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

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This is the TIME!

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It is a different day today in Bangladesh. There is a different air, a different aura, like never before. People from all walks of life, locations, across the country have taken to the street. Women, men, children, every one are walking on the streets demanding an end to a culture. A culture that has been “normal”, “private”, “silent”. A society which treated violence against women as a “normal’ issue has shown their support today as they occupied the streets in Dhaka and across all districts in Bangladesh.

“Silence- NO MORE”, chanted women and men. ‘NO MORE violence against women, they sang in unison as they took the streets today at 1 pm. These were people who stepped out of small shops, factories, construction sites, stations, offices, households, everywhere from across Bangladesh.

Human chains were formed in Lalmonihaat, Faridpur, Magura, Barisal, Khulna, Chittagong Hill Tracts, and all other districts across Bangladesh!

In Dhaka, following human chains, we have moved to Shilpakala academy field now. Here we have organized a festival to play a tribute to women across Bangladesh, across the world. Numerous performances are taking place here. Arnob is on stage now as we write this post, come join us as we celebrate womanhood, as we stand in solidarity to say NO to violence against women. It has been way too long, the time has come!

Next few performances include Shadhona dance, Action Aid shelter home girls’ performance, Shomporker Noya Shetu, Krishnokali, and more! We will be singing Jagoroner Gaan at 6.30 this evening. We will be lighting candles in solidarity with Shahbagh and the entire nation at 7pm.

Come join us now!ImageImage

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.

Silent Screams: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

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Tamanna Hossain

We live in a culture where sexual violence is only addressed obscurely, through so many layers of euphemisms that one is hard pressed to convey any useful information at all. However, while we’re nursing our delicate sensibilities there are real people being abused across the country, silently suffering, without a platform to seek help, a means to understand what is happening to them, or any guidance as to how to heal.It is time to break the silence.

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Survivors of rape or sexual assault have had their personal space profoundly violated, which often leaves them feeling helpless, not entitled to their own bodies or their own lives.

Today we will start by speaking out about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD, a common, often debilitating, anxiety disorder that many trauma survivors suffer from. Due to the stigma attached to both sexual assault and psychotherapy in Bangladesh, PTSD often goes undiagnosed and untreated. To make matters worse, survivors who suffer from PTSD often face the additional trauma of being mislabeled as “weak” or “hysteric”.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is an anxiety disorder many people develop after surviving a traumatic event, such as, rape, torture, war, or a natural disaster.

When faced with danger the body undergoes many biochemical changes to protect itself through a fight-or-flight response. Ideally, the body should revert back to a neutral state once the danger passes. However, this does not happen for trauma survivors with PTSD. They continue to be frightened, stressed, and hyper-aroused even when there is no longer any danger. Untreated, their condition may persist for years, decades, or even a lifetime.

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

–          Re-experiencing: Survivors with PTSD often re-experience the traumatic event through flashbacks and nightmares. Flashbacks are usually triggered by reminders of the assault, such as, the smell of their rapist’ cologne, rape jokes, sexually violent scenes on TV etc.

–          Panic attacks: Reminders of the trauma often trigger panic attacks in survivors. These are episodes of intense anxiety characterized by hyper-ventilation, trembling, nausea, sweating, dizziness, light headedness, or chest pain. Re-experiencing and panic attacks often occur together.

 –          Avoidance: Survivors often stay away from triggering places, objects, or people, feel emotionally numb, disassociate from their surroundings, distance themselves from friends, lose interest in activities they found enjoyable in the past, or have trouble remembering details of their trauma.

 –          Hyper-arousal: Survivors with PTSD usually exhibit symptoms of hyper-arousal, or being in a state of constant vigilance. This is characterized by being easily startled, always feeling stressed, havingregular headaches, suffering from insomnia, sudden weeping, or having angry outbursts. Being in a state of perpetual hyper-arousal can significantly change the survivor’s lifestyle, personality, and relationships with people in their lives.

How can you help someone with PTSD?

