A Social Rising

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Trimita Chakma, Tasaffy Hossain, and Tahmina Shafique

February 14, 2013 was a different day in Bangladesh. People from all walks of life took to the streets across the country. Women, men and children, countless adorned in red, joyously singing and shouting and demanding an end to a culture. A culture that has been “normal”, “private” and more importantly, “silent”. A society, which otherwise reflects significant lack of prioritisation on violence against women issues, came together to show their support. Almost 3 million men and women, through more than 335 organisations, occupied the streets in more than 40 locations in Dhaka and across all the 64 districts in Bangladesh, demanding an end to violence against women with joy, empowerment and exuberance. There were human rights activists, factory workers, union workers, lawyers, bankers, parliamentarians, tea garden workers, UN employees, school children, university students, farmers, teachers, domestic workers, adivasis, artists, writers, local government personnel, homosexuals, heterosexuals and hijras (transsexuals), young and old, survivors and allies.

“Silence — NO MORE”, they chanted, hoisting red banners, their red clothes signifying the colour of fire, of rising and more importantly, of power. ‘NO MORE violence against women,’ they sang in unison as they took to the streets. These were people who stepped out of small shops, factories, construction sites, stations, schools, universities, offices, homes, corporate houses, banks all across the country.

Human chains were formed in Lalmonirhaat, Faridpur, Magura, Barisal, Khulna, Rajshahi, Kushtia, Gaibandha, Chittagong Hill Tracts, and all other districts across Bangladesh. “It made me feel significant, like I am not alone,” said a woman from the crowd.

Six months earlier, a bunch of women came together in a meeting with Kamla Bhasin, a renowned South Asian feminist, who came to Bangladesh to strengthen the collective movement in South Asia and join a global campaign. These women have been advocating for women’s rights and play a significant role in the feminist movement in Bangladesh. Thus began the path to making Uddomey Uttoroney Shotokoti aka One Billion Rising (OBR) Bangladesh happen.

From small meetings, to very few organisations as partners, the coalition expanded, bringing numerous diverse organisations and individuals to stand under the same umbrella, to strike at the core of violence and RISE against violence against women.

In Bangladesh, violence against women has, historically, been a focal point of the feminist movement. Yet, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Bangladesh ranks fourth among the world’s nations with respect to violence against women. Almost every day, numerous women in Bangladesh are subjected to different forms of violence including rape, murder, acid attack, trafficking, domestic abuse, forced marriage, tortures related to dowry, and abduction. Since 2001, there have been 184,422 reported cases of violence according to the police headquarters. In 2012 alone, there were 19,617 reported incidences of violence against women in Bangladesh and this is just the reported number.

It was within this context that the rising in Bangladesh was imperative to bring this issue to the forefront. The campaign gave the women’s movement in Bangladesh a different dimension for reaching out to the general public, particularly the youth. Social networking, too, has helped this reach. The OBR Bangladesh page on Facebook currently has 11,151 men and women following, of whom 42% are men and 60% are below the age of 34.

The One Billion Rising campaign mobilised men and women all around the world in a joyous manner, bringing together coalitions of groups and individuals from different nationalities, ethnicities, cultures and religions that have never worked together before.

The OBR campaign began as a call to action by V-Day based on the staggering UN statistic that 1 in 3 women on the planet will be beaten or raped during her lifetime. With the world population at 7 billion, this adds up to more than one billion women and girls. It was a call for people across the world to come together to express their outrage, strike, dance and rise on 14 February 2013, V-Day’s 15th anniversary, in defiance of the injustices women suffer, demanding an end at last to violence against women.

V-Day is a global activist movement to end violence against women (VAW) and girls. V-Day is a catalyst that promotes creative events to increase awareness, raise money and revitalise the spirit of existing anti-violence organisations. V-Day generates broader attention for the fight to stop violence against women and girls, including rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation (FGM) and sex slavery. In 2012, over 5,800 V-Day benefit events took place produced by volunteer activists around the world, raising awareness about the different forms of violence against women and girls prevalent across the different societies and nations.

The Vagina Monologues, one of V-Day’s events, was brought to Bangladesh in 2010 by a group of women who felt that a platform needed to be created for both men and women to start off dialogues about women’s sexuality and the social stigma surrounding rape and abuse.

