Let’s dare to debate about harassment

With the recent events uprising, from a mere t-shirt logo to Nusrat’s death, the idea of the existant rape culture in our society has finally settled in and exposed more topics of discussion.

Read more: The case of Nusrat and our “rape culture”

While some are still educating themselves on the idea of sexual consent and how it can be minimized to a level where there is control over these issues, the recent uprise of survivors of harassment is taking a toll on certain communities of the society.

It is important to realize that sexual preferences followed by harassment, has become a case which is often not given enough priority to, which leads to misinformation and rise to similar problematic behaviours.

Why the #metoo and #talkaboutit failed to beam minimization on sexual harassment

Given light to many cases of sexual assaults and non-consensual incidents from the entertainment industry to communities as important as debate events, have shed light to the people that even the safest places may bring about cases like these. The idea of understanding how sexual harassment does not only limit to non-consensual penetrative sex is necessary to be known. The idea of hiding behind curtains about cases like these forms more problems in further investigation, however, it’s important to realize that the rate of socially educated members of our society is very less in number.

Read more: Why we need to start taking Sexual Harassment accusations more seriously

Coming out and the victim-blaming culture

Facebook itself is an open platform which single-handedly gave space to both the survivors and common people to view cases and bring forth their statements about cases like these. However, as said before due to the lack of understanding of the degrees of sexual harassments, often survivors are forced to delete their confessions and stories because of fear of being misunderstood furthermore.

Often many forget the true message of what these movements hold. The idea is to shed light on the existing rape culture and everything surrounding that idea. The motive is to degrade the predators and bring justice to the cases in order to avoid scenarios like these and bring more caution to people. The cultural and social construction of women coming out in one word brings lojja in the family as the stigma in our country keeps pushing these cases in the box.

Lack of understanding

“#metoo in Bangladesh shouldn’t be just about calling people out, it should include forming and updating institutions that are equipped to dealing with these complaints. It’s equally important to understand the cases and analyze them from a logical view point given the facts are all being said to light”

Says Antara Islam, an International Relations student from Dhaka University.

The lack of responsibility from the respective institutions, groups and head of events raises a question of partial judgement. It is evident that often cases like these when addressed takes time to be judged however, only empathizing with the situation should not be the only way to address cases such as this. A diplomatic stance on serious harassment or any sort of non-consensual cases is an unprofessional approach and often problematic for the victim.

The art of consent and why it is important now than ever

Let us first understand that there is no single definition to identify and understand the concept of consent. There should be three ways to approach this which are affirmative consent, freely given consent and capacity consent. It is crucial for us to analyze and ask ourselves if the person expressed affirmative responses to the action. Further questions follow if the consent was offered from the point of free will, without being induced with fraud, violence or compulsion.

Not only that, it is important to keep age, the idea of intoxication, physical and mental disability and most importantly the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator is also highly necessary to keep in regards. Consent itself is a step by step process let that fact be known because a simple ‘yes’ does not open doors to every action. As the recent allegations from many debaters who have faced harassments and became victims of non-consensual acts, it is evident that cases like these will happen despite the knowledge and full understanding of what sexual harassment is, because the idea of consent, often times becomes a blurred concept many still lack to grasp.

The time is now

The rise of confessions of cases like these on the internet shows us how important it has become for survivors to speak their truth.

Bangladesh has already been stamped a label which is hard to remove but not impossible. This is our time to address the toxic movements of non-consensual acts masked by casual approaches by the perpetrator.

For the proper safety of women, it is important to not only address the situation rather take actions for proper justice. Cases like these needs observation, legal approach and most importantly acknowledgement. It is time for us to rise to the movement, yet again.

It’s time to talk about teenage pregnancy in our country

We say that we want to be supportive and we want to help the women in our lives overcome obstacles. But at the same time, we want to shut down discussions about topics like teenage pregnancy. There is a reluctance to broach taboo topics and we want to save ourselves from all the backlash that follows. However, this is not an issue that will go away if we put our head in the sand.

It is time we stop being afraid of society; we need start being afraid of the repercussions we will will inevitably face as a society if we continue to ignore sensitive topics.

So, who are are the ones facing teenage pregnancy issues? Teenage pregnancy issues are felt by young women–married or unmarried. They are either sexually active, they plan on being sexually involved in the future or are currently pregnant.

What the problems that sexually active women have to overcome?

Protection is inaccessible

Well for starters, women fear social stigma and fear people finding out about their choice to be sexually active.This fear makes men and women so afraid of society that they feel hesitant to buy protection before engaging in intercourse. Women are afraid of being so they avoid going to the store to buy condoms. Condoms, one of the most accessible methods of protection, becomes inaccessible to women. This leads to men and women engaging in unsafe sex and putting themselves at a risk of STDs,

Lack of knowledge

The problems don’t end there. Most young women in Bangladesh do not know how to prevent unwanted pregnancy. They do not how to get protection and what kinds of protection are available. They are also unaware of the signs that their body displays when they are pregnant. The stigma is so ingrained in their minds that buying a pregnancy test is almost impossible. They end up not even taking the test and going into a sudden panic attack when the baby bump starts to show.