Given the patriarchal nature of Bangladeshi society, survivors with PTSD are not only denied treatment but are also faced with secondary traumas, such as, victim-blaming and slut-shaming, which exacerbate their condition. As a friend or relative of a sexual assault survivor you can buffer them from these harmful societal values and guide them towards recovery in the following ways,

–          Encourage them to seek psychiatric help. Professional therapy coupled with medication can go a long way to assuage the effects of PTSD.

–          Listen. Survivors with PTSD  need sympathetic ears since they have to re-experience their trauma on a regular basis via flashbacks and nightmares. However, do not force them to talk. Offer yourself as a compassionate resource, remind them intermittently that you are available, but wait for them to come to you on their own terms.

–          Do not judge. Most survivors of sexual assault suffer from a lot of guilt and shame, which hinder their recovery. It is important that you do not add to this in anyway. In fact, you should actively work to dissipate their guilt by assuring them that, irrespective of what society says, they are not to blame for the assault on them. The full responsibility of sexual assault is always on the perpetrator; even if it is someone they have been sexually involved in the past.

–          During panic attacks, try to give them physical space (unless explicitly told otherwise), so as to not further trigger a reliving of the experience through touch. Offer them cold water, encourage them to take steady breaths and, most importantly, listen. Let them cry, let them talk, let them yell. Wait to give advice till after the attack passes.

–          Help them regain control. Survivors of rape or sexual assault have had their personal space profoundly violated, which often leaves them feeling helpless, not entitled to their own bodies or their own lives. Offer advice, give suggestions, guide them towards healing in the way you think best, but always assure them that, ultimately, what they choose to do is up to them.

This post merely scratches the surface of what Post Traumatic Stress is and how it can be treated but I hope it helps someone somewhere help a loved one who has been hurt. There will be many more posts in the future regarding rape, its ramifications, how it is systematically perpetuated, and what we can do to help. The silence ends here!

Tamanna graduated from Lawrence University with a degree in Mathematics and Philosophy. She is the former president of the Lawrence University chapter of V-Day and is a lifetime member of Kappa Alpha Theta. Tamanna can be contacted at tamanna.thossain@gmail.com

I know why the caged bird sings

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I know why the caged bird sings

Mashida Rashid

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing

– ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’, a poem by Maya Angelou, poet, author, American civil rights activist, educator, raped at the age of eight.

Bollywood star Aamir Khan’s show Satyamev Jayate broke new ground on what can and can’t be discussed in the public domain in conservative South Asia

When Bollywood star Aamir Khan brought victims of child sexual abuse onto Indian national television in his show Satyamev Jayate it caused a ripple of emotions within families and across boundaries in Indian society. On the show, adults talked about their experiences of being abused in their childhood. Statistics cited in the show indicated that 53 per cent, or 1 in 2 children in India experience some form of child abuse. Helpline experts talked about the need for a comprehensive child sexual abuse act. And in the midst of it was the actor, listening intently, being gentle, empathizing without intruding, humble and shocked and grieved. He helped break the silence.

I watched the show with mixed feelings: I watched in disbelief as people shared what were possibly the most painful experiences of their lives; I was glad that they were able to do it, in a forum which didn’t judge and persecute; I was shaken to the core at the horror that unfolded. And I was angry at our own silence in Bangladesh. Four years ago, I wrote a research paper on child sexual abuse in Bangladesh, and I remember sitting through my interviews with victims of abuse, feeling all these feelings, and guilt, as they struggled to relive their worst nightmares. For some, it was the first time they had talked about it openly. For all, it was a throwback into that time of powerlessness and inability to speak out. For each interview, we sat together for hours three or four times. Once was simply not enough as people choked and cried as they tried to talk about what had happened years back. It started off as just research. It changed the way I perceived safe spaces, family ties, and the need for protection.