When we started The Vagina Monologues it was already being performed in more than 140 countries. We piloted this platform under the name of V-Day Dhaka in 2010. The audience was largely people who had considerable exposure to western culture but most of them were not familiar with the controversial play. The reaction was overwhelmingly positive — especially, from older women who really appreciated the openness. The response from men was also very encouraging and some of them have been our strong supporters. Over the last three years, we have reached at least 1,500 audience members in Dhaka and raised over 10 lakh taka, which went to grassroots organisations working for women’s rights.

Critics pointed out that the play focuses on the urban (mainly Dhaka) population whereas VAW is more relevant among the grassroots. Another criticism was that the issues represented in the play were not relevant to Bangladesh and alien to our culture. In reality, most issues that women face regarding their bodies, sexuality, abuse and violence are global.

VAW, even though extremely prevalent in grassroots, also exists in the urban population significantly. In fact, cases suggest, the norm of silence and issue of preserving the idea of ‘honour’ exists in urban population.

Many women have said that they could relate to the monologues such as “Hair”, “The Flood”, “My Short Skirt”, “Because he liked to look at it”, “Say it” in ways and levels that show that these issues surpass cultural and social boundaries.”My Short Skirt” particularly was very popular with the female university students who often felt judged because of what they chose to wear. Many women connected to these monologues that depicted stories of reclaiming women’s bodies, sexual pleasure, rape, sexual harassment and more.

“In a strange way, this really helped me reconcile with my story,” said a woman. She was a survivor of rape, and listening to the monologue about another survivor made her find a certain strength in herself she had not been aware of before.

“You hear about rape every day, so much that you forget to think about it in a personal manner. The monologues brought back the human, the personalized face of rape,” another woman wrote.

It really made me love my body the way it is and love myself even more.

That monologue was a tight slap on the repressive patriarchal psyche across the world.

We also learnt that last year the provost of one of the women’s universities in Bangladesh banned the performance of The Vagina Monologues on campus because of the word ‘vagina’. The students organised a protest against this ban where more than 500 people including men participated; they chanted the name of the play. This year in March they will be performing it and raising money to donate to a One Stop Crisis Center.

With each year we performed, first in closed spaces, then at more and more public events, many more women and men came out. Complete strangers. People whose stories we had never known. We have had many young women and men open up to us about issues they have faced in their own lives — eve teasing; to be asked to be ‘the man’ after her father’s death; how men can help their close female friends deal with their abusive boyfriends; concerns about young men learning aggressive ways of sex from pornography. They all wanted to speak, to know, to make changes — and events organised by V-Day Dhaka and OBR, in some way provided that space to open up without inhibition.

As we move to another year, the vision of V-Day Dhaka expands beyond the play — to provide a platform to start off discussions about gender and sexuality among men and women, to give voice to issues that are rarely discussed in society — confronting themes such as rape, birth, menstruation and sexual awakening. During Eve Ensler’s visit in January 2013, V-Day Dhaka performed monologues based on real stories of violence and abuse faced by Bangladeshi women. We wish to have these performed in Bangla catering to the larger Bangla speaking community in the future. We hope to focus specifically on the youth, who will be the advocates for the next generation, in creating a more educated society. We envision the Bangladeshi students performing the play at universities, creating a space for the youth to come together and add to the lack of education regarding these issues.

When we started V-Day Dhaka in 2010, we did not anticipate that we would be involved in a global campaign. The initiators of OBR Bangladesh included many of the veteran activists of the grassroots Bangladesh Women’s movement who were core in making this campaign a success. This platform brought together young feminists like ourselves to work closely with these extraordinary, energetic and powerful women, from whom we have much to learn.

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The OBR campaign demands a universal platform for autonomous   feminist movements through which we hope to originate changes in policy and reshape the normative and social understanding of violence against women, both nationally and internationally.

By being a part of One Billion Rising, alongside 202 other countries, we discovered solidarity and a potential for immense possibilities. In one day, three million men and women in Bangladesh were out on the streets, questioning a society — a society where patriarchy holds a solid ground; a society where violence against women is common practice denying them equal opportunity, security, self-esteem and dignity within the family and in the society as a whole. Uddomey Uttoroney Shotokoti perhaps is the beginning of a new consciousness for Bangladesh. Because when you penetrate into a people’s consciousness, society begins to shift.