The vicious cycle that is being driven by social stigma goes beyond shaming and creating conditions where misinformation is rampant.

Society ignores sex, but what about happens after? Society also stigmatizes abortion. Most teenage women in Bangladesh are unaware of the steps that could be taken after unprotected intercourse. Steps include things like morning-after pills or going to the doctor during early pregnancy stages and getting an abortion.

Doctors are inaccessible

Teenagers fear society and their perception so much that they refuse to seek help from doctors. They think the doctor will violate confidentiality and tell their parents or hand them over to the police. This forces teenagers to suffer in silence from the traumatizing effects of teenage pregnancies. Young girls have to turn to random YouTube videos about how to conduct abortions on their own. Some young women go through the pregnancy; then they are traumatically forced to give up the child for adoption and spend the rest of their lives in shame. In the worst-case scenario, teenagers end up taking extreme alternatives like self-harm or suicide to avoid facing their parents or neighbors.

What options do teenagers have under such circumstances?


Seek Help

Get help. Teenage pregnancy can result in complications and even lead to death if the mother is not taken care of properly. If you think you might be pregnant, take the test. As much as we would love to say that you should find the courage for going to the stores and buying the test for yourself, we all know that it might not be possible for everyone to all of a sudden face all these stigmas at once. Resorting to online stores might be a good alternative. Many online shops have the option to order pregnancy tests that will be delivered within hours. Chaldal.com, Daraz, and bdfamilymart are a few examples of such websites from where you can buy a pregnancy test.

Go See a Doctor

In terms of contraceptives and morning-after pills, you could buy those too from online shops. But what is even more important than this is seeking help directly from doctors. Most doctors aren’t allowed to disclose the information of the patient to anyone other than the patient.

…Or, Opt for Online Healthcare

However, if you still don’t feel like you can trust them then you can always opt for online health care services like bdhealth services. But none of these solutions will work out if teenagers themselves don’t try to seek out help if teenagers don’t themselves seek out knowledge about maternal health and sex education.

What can we do as a society?

We can start being more inclusive. Changing our minds about sex is probably not going to happen in a day. But this is a change that is necessary for the better of the next generation. Even if we can’t find it in ourselves to be more accepting about sexual activeness of youth, we can at least try and not criticize sexual health for teenagers to a point that they feel like it is something they should be afraid of.

We as a society have to create an atmosphere where children learn about sexual health and teenage pregnancy during their early age.

Children need to be provided with sex ed and not just the generic version that only scratches the surface and does not get into details because of the social stigma. Comprehensive sex ed that includes lessons regarding how to take a pregnancy test or how to take contraceptives is what is required to help teenagers get better equipped about how to handle teenage pregnancy.

The case of Nusrat and our “rape culture”

At first, when I was told to write about Nusrat, I was very keen on doing it. I was very eager to voice a wave of scream towards all the men and women who are defending the rapist. I was excited to talk about the girl who, with a body 80% covered in burns, wanted justice. She used what little breath she had left to demand justice.

Justice for all the time she’s been molested. Justice for all the time that pervert Siraj-Ud-Doula got away with it, not just with her, but with plenty other people before her as well. Justice against all those puny perverts who grew to power under his careful guidance. Justice for all the blatant abuse of power for personal gain and coverage.

How many of us can say the same for ourselves? How many of us stayed strong in the face of adversary, threats and in the end, literally death?

The culture of denial

Remember how I said, just a few moments ago, that I “was” keen on writing about Nusrat? I am not anymore.

Because even now, there are marches going on demanding the release of a man who’s been accused of sexual harassment multiple times (by multiple I mean countless times) throughout many years. Because there are still people everywhere, who are defending a system that’s producing generations after generations of repressed youth. Because even after this gruesome death, there are people who think she deserved it. Because she had to be burnt alive to have her allegations be taken seriously.

What exactly is wrong with us?

We are straight-up denying the rape culture that’s been nurtured within our society for as long as I can remember, or for as long as my mother can remember, or even for as long as my grandmother can remember. We think marriage is a ceremony where the father hands over his autonomy upon his daughter to another man. We believe women owe men their body whenever, however, wherever they ask for it.

So we end up getting triggered over something as basic as a t-shirt that says “don’t stand too close”– because who’s a woman to tell a man where he can or can’t stand? Isn’t a molester’s freedom to let their body parts roam far greater than the discomfort and molestation of a woman?

The blame game

Then comes the part where we are blaming “no-orna” for rape, then we are blaming not wearing hijab for rape, afterwards, we are blaming not wearing burqa, and then lastly, we are blaming Bollywood for rape.

Seems like we are blaming everyone and everything but the rapist for the rape.

This is rape culture.

When we are victimizing the criminal and criminalizing the victim, that’s rape culture.

