Taking a badass approach to woman empowerment in Bangladesh

Words: Tahnic Murshed

Very rarely do women in Bangladesh get the opportunity to do what they did. Nevertheless, doctors Sakia Haque and Manashi Saha took the duty upon themselves to go through the struggle of doing it. Imagine Bangladesh where women could live their day-to-day lives without the struggles they should not have to face. Imagine Bangladesh where doing something like this would not be so difficult. But envisioning does not get the deed done, so the two doctors took it upon themselves to get it out there. This is the story of how a group of women, co-founded by the two doctors, travelled all the districts of Bangladesh in the name of woman empowerment.

 

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2018, Bangladesh has made great strides when it comes to women’s empowerment. The country currently ranks 48th, proudly ahead of neighbouring South Asian countries. However, the numbers do not reflect much about the condition of women in the country, as they face obstacles both inside and outside their own homes. Women stepping out of the house, to work for themselves, and whatnot, is still frowned upon by the average Joe in the country’s conservative society. Despite such challenges, the group of women vowed to travel all 64 districts of Bangladesh on motorbike, in order to educate the female youth about their potential.

 

The range of their tour had always been wider than just visiting here and there. Apart from learning and exploring the culture of Bangladesh, they visited several girls’ schools, offering free medical advice on reproductive health and puberty, and talking about woman empowerment in general. Bangladesh is yet to roll out sex education at a high school level and as a result, many girls endure physical struggles that could have at least been managed better. Her friends, who dubbed the initiative “Bangladesh through the eyes of women” supported her idea. Although doctors Haque and Saha have traveled to all 64 districts individually, they plan to visit them as a group, with 57 districts already under their belt. By discussing various topics and sharing tales of their own travels, they aim to empower the youth so that they, in turn can carry on the spirit. Because if they don’t, who will?

 

It had been Dr. Haque’s dream as a girl to travel across the country. In her time, there was no opportunity for a female to travel like that. When she came to study in her medical college, she had found the opportunity. Her friends would flaunt about having roamed abroad, but she was more interested in travelling her own country. When she visited a few foreign countries herself, she noticed girls and women riding scooters, going to study or work. In Bangladesh though, that act is seen differently, and to fight exactly that, she decided she would travel on bike. Sakia Haque talks about the struggles a woman may have to face while doing what she did. She says people in our conservative society still have difficulties accepting that a woman can travel on her own. However, through caution, and information gathered through locals and the like, a woman may be more at ease, she says. When she used to travel in her college days, she would stay in other medical dorms. Now, she chooses to stay at government circuit houses for overnight, and says it’s safe for woman travelers. In her own journey she faced street harassment of sorts, but paid no heed and that’s what she advices everyone else. As a medical professional, she is aware that many women in our country are not aware of reproductive health and hygiene. Menstruation is seen as a taboo topic. As thus, she opened a Facebook page, ‘Travelettes Of Bangladesh’ to spread awareness.

 

Her team started the Facebook page back in November 2016 and has gained over 30k likes since. They’ve received a lot of responses from women across the country wanting to travel with them and inform them about their own challenges. Very commendably, they have already completed successful tours with interested girls. In 2017, the Travelettes of Bangladesh organized the country’s first travel photography exhibition. They won the Joy Bangla Youth Award 2019 and were invited by Marina Mahathir (daughter of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad), to present their work in Malaysia. Their co-founder, Manasi Saha, travelled to India to participate in the 2019 Global Platform for Women Leadership, at which she will highlight the work of the Travelletes. They confirm they’ve received plentiful response from both inside and outside the country.

 

Sakia Haque’s journey is one to exalt. Beside her honourable journey for woman empowerment in a country where they are suppressed, she also wants to devote herself to general human

welfare.