Trimita Chakma works at Coffey International Development as Alumni/MIS Manager. She is also a campaigner for the rights of indigenous peoples both in Bangladesh and internationally. She is currently working on research on access to justice for indigenous women of CHT for Asia Pacific Forum on Women Law and Development (APWLD).
Tasaffy Hossain works in the development sector. She was pioneer for bringing VDAY’s controversial play “The Vagina Monologues” in Bangladesh for the first time in 2010.
Tahmina Shafique works in the development sector. She has been engaged in various women’s rights initiatives. Earlier, Tahmina worked as a researcher and writer in the areas of women’s right, indigenous people, and economic development for media and research organisations.

This article was originally published in the Daily Star http://archive.thedailystar.net/forum/2013/March/rising.htm

OBR lights candles in solidarity with Projonmo Chottor

DSC_0048একাত্তরের নারী ধর্ষণ ভুলিনি ভুলবনা!
এখনও যা হচ্ছে সহ্য করবনা!

Candles have been distributed among the audience here at the open Shilpakala Academy arena. We will be lighting candles in solidarity with the uprising at Shahbag’s Projonmo Chottor. Khushi Kobirsaid on stagr “We have not forgotten the rapes of 71. We have cannot and will not forget. We cannot forget the rapes and violence till date. In solidarity with the nation, and Shahbagh, we will be lighting candles at 7pm”

One Billion Rising Bangladesh joins the WORLD

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Uddomey Uttoroney Shotokoti (One Billion Rising), an alliance of rights groups, government and private sector institutions, cultural groups, students and activists, mobilised millions of women and men across the country to rise up, walk out and demand an end to violence against women on Thursday (Feb 14) to mark the global ‘One Billion Rising’ campaign being observed. This was along side 200 other countries who gathered to demand an end to violence against women.

With extraordinary solidarity, women and men, from all walks of life, formed human chains from 1 pm in over 42 locations all over Dhaka city, as well as in all 66 districts of the country. The longest stretch of the human chain was formed from Mirpur to Asad gate moving up to the Parliament building, where Parliamentarians and MPs joined together in solidarity against violence against women. In a historical stance across the country, offices, factories, schools, universities, TV stations, media, agencies, everywhere, people stepped out and stood in solidarity at 1 pm.

With over 384 supporting organizations, millions of workers from different sectors, and people from diverse occupations were mobilized.

To express their stand and demand an end to violence against women, some of the slogans chanted included ‘No more silence’, ‘we demand a rape free society’, ‘we have not forgotten the rapes of 71 and we will not tolerate violence today, ‘May every place be safe for women’.

In red attires, and hoisting red clothes, women and men joined across the country in numbers larger than ever before, for a cause that has been long overdue. The men and women across Bangladesh not only showed their solidarity but also brought home the fact that women’s rights issue is not secondary, personal or isolated. It is a national issue and the time for the society to act has come.

In addition to the nationwide programme, from 3pm, a cultural festival titled ‘Protibaad Kori, Protirodh gori’(OBR Bangladesh) is starting at Shilpakala Academy. The festival will play a tribute to women across Bangladesh and using various forms of artworks, dances, skits, recitations, muImageImagesic, and screenings.

Powerful visuals and art works were displayed to depict the message of breaking the silence, the shackles and challenges faced by Bangladesh women. Each image, each display and portrayal of performances also gave the message that the time is NOW. To stand up, to strike the core of violence and RISE against patriarchy and every force that limits women and their freedom.

The powerful event will followed by a concert, titled ‘No More- Aar Na!’.  Artistes at the concert include Arnob, Pantha kanai, Nemesis, Stone Free, Chirkut, Warda Ashraf, Krishnokoli and many others.

The objective of this widespread protest across Bangladesh is to break the silence and inaction about violence against women. The reason for choosing Valentine’s Day is because there is a need to bring about a change in the commercialised nature of the day and establish it to be about loving and respecting women.

The women’s rights movement in Bangladesh has been moving ahead with numerous recent achievements and this movement aims to further strengthen the actions so that more survivors and their families speak up and that they are not denied justice.

February 14 is not an end, but rather a starting point and a step forward for future discussions and action on violence against women. OBR member organisations will use this platform to consolidate and coordinate their efforts where possible and challenge discriminatory practices and laws through awareness-raising activities, training, outreach, advocacy etc.

We are RISING!