When we are presenting reasons behind a rapist’s intention, we are stating the rapist’s action as reasonable- and that’s rape culture.

When we try to demean a man for stepping up to his peers against their sexism by calling him gay, impotent, trans. pussy, not a man– that’s rape culture.

Well, think about owning an alpha male cat. He will litter on your bed, or on your study place (wherever you spend the most time in) to prove he’s the number one of the house, not the other way around. Not because he couldn’t find any other place to litter, not because he had sudden diarrhoea- because he needed to assert dominance.

It’s the same with rape, or as we educated people like to call it “non-consensual sex”.

A toxic society

When someone has to force themselves onto someone else (usually vulnerable individuals of the society- females, or young boys), it means they’ve been denied their dominance over their prey at first. And in a patriarchal society, where dominance equals to power and strength, being denied means being weak, being defected (ladies, that’s why all the men you said no to think there must be something wrong with you or them to be rejected, not because you have free will).

Sometimes when I’m talking about this (who am I kidding, most times) I feel so tired as if I’ve been battling the Hydra for centuries, like two heads are sprouting from where I slayed one a moment ago. That’s not even completely metaphorical- you’ll know what I’m talking about if you just give the comment sections of these news a go. Or if you talk to any stranger on the road. The number of people saying “not all men” is far greater than the number of those actual men.

But then again, we think non-consensual sex and rape is different. Maybe we deserve this toxic, dying out society after all.

The cost of being a female consumer: ‘Pink Tax’

The term pink tax may sound harmless to many. But it is the root of all the discrimination existing in the system that is alone a barrier to the progress we think our society has made towards establishing equality. But what exactly is a pink tax? A generic definition would say:

“The pink tax is a phenomenon often attributed as a form of gender-based price discrimination, with the name stemming from the observation that many of the affected products are pink” – Wikipedia

For people who have little or no idea about this weird tax that weirdly connects to gender discrimination, it can be a little too much to take in.

Pink tax is basically an unfair price hike for products that are used by women.

We all know how the wage gap is still a thing worldwide and how women are perceived as the ‘less efficient’ gender. And then capitalism says hi as it always does in crisis and suggests an illogical pricing strategy for corporations to wipe off their bank accounts with products that have the same utility as men’s.

The actual scenario

There has been a lot of research on the pink tax that found that overall, women were paying more than men 42% of the time. How much more? About $1,351 more a year in extra costs. This may sound a bit weird but we have all been paying this pink tax to sanitary napkins as well. Even some years ago, sanitary napkins were considered as ‘luxury items’ and a handsome amount of tax was imposed on it. Later, word went out and the tax was said to be removed from it but companies still sell it with higher prices with no logic behind it.

Why are we paying more?

It is found from multiple research that products for women are priced higher even though it serves a very neutral purpose. From makeup to hygiene to clothes and even toys, anything pink or feminine is pricey. Companies are known to have a phrase for justifying their price on a product that goes like ‘Shrink it and pink it’ – which implies the product can have a higher price if it is pink and small. Research and development, following trends, meeting trends, advertising products on television and in magazines are not cheap. Companies are willing to spend more money advertising to women than they are toward men, contributing to the price discrepancies.

The average expenditure of a girl will always be higher than that of a man not because girls are always high maintenance, but they are charged more than they should have and there’s not much they can do about it.

Old Navy got busted for charging more for women’s plus-sized clothing but not for men’s. The plus-sized women’s jeans were $12-15 more than the standard sized ones. But there was no such difference between the prices of men’s plus and regular sized jeans.

Pink tax in Bangladesh

Till date sanitary napkin is considered a luxury cosmetic item in many parts of Bangladesh. Majority of the sanitary napkin prices range from BDT 70-145/pack. It is difficult for a girl to spend this amount of money for sanitary napkins each month especially where the average income of the family is below BDT 10,000/month. Apart from sanitary napkins, from shampoos to cosmetics to clothes, men’s shopping isn’t as expensive as women’s shopping. Even female oriented services e.g beauty parlors, salons are taxed differently than male oriented services. Recently, there have been some active discussions about this tax issue and people have demanded to demolish the ‘luxury item’ tag on sanitary napkins for start. When will it be implemented, or will it ever be? We don’t ‘pink’ so.

The real cost of Pink Tax

In general, even though women pay 13% more than men, but paying more for sanitary napkins and daily hygiene products doesn’t seem fair to many, because obviously it isn’t. For a country like Bangladesh, girls will have to resort to sanitary napkins for better hygiene and convenience but if the price remains as it is with the purpose being taxed, they may or may not consider their right to get basic hygiene as ‘luxury’. So, even if our country will be progressing nevertheless, a major portion of the contributors to our national GDP won’t be able to enjoy empowerment at a basic level.

So what could be done?

We can raise awareness among shoppers. The advice we could give women is to think outside of the aisle. In so many instances, there are equivalent products being sold for significantly less in the boys’ or men’s section. The onus should be on manufacturers to price goods fairly—but consumers should know that they have a choice: The red scooter is just as good as the pink. And if consumers find a case of gender pricing disparity, it is always possible to start a dialogue with the retailer.

