and dreams. I would like to combine my experience, expertise, and knowledge to co-design services inspired by these stories and provide life-centric solutions to gender-specific problems at OGNIE.
This year, the theme for International Women’s Day, “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a Covid-19 world,” celebrates the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and highlights the gaps that remain. When asked what the theme means for her in her work life, Trishita replied, “To me, the slogan means to be fierce. I identify as a radical feminist who chooses to rise through rage. I question my privileges, rights, and, most importantly, the patriarchal system every day through my work. Despite the risk of being unpopular and uncomfortable, I choose to challenge social norms explicitly.”
When we asked Trishia what is the most important piece of advice she would give to the women of our country, she said, “Have the audacity to be called a bad girl/woman.”