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Narir Proti Shohingshota Aar Na – Protibaad kori, Protirodh Gori

No More Violence against Women – Let’s Protest, Let’s Resist

 Uddomey Uttoroney Shotokoti (One Billion Rising), an alliance of rights groups, government and private sector institutions, cultural groups, students and activists, is set to mobilise women and men across the country to rise up, walk out and demand an end to violence against women on Thursday (Feb 14) to mark the global ‘One Billion Rising’ campaign being observed.

In Bangladesh, women and men will rise from 1 pm to 1.30 pm in various locations all over Dhaka city as well as in all 66 districts of the country. Instead of one centralised location, the demonstrations will take place in over 39 points in Dhaka and all other districts, including many upazilas and unions across Bangladesh. We call upon people from all walks of life to form similar human-chains and join the awareness programme taking place in the locality and express solidarity. We encourage all to wear red and hoist a red cloth in front of each house, office, factory and other establishments.

In addition to the nationwide programme, a cultural festival titled ‘Uddomey Uttoroney Shotokoti’(OBR Bangladesh) will be held at Shilpakala Academy from 3pm-10pm on the day with space for anyone who pledges to Resist and Protest violence against women to join the movement and RISE with us. The event will start with performances from school children and university youths and also art and photography exhibitions. There will be performances by Nagorik and Shadhona. The evening will also have a concert “No More – Aar Na” with renowned artists like Panthokanai, Chirkut, Palki, Warda Ashraf, Stone Freee, Krishnakoli, Nemesis and many others.

One Billion Rising is a global movement to end violence against women. As many as 200 countries and territories have pledged to rise in solidarity with the global movement. In Bangladesh, the campaign, called ‘Uddomey Uttoroney Shotokoti’, has been carried out in collaboration with different stakeholders.

In the lead up to 14 February, OBR Bangladesh has been implementing a series of activities to create awareness about violence against women and the conditions that not only allow but make inevitable such violations of women to continue unabated. We have over 334 organizations who are actively participating in and supporting the OBR movement.

The objective of this widespread protest across Bangladesh is to break the silence and inaction about violence against women. The reason for choosing Valentine’s Day is because there is a need to bring about a change in the commercialised nature of the day and establish it to be about loving and respecting women. ‘We want everyone to vow on this day that they won’t just give flowers to the women in their lives, but also ensure that they are never subjected to violence,” said Nijera Kori Coordinator Khushi Kabir, explaining the reasons for choosing February 14 as the day of RISING.

 

In the name of Honour

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Tahmina Shafique

Our lives, as women, in Bangladesh, are founded on a twisted interpretation of “Honour”. This concept is based not on honesty, integrity and fairness, but rather on some perceived “worthiness” and “respectability”. In this light, the Bangladeshi family is viewed as a unit of honour, and the family affects a woman’s identity and social standing; simultaneously, there exists a mutual feedback loop wherein a woman’s conduct, and how it is perceived by others and the society at large, has an impact on the family.

Therefore, it becomes important for us to fulfil the expectations held by family and society in order to be accepted and to experience feelings of belonging to this central institution that we are tied to through birth or marriage.

Unfortunately, the reality of maintaining this honour in our lives is often at odds with our own individual freedom, choice, will or achievement. Our lives are not based on “freedom”, on “liberty” or on the ability to live within a free spirited space. Yet, as a nation, as a society, collectively, we pride ourselves on values such as freedom and democracy.

There is a great deal of research on-going on women across the world, and specifically in South Asia. Increasingly, there are cold hard statistics that clearly indicate escalating levels of violence against women. Missing in these numbers are numerous unreported nightmares faced by women in trying to reconcile with their place in society. No amount of progress in terms of education, class, and development has resulted in the evolution of our society.

obrbd-logoEvery move, every decision that a woman takes must ensure that this honour is restored. So, when a girl is raped or sexually abused by family members, it becomes a secret that must be kept forever, because it will hurt the “honour” or the social standing of the family. Honour, then, is far more important than any damage created within the daughters of families. So, the daughters of these numerous honourable families go through abuse thrice in their lifetime- first, when the actual event occurs; second, in the aftermath of dealing with trauma for a lifetime, and third, dealing with the silence and ignorance of her family.

Even outside of the family boundaries, if a woman is sexually harassed, abused or raped, it is still her duty to keep the honour of her family intact. If she does stand up and fight it, which entails breaking away from silence and talking about it, will invariably hurt the honour of the family, of the acquaintances, of the greater society. Starting from families and the greater society, everyone will continue to use their combined forces to “justify” rape or any form sexual assault- “she was not honourable enough”, she was not dressed appropriately”, “It must have been her fault” and more.