Rubana Huq: breaking glass ceilings

Rubana Huq, the managing director of Mohammadi group, is the new president of Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA). She is the first female in the history of Bangladesh to attain this position. Her panel secured a sliding victory at the biennial election.

Landslide victory

Among the 35 available posts for directors, Rubana Huq’s panel, Sammilata Forum, filled all the spots.

1492 out of 1956 voters had cast their votes in this election. Voters were from both Dhaka and Chittagong. The position is a two-year long tenure, resulting in relatively high turnout.

Her agenda

Huq addressed some of the major issues that the garments industry of Bangladesh faces in her victory speech. She stated “all the time people continue saying that Bangladesh is the country of cheap labor. Cheap is not good, but competition is good. We need to change this narrative of Bangladesh.”

Moreover, she understands that several small factories face the threat of being shut down. She emphasized on the need to stand beside them during such times. She plans on tackling such problems in her tenure. The voters resonated with her powerful vision for Bangladesh.

Bangladesh’s garments sector is often under scrutiny by the Western media, especially around issues about low wage and abuse. However, Huq adds perspective and highlights inaccuracies in these negative campaigns. She aims to fix these issues and improve the image where the reality is better than it is being portrayed. She hopes to encourage better practices in pricing, introduce more innovation and policies for sustainability.

Huq, an exemplary person

Apart from being a celebrated entrepreneur, she is also a prolific writer, a poet and a philanthropist. In 2013 and 2014, she was in BBC’s list of 100 outstanding women. Her accolades include wining the SAARC literary award in 2006. She has also launched a literary magazine called Monsoon letters along other Bangladeshi writers.

Rubana Huq has actively worked towards empowering women– advocating for women’s economic independence, voicing challenges regarding female garment workers rights. She hopes to bring her perspective and provide solutions to improve women’s conditions. Over 5000 women work in factories managed by Rubana Huq; and believes that these women are slowly changing their own narrative through their work. Always humble, she acknowledges that there is still a long way to go. Most of these women are still not truly emancipated in their own lives, but the work continues.

Striding forward in a male-dominated industry

More often than not, women have lived in the shadows of men. We can see glimmers of hope in moments like these. Bangladesh’s cultural norm and practices continue to limit the capabilities of our women-especially when it comes to advancing to positions of authority. Rubana Huq has often spoken at length about the challenges in being a woman and paving her way in this industry. Often, she has felt alone and powerless in her journey, but we are very fortunate that she managed to cross the hurdles that she encountered.

Women like her are gradually changing the narrative for working women in Bangladesh.

each and every woman in Bangladesh is fighting in some way or the other to move forward. As more women are in positions of power, attitudes both at home and the workplace will shift.

She is truly an inspiration for all of us. Here’s to more women being in positions of power and striving to improve women’s lives collectively. We look forward to a day where a woman attaining a leadership position in Bangladesh won’t be the reason behind headlines everywhere, but rather it would be the norm.

How to dodge marriage proposals if you are a Bengali

Being a brown Bengali woman in your mid 20’s, you can only have one life goal – to find and marry the perfect man.  And if by any chance he happens to be a doctor, engineer or lawyer, well then you’ve hit the jackpot!

It’s a universally acknowledged truth, that a deshi girl who has surpassed the age of 20 must get married, or else the world shall perish.

It’s usually a random aunty or uncle who desperately wants to take on the role of a ‘ghotok’(match-maker) for you, if it’s not your parents stressing you out already. We often face a hard time thinking what our parents would have to face if we straight off reject these ‘biyer prostaabs’. However, it is actually possible to dodge these marriage proposals easily without bringing too much trouble. Here are some tried and tested easy ways to avoid such encounters.

Read more: 5 strategies on surviving Desi weddings.

Goth Lipsticks

Trust me on this, dark goth lipsticks scare deshi aunties. Seriously, pick any goth shade, be it dark shades of blue, grey or just pure black. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that it makes you look rough and ruins the whole facade of the “ideal, docile wife” image. Whatever it is, it seems to do the trick for you. Plus dark lipsticks are bold and gorgeous. Rock them while shock them aunties!

Use the sarcasm shield

Sarcasm is a life savior. If used correctly, it can get you out of almost anything! It can ensure you with one of the two: either they will catch onto the sarcasm and assume you’re extremely rude, or they will believe what you say and think you are absolutely insane. To be honest, both work pretty well. Seriously, just imagine their expressions when you tell them “I’m sorry, I was just busy reading this fun article on how to properly chop human bodies.” with a serious face on.

Tell them you can’t make tea

Or worse! Add salt instead of sugar in their tea and then sit back to enjoy their expressions when they sip on your evil-eye-casting-potion. If you’re a proper Bengali, you know that tea is basically life to most Bengalis; the better the tea, the higher your rank in the household. So what could be more off-putting to these uncles and aunties than a woman who can’t make cha? One who makes terrible cha! And you will no longer be a daughter in law material, sorry. Or maybe, you’re welcome?