It wasn’t news. Child sexual abuse happens. Among the middle classes, there is the tendency to deceive ourselves. We think it happens to ‘them’: people on the streets, people without ‘family values,’ people who are not ‘us’. Some hard facts came to the surface during my research: that 80% of women that I became close enough to ask, had been abused in some form during their childhood; that often the perpetrators were someone they knew and trusted, a family member, help in the house, or a tutor; that when some told their parents, at best, it led to anger and counter accusations, at worst it led to denial; most of them suffered from post traumatic stress disorder at some level; and that there was absolutely no recourse to law, or psycho-social help. The people I interviewed were from middle class families, educated, with good careers. They were people just like us.

What kept on coming back as recurring themes in those harrowing interviews were the feelings of shame and guilt associated with abuse. It was often this guilt that ‘maybe I had done something to ask for it’, that kept victims from speaking out. In some cases, abuse also became a pattern. One woman talked about how, the very next day after she had been molested by an uncle, he had come by, and told her mother he wanted to take her out for ice cream. Even though she was reluctant to go, he had cajoled and convinced the mother, and over ice cream said, ‘I am sorry about what happened, I will never hurt you again.’ She said even though she was shocked and scared, she almost believed him, he sounded so penitent. He raped her again the next week.

Little data exists to quantify the incidence of child sexual abuse inBangladesh. The available information suggests that in a sample survey of child sexual abuse in Bangladesh in 1997, half of the 150 persons interviewed admitted experiencing some form of sexual abuse in childhood. The study findings also show that children as young as five years had been abused. Since that time almost 15 years back, the figures are not really known. National level statistics on this are understandably difficult to come by, because of the stigma associated with discussing this issue, in a country where lesser issues are swept under the rug.

Article 34 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – to which Bangladesh is a signatory – says that the State must do its best to protect from all types of sexual abuse and exploitation. Bangladesh, though, has not been able to fulfill this international commitment. Section 10 of Oppression against Women and Children Act 2000 also defines physical sexual abuse, saying that if a man wrongfully touches a sexual organ or any other part of the body of a woman or child with his organ or by any other object, it will amount to sexual abuse, punishable by imprisonment for up to 10 years and no less than 2 years .

In Bangladesh, as in India, and to be fair, in many other countries of the world, laws exist only on paper. Except for a few non-government organizations  that deal with it, there are no institutional efforts to offer help, recourse to the law, or even raise awareness about child sexual abuse. Many questions need to be asked: do we know that our children are being abused at home? Are we open to the idea of listening to them when they talk about abuse? And if they tell us, what do we do, where do we go? How do we protect them? These are some of the issues that I will be addressing in this blog in the coming weeks.

One of the incidents of sexual abuse that got a lot of publicity recently was the abuse of a student at Viqarunnessa, one of Dhaka’s most prestigious schools, by her teacher. Parimal Joydhor, a 30 year old teacher was accused of raping one of his students at his home when she went for private lessons, and filming it on his cell phone. The victim’s father reported the case to the police, and he was arrested. Here then is the classic case of the abuse of power and trust. Yet there is a small victory. The girl’s father spoke out, and the perpetrator was arrested. He spoke out, risking everything: his daughter’s ‘reputation’, social stigma, media scrutiny. He spoke out.

Pinki Virani in her book Bitter Chocolate, about sexual abuse in India writes, ‘I cannot remember when my sexual abuse began; I cannot recall, no matter how hard I try, whether my recollection of the first time it happened is actually the first time it happened. I know this is not important, but it destroys me: where was everybody when it was happening; damn them, shouldn’t somebody from the family have been there to stop it? So much power abused, so much trust betrayed, where are the parents of these children? The politics of domination, the vulnerability of a woman, the girl’s very gender being a liability to herself as a human being.’

Children who suffer sexual abuse are abused twice: once during the actual event, and all through their lives because of the taboo and the shroud of silence imposed on them because of societal norms, unwillingness to talk about the issue, and the most shameful and damaging of all, the silence of the family. Aamir Khan used his celebrity to draw attention to this issue that is hardly seen or heard. Maybe it is time, for us, to break the silence.

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Mashida Rashid is a public health specialist, and a campaigner for women’s rights.