The streets tell women that sexual harassment is all right and honour has a different meaning than we think. Being grabbed, being pinched, being verbally abused is normal. ‘A little bit of sexual abuse is all right and it is common’, that’s what they will tell you. Silence is the “key”. Who would appreciate a woman standing up in the street and creating a chaos? This is definitely not respectful or honourable in the eyes of our society.

Even in a marriage, it must be the woman who must keep that honour intact. Once you sign up, no amount of violence or emotional abuse is justified enough for a decision for walking away. It is the woman’s duty to maintain the honour of her family and her in-laws. Being pushed or thrown by your husband, in the middle of a fight, is simply a moment of anger and nothing more. It in no way indicates violent tendencies. Leaving is often not the first choice a woman is able to take, because walking out leads to series of battles with their own families and the entire society.

Honour even extends to our achievements as women. How can you, as a woman, achieve so much in your work place or in your career? How can an honourable woman put her career first? There must have been something wrong. It is not about intelligence or efficiency or anything more.

It does not end. Honour extends to how we, as women carry ourselves. From what we wear, to what we do, to whom we mingle with, and what we say, is constantly under scrutiny. If you are a daughter of an honourable family, if you are the wife of an honourable husband, if you are a mother, you must maintain the norms that this society has created for you and live up to the expectations that the society has carefully designed for you.

It never ends, really. Not from birth; not even till our very last breath.

Many men, and unfortunately women themselves, too, believe that the well-being of the entire society lies on the shoulders of a woman and, more importantly, in her ability to suffer every wrong, in utter and submissive silence. This means that, while there will be many legal and technical arguments, the actual arena in which all cases of violence against women may be won or lost are the hearts and minds of the ordinary men and women of our society. Because it is really not the law alone that has failed to prevent violence against women; it is the collective, colossal force of prejudice, chauvinism and insensitivity of this very society that has brought us where we are. Unless we change this mindset, unless we change the fundamentals through which we shape a woman’s place in this society, we will continue the twisted legacy of imposing our perverse sense of honour on our daughters, and on women for decades to come.

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Tahmina Shafique works in an international development agency in Bangladesh. She is a part of VDAY Dhaka and a member of the core organizing group of One Billion Rising Campaign Bangladesh.

published: http://opinion.bdnews24.com/2013/01/15/in-the-name-of-honour/

Voices of South Asian Women… Join us! The time is now!

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South Asian Women’s Day celebrates the voices of South Asian women, their rights and belief in peace, justice, human rights and democracy. Following the declaration of this day by Sangat – A South Asian Feminist Network – in October 2002, every year, several organisations have come together as part of the International Fortnight Campaign against violence against women to express South Asian women’s solidarity for peace, justice, human rights and democracy.

 The region of South Asia is bound by a common thread of history, language, arts and culture. Its concerns are similar too—rising levels of poverty, widening income gaps, greater emphasis on weapons and military, increasing intolerance towards minorities, civil unrest, human rights’ violations, and most of all, increasing violence against women. South Asia is one of the most violent regions for women.Our effort is to create consciousness as South Asians for concerns in our region, to forge friendships across borders and support each other in creating a more peaceful South Asia.

This year with the ongoing ONE BILLION RISING CAMPAIGN we would like to invite you to symbolically connect all the on going activities in the different regions on the 30th of November as a mark of solidarity and strength to root out violence in our regions.

 The Program will be held at ‘Bokultola’, Faculty of Fine Arts (Charukola Onushed), Dhaka University. Time: 3.30pm.

This will be followed by a walk for reclaiming the night, with the slogan “‘raater bera bhhangbo, shadhhin bhhabey cholbo”

It is important as South Asians to come together, to express our solidarity and raise our voices against injustice and for peace, justice, human rights and democracy.

Every year, men and women of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma India, Pakistan, Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Tibet gather to speak in one firm voice about the need to reinforce democracy, peace, human rights and dialogue in the region. This year let us all rise together in solidarity for a safer world for women and girls.

We mark this day every year to raise the voices of South Asian women. to express solidarity and demand for a violence free world.

 
 ImageOn Behalf of Sangat

Peace is possible. If we Think it. Plan it. Do it.