Be bold and opinionated

This isn’t a hard task for many of us. Don’t just jump straight to an issue; you could really just randomly talk about normal things and slowly go for sensitive areas that are considered taboo; like gay rights, abortion or even legalizing marijuana! It’ll be so much fun to see an aunty in shock after you discuss sexuality openly, I mean where is my lojja shorom?!

Do something insane

Maybe chop off those locks? Okay, I’ll admit this one is pretty drastic, so maybe you can use it as a last resort. It’s actually an excellent last-minute backup plan though. One of my friends was once almost forced to get engaged to this older man. When nothing else worked, she decided to completely shave her head on the day of the engagement! Guess what? It worked!

But really you could do so many other crazy stuff that you could actually have fun doing. Maybe dye your hair a gorgeous color? *gasps* Yesss, any color! Put on a poker face and do something incredibly crazy to scare the hell out of these people, like pretend to talk to an imaginary friend. Or maybe start laughing at completely inappropriate moments like when they’re talking about a tragic incident. Seriously, get creative and you can single handedly make these prostaabs fly away before you can say ‘Kabool’.

Talk money

While the suitor’s mothers and/or aunts brag about how rich and successful he is, why not take them up on it? Get extra enthusiastic, ask about their advancement opportunities and pay. Act like you’re calculating something and then hypothetically discuss how much you would get if a divorce occurs. Create an entire financial plan right in front of them.

Fart (!)

Yes, no joke. Once you master the art of flatulence, it’ll not just help you drive away the aunties, but anyone that messes with you. It’s the ultimate human repellent!

The smile

They say a girl’s best weapon is her smile. They are right, they’ve always been. Whenever your suitor or their family is talking about something they are passionate about, smile. Nope, not the sweet encouraging one. A sympathetic, sad and patronizing smile. If he’s got any sort of common sense in him, he’ll pick up the remains of his bruised ego and never bother you again. Seriously girl, you need to smile more often now!

Read more: 5 reasons not to get married before thirty

It’s not necessarily true that marriage is the end of everything, you can still rock you life and do things you love after marriage. But then again, if you’re better off, I hope these tricks help you out. But remember that I bear no responsibility for the consequences. So proceed at your own risk, girl!

Good luck!

The battle against our obsession with fair skin

It always seemed perplexing to me that in a country of 16 million people where majority of us are of a darker complexion, we have somehow come to equate beauty with fairness. Starting from young girls and boys to older men and women, this notion has been embedded into our minds and has permeated over the centuries.

The constant slurs

Every brown woman living in Bangladesh can attest to receiving an abundance of unsolicited advice and derogatory comments from strangers to family members over their complexion throughout their lifetime. Maybe it was in the form of a backhanded compliment like “You’re pretty for a dark skinned girl”; an advice from next-door aunty to try out some skin whitening creams (fair and lovely the undisputed champion); a quick natural homemade remedy from a friend that promised to instantly brighten your skin; a warning from your mother to stay indoors and avoid the sun, and the list goes on.

Seriously, just stop.


Artwork by Nafisa Afsara Chowdhury

The other side isn’t pretty either

Growing up, I personally didn’t hear such remarks myself because I got “lucky” by being born with a lighter complexion in a society that’s obsessed with fairness. But I did experience something else which was equally problematic. People have said things like “ki shundor forsha gayer rong” and “tomake toh foreigner lage” to me, as if those were meant to be compliments. I’m sorry but no, you have got it all wrong. I do not aspire to look like a foreigner, I do not think my lighter skin is somehow a personal victory, and neither do I think that this should be an acceptable form of flattery for any right-minded person.

The ridiculous ads

It shocks me that it is still acceptable to promote fairness products in the 21st century and reiterate the idea that a fairer skin is more desirable than the rest. These ridiculous ads will try to have you believe that if you become a couple of shades lighter, you will finally get that job you want, your family and boyfriend will love you more, all your problems will miraculously go away and you’ll live happily ever after. (Don’t we all wish it were that simple?)

Why are we so obsessed with being “fair and lovely”?

Original concept and Photo by Zainab Anwar. Artwork by Triory.

This unhealthy obsession that we have with fairness is a lot more complex than we often realize. Some may argue that this stems from the remnants of our colonial legacy in South Asia and plays out in the form of internalized colonialism, while others say that this fixation dates even further back in history, dealing with issues of class hierarchy.

It also goes without saying that our deep-rooted patriarchy that constantly objectifies women only helps to perpetuate this enslavement even further.

We also cannot deny that the mass media today contributes towards keeping such insidious ideas alive by feeding us Western beauty standards since eternity.

