At a YMCA in northern Bangladesh, ICS volunteers are celebrating International Women’s Day with an afternoon of workshops, talks by female community leaders and a talent showcase. Here their UK Team Leader, Rosanna Durham, explains why a campaign for women is so needed in Bangladesh today and how, for one In Country Volunteer, dance is her expression of women’s liberation.
Part of our ICS project focus in Bangladesh is to raise awareness of critical health and social issues amongst young people aged 15-25. Our primary audience is 5 youth groups, which ICS volunteers have helped to establish. During our placement, we’ve been conducting workshops with them on issues as diverse as early marriage prevention, sustainable development goals and gender equality. International Women’s Day seemed like a golden opportunity to bring our groups together to demonstrate that women‘s empowerment is of positive value for everyone in a community, be they women or men.
Together with our youth groups, we’ve curated an afternoon of awareness-raising workshops. Sessions will be run on pregnancy, menstruation, sexual harassment, also called ‘eve teasing’.
Alongside light-hearted touches like giving friendship bracelets and running self-portrait doodling sessions, we’re also distributing leaflets with details of community organisations that can intervene in early marriage proposals.
Early marriage is mentioned by many of our youth group members as something affecting their lives now, with brides dropping out of school if the marriage is officiated. While the legal age of marriage in Bangladesh is 18, it is reported that 66% of women are married under the legal age, a figure taken from UNICEF. I’ve witnessed first-hand how the YMCA here is a place of support for young women in the context of early marriage proposals. Students from the nearby high school perceive it to be an all-round safe space and visit in person to discuss and problem-solve proposals.
There seems no better location for an IWD campaign. And we’re making sure that voices from women young and old will be center stage today. One highlight is sure to be an appearance by 85 year-old Protibha Sangma, a lifelong pioneer of education in the Tangail area of Bangladesh where we’re based. Protibha is of indigenous Garo descent, and she was recently recognised by Bangladesh’s Daily Star newspaper as an Unsung Women and Nation Builder 2018. And in a further bid to get an empowering mix of ages, we’ve asked everyone who is attending to bring their mother. We think mothers are the ultimate accessory on International Women’s Day!
Finally, our day ends with a talent showcase open to all attendees. It features a classical Bangla dance choreographed by ICS team member, Apsory Chambugong. Describing the idea behind her dance, Apsory says, “I heard about a song ‘Ami Nari’ from our ICS Volunteer Supervisor, Ashis Nokrek. The title translates as “I Am a Woman”, written by a local songwriter to where we live. In Bangladesh, girls are not independent of their parents’ wishes. My dance for International Women’s Day will show them they have their own life: that they can build it by themselves. It will remind girls, and women, to be aware of their power.”
Last word goes to our male ICS volunteer, Shuvra Das, who is helping to run a workshop today on eve teasing. “In Bangladesh,” he says, “Women often don’t get the same opportunities as men. This is the one time we especially celebrate women and I hope everyone taking part will feel confident to create a more equal society.”
From the whole team in Bangladesh, Happy International Women’s Day, wherever in the world you’re celebrating it. #IWD2018 #PressforProgress