The damaging impact

Most of us girls grapple with loving ourselves because we were conditioned to believe in these unrealistic beauty standards that were always far from our reach. So many girls like me, around me, were constantly trying to attain this standard of beauty, all the while, rejecting their own brown skin. Leaving them dejected and bathing in self-loathe. Can we really blame them though? We live in a society that constantly tells us that our skin color is “nongra” or “moila”, so trying to feel content in our own skin was never even an option to begin with.

Here are some Bangladeshi women sharing their bitter experience of growing up with brown skin in Bangladesh:

X, a 29-year-old woman from Dhaka-

“I remember when I was a teenager, I’d try all kinds of things on my face hoping to lighten it because I was always made to feel like it wasn’t good enough. Looking back, thinking about all the harmful things that I tried in order to gain validation from this society truly scares me. What makes me even more upset is that I still find myself fighting this battle within me sometimes. Suppose, when I’m wearing a very bright colored outfit, I’ll think to myself  “Is this making me look too dark?” But it’s only now, in my late 20s that I’m turning the conversation around and asking myself, “What’s wrong with looking too dark? Absolutely nothing”. So, thankfully, after years of struggle, I’m in a much more healthy relationship with my own skin now”

Anika, a 23-year-old student from North South University-

“I’ve been fighting this brown skin prejudice since my childhood. I remember when I was in school; I didn’t get accepted as the lead role of a drama because of my “dark skin”. My visits to the parlor were always accompanied with suggestions of bleaching my skin to become “fairer”. It’s not just the people who we love dearly that perpetuate such ideals but it is also embedded within our social institutions. It’s everywhere. And it takes unimaginable strength to unlearn years of such toxic internalization and begin to treat yourself right ”

Dare to love yourself

In a world that constantly reminds us women that the color of our complexion fails to meet some false notion of beauty, just loving yourself and being proud of your skin becomes a revolutionary act for us girls. It means to dismantle these narratives that we’ve been forcefully fed for so long. It means to reclaim our brown skin in all its glory.

So, go on, tell those aunties off, bask in the sun, wear that bright colored outfit you were asked not to wear, put on that red lipstick and own it!

LAL: Challenging the stigma behind menstruation

This past week, artists, poets, dancers and musicians from different walks of life had come together at Jatra Biroti, under the glistening full moon, for the occasion of LAL; the celebration of the natural phenomenon of menstruation.

What is LAL?

Jatra Biroti, a locus of art and culture in Dhaka, had organized a five-day long event, aligned with the dates of the full moon, to celebrate menstruation and its connection with the divine moon cycle. This event aimed to break the stigma that is often associated with period. It aimed to educate people of all ages and genders about menstruation. And create a space where people could come together to talk freely about “that time of the month”.

LAL: Challenging the stigma behind menstruation

It was an event unlike any other; from children to senior citizens, openly discussing and even rejoicing about period positivity.

In a society like Bangladesh, where we shut down any conversation regarding this ordinary bodily function of women, it is necessary that we take measures to normalize such topics. And Lal acts as a groundbreaking event which is opening new spaces of conversation and subverting the age-old stigmas related to menstruation.

Breaking stigma through art

LAL has used the powerful tool of art in various forms; such as poetry, artworks, music, dance and more. In the process, dismantling the preconceived notions that people often hold about menstruation.

LAL: Challenging the stigma behind menstruation 7

Art can be a compelling vehicle that can bring about change in how we perceive things; it can help us to identify ourselves with matters that may otherwise seem unfamiliar to us. It can spur thinking, engagement and even action and that is what this event dedicated to menstruation aspired to achieve.

The exhibition

The exhibition, located on the third floor of Jatra Biroti, opens with a massive vagina tunnel entry (it doesn’t get more unconventional than that). It then leads the pathway to numerous artworks representing menstruation. Weeks before the event, Jatra Biroti had announced an open call to artists and enthusiasts for submissions of artworks. The call received an overwhelming response from several artists who wanted to contribute to this initiative. Each artist had brought in their own unique perspectives and representations through their fearless artworks.

LAL: Challenging the stigma behind menstruation 1

One of the artists that I conversed with said, “I tried to bring in humor to my work so people can become comfortable talking about menstruation. It doesn’t have to be this sacred thing, because I’m literally bleeding from down there every month”. Another said, “I feel like I’m gaining autonomy over my own body as I draw about menstruation”.

Being a participant myself, it was truly rewarding to witness how art can disrupt people’s predetermined ideas about matters like the menstrual stigma.

Dance, Music, Poetry

This five-day long celebration was also filled with various performances and music sessions by several other artists. Some of the major highlights of LAL were the moving poetry recitations by Munia Islam and Bokulful, the powerful performances by Arthy, Krishnokoli, Preema Nazia and the soulful musical evenings by Shourik SK and UNY, Sovotta, Vee, Anusheh Anadil, Baul Shofi Mondol and the Ghaashforing Choir to name a few.

Workshops

Some interactive workshop sessions were also held by organizations like Astha Foundation, Kotha, Project Konna, Naripokkho. All of them were aimed at normalizing the topic of menstruation in their own distinctive ways. Each session took a different and creative approach in order to explore the topic of period with their audience. For instance, Astha Foundation took on a more humorous approach where they debunked period myths, created awareness about menstrual hygiene and PMS with a touch of sarcasm.

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Project Konna aimed to create a more intimate experience between couples so they can be comfortable about the topic of period.

Kotha held a class conscious interactive workshop on menstruation. With the help of participants, they built 3 characters and walked through their unique menstruating experiences to highlight how accessibility differs vastly as we move across different classes.

Recyclable sanitary products

While the event set out to challenge the stigma around menstruation, it had also taken the initiative to raise awareness of plastic in disposable menstrual products, and how we can work to minimize this by using biodegradable and reusable sanitary products in order to protect our environment. Several hundred pads are disposed on a daily basis, just inside Dhaka, which pollute our environment inconceivably. Under the name Lal Peyala, Jatra is selling reusable pads which are available in a variety of designs. They are also selling menstrual cups in order to create a more sustainable way of managing our periods.

An event like LAL is momentous. Because, even though it may not solve the problems regarding menstruation in Bangladesh overnight, it can help to change the conversation around it by ending the shame that we associate with it.

A vital step for us to make any substantial progress.


This bloody menstruation taboo has loomed over us for far too long, so lets all just come out in the open and say it, all women bleed. Period.

Finding feminism in the pages of literature

For as long as I can remember, I have been an intense reader. Throughout middle school and high school, my best friend and I bonded over “book-hunting” in the school library, and over the years we fought minotaurs with Percy Jackson, went on undercover spy missions at Cherub, fawned over Artemis Fowl’s criminal mastermind, hated Katniss Everdeen with a passion, and, of course, devoured page after page of Bella’s description of Edward Cullen’s perfect 45 degree angled nose (don’t pretend you didn’t have a Twilight phase).

In early 2017, I was reading a particularly popular novel by a particularly popular (male) author and I was reading through a paragraph (which was completely irrelevant to the rest of the plot of the book) in which the male protagonist lustfully described the only female character in the book, who just happened to be incredibly sexually appealing in all her intelligence and physique (but very careful as to not be too intelligent or too attractive so as to threaten our protagonist, of course).

As I suffered through the unnecessary account of how well she pulled off a white tank top and jean shorts, it dawned upon me that in my almost 20 years of life, I had not read nearly enough novels by female authors. It was at this point that I, utterly disgusted by the one-dimensionality of every female character I could recall in almost every novel I had read (however much I loved them), decided that 2017 would be the year that I would consciously choose to read more books by women.

Now before you go on calling me a feminazi and whatnot, I am not claiming that every book ever written by a man is inherently sexist or that men, by some default, cannot create complex female characters. I am only saying that there is an entire realm of emotions and experiences about being a woman that male writers have never experienced and therefore their writing does not reflect it.

Consciously reading books by female authors exposed me to a whole new representation of my identity as a woman. There are tiny bits and pieces of the life that only women know sprinkled into the details of each story that I had never before found in literature.

It was in Esther’s frustration with everyone around her waiting for her to turn her mind around about not wanting marriage and kids, in Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’. It was in Scout from ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’s constant battle with her neighbours’ expectations of her to wear more dresses and stay in more as she grew older. It was in Francie’s observation of how women around her shamed other women for their sexuality in ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’ – the cold hard reality of how women themselves pose obstacles to other women in a patriarchal society. In Alice Walker’s ‘The Color Purple’, it was the simple remark on how a lot of men talk to women – ‘mansplaining’ – which is sadly still relevant to a lot of our experiences today – “…they listen just long enough to issue instructions. They don’t even look at women when women are speaking.”

The unceasing struggle that I as a woman face against the patriarchal and conventional roles set for me has been experienced not only by women that I personally know but also by women before me – in 1930s Brooklyn, in 1800s England, in pre-Civil War Georgia – this discovery was both painful and wonderful to experience. As if the tiny secrets of survival that I have had to bear my entire life, that I never thought had space in literature, were being spilled out to women from all over the world and all timelines – getting together in solidarity and whispering, confessing, consoling, ‘Me too’. Yes – remember that hashtag? You’ll find traces of it in Austen and Bronte and Woolf and Eliot – forget not that some of these authors had to adopt male pseudonyms to have their work taken seriously, and some, such as George Eliot, are still known by their male pseudonym.

Long before they had the right to vote, these female characters defied sexist social standards in every way, most of all by thinking for themselves and being complex, intelligent, independent characters. In a world where women are still struggling to be heard and validated as full persons – through #metoo and #talkaboutit – I think that being a complex and independent person is the epitome of empowerment, and it is incredibly inspiring to see such empowered women splattered across the world throughout history, as if in some undisclosed unanimity.

If you are female, reading more books by women will connect you to the unmentioned little struggles of women who lived lives so vastly different from you. If you are not female, reading them (which I hope you do with the utmost respect to their experiences as women) will give you some very interesting and crucial understanding of the lives of all the women around you. For the #metoo era, to gain a full understanding and therefore validation of women’s experiences, the effort to consciously read more books by women is one that will move us forward. We must trace back to how the same patriarchal system has been poisoning our lives to as long as women have broken silence through the defiant act of writing.

Through Her Eyes: Celebrating and inspiring women filmmakers in Bangladesh

Women have been making films from the beginning of film production history but when it comes to nam a few, we realize how strikingly less number of women are prominent in the field than men filmmakers around the world. In Bangladesh, we currently see a number of women filmmakers actively creating and working in all genres of filmmaking; women like Samia Zaman, Meher Afroz Shaon and  Shuchanda only to name a few. These women set an example for female film enthusiasts around the world given how it still remains a challenge for a woman to be a film director and continue to create in this line of work. ‘Through Her Eyes’ is an attempt to inspire women in this field and celebrate those who carved out that opportunity for themselves despite the challenges.

What is Through Her Eyes?

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In cooperation with the International Film Initiative of Bangladesh (IFIB), Goethe-Institut Bangladesh, launched a new film screening and discussion series “Through Her Eyes – A space to watch and discuss films with women filmmakers of Bangladesh” on Sunday, 20th January, 2019 at 5 PM.

It is a series of screening sessions of movies directed by prominent Bangladeshi women filmmakers, followed by discussion sessions with them, the entry being free for all.

They will be screening a movie on every third Sunday of each month at the Goethe-Institut auditorium at 5 pm for everyone to join and celebrate & inspire women in the film industry. It is undoubtedly an amazing opportunity for both male and female film enthusiasts, students, academics, professionals and people from all walks of life to come together to watch award-winning films by women filmmakers currently working in Bangladesh and to interact with them directly at the end of the screening.

What happened on the first day?

As part of the initiative, the first day included a screening of the film “Under Construction” directed by Rubaiyat Hossain that was followed by a highly interactive Q&A session held at Goethe-Institut Bangladesh auditorium. The film is a realistic representation of the life of a modern Muslim woman struggling to find herself in the sprawl of male-dominated urban Bangladesh.

Film synopsis:

Still from the film Under Construction

In the constantly changing dynamic city of Dhaka, Roya, an actress in her early thirties, has to face her first challenge. She has been playing the same part repeatedly for years now, working for a stage director who now thinks she’s getting too old in spite of her young age. She enters a deep introspection about her life, her desires, her art and her place in the patriarchal society. Rubaiyat Hossain’s film Under Construction provides the portrait of a woman, whose life is still under construction.

The guests were clearly impressed by the emphasis on the details in the film and the story itself. One of the guests, Nadira who aspires to be a filmmaker told us she was overwhelmed to see a woman just like her creating something so brilliant. “The film was so impressively time-frame focused and realistic; the details were so carefully worked on. It was amazing!” she told us.

Why you should definitely go:

“The film inspired me to keep moving, no matter where life takes us. What really matters the most is if you’re still doing what you love”

Said Sadia who also told us that every moment of the event was worth it to her.

Besides the chance for us to come together and watch amazing creations of these inspiring women, the monthly programme will also be a space for young filmmakers, academics, film enthusiasts to engage in discussions, to learn about opportunities and career paths to critically interrogate societal relations. Moreover, the event promotes networking and will help us find out about the industry and important aspects for rising filmmakers like what kind of challenges should young filmmakers be ready for and what role can others play in this. What’s better? It’s free! So if you want to spend a Sunday evening watching something worthwhile, this is it!

Find out more about the event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/2099870576979355/

Keep an eye on the page of Goethe-Institut Bangladesh for the upcoming screening next month. Here’s the link to the page: https://www.facebook.com/goetheinstitut.bangladesh/ 

About the director of Under Construction:

Rubaiyat Hossain, one of Bangladesh’s handful of female filmmakers is known for her critically acclaimed debut feature film Meherjaan (2011) which due to its anti-war narrative, and critic of masculine nationalism from a feminine point of view, faced political and cultural outrage in Bangladesh. It was stripped down fromtheatres across the country only a week after its release and is still prohibited from being screened. While Under Construction (2015) is her second film that has won several national and international awards, she just finished the shoot for her upcoming film Made In Bangladesh.

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Having completed her B.A. in Women Studies from Smith College, USA and M.A. in South Asian Studies from the University of Pennsylvania, she is currently attending the Tisch School of Arts at New York University in Cinema Studies while living between Dhaka and New York making films. Besides being a filmmaker, she is an interdisciplinary research scholar and has worked for prominent women’s rights NGOs in Bangladesh like Ain O Shalish Kendra, Naripokkho and The Asia Foundation. Moreover, she was the assistant coordinator for the first international workshop of Sexuality and Rights organized by BRAC School of Public Health in 2007 and has also worked as a part-time lecturer in the Department of Economics and Social Sciences at BRAC University, Dhaka, Bangladesh.