Welcome to the Intergenerational Dialogue titled 'Fear of Violence: Then and Now'. We have a few distinguished guests with us today. We also have a few young discussants who are students and activists. We will hear about 'Fear of Violence' from two generations and look for solutions.
From Plan International Bangladesh, we are committed to contributing to gender equality and girls’ rights. On that note, while developing our ten-year country strategy, we involved young people, especially girls, and accommodated their suggestions to the country strategy 2030. ‘Fear of Violence’ came up very strongly from their end, limiting their potentials and restricting their mobility. We are committed to continuing our advocacy on ‘challenging fear of violence’ for the next ten years in partnering with young people, especially girls, CSO, policymakers, academicians, private sectors, media etc. We started collecting evidence-based information from different ends of the country and were commissioned to analyze policy and budget for further advocacy initiatives. Among 12 thousand survey participants, the data indicates that 81.6 percent of female participants experienced harassment in public places. 86.8 percent of women and girls said they were victims of harassment in their households. 74 percent of female students among the participants claimed that they faced verbal abuse from their teachers and senior students. 57 percent of them were informed of being harassed online, while 56 percent mentioned sexual harassment at their workplaces. Mostly the responders shared that it has created long-term panic for them. The study revealed that many parents feel discouraged to send their daughters to educational institutions or let them participate in sports or picnics and even for private tuitions. Furthermore, such information drives us to analyze the legal provisions to support violence survivors deep down the context. Let us start the talk today in light of this very issue.
Dr. Shahnaz Huda
We included women of all ages in our study. Parents in the rural areas become anxious of dowry if more than one daughters are born in a family. This is a reality. Girls are afraid of violence on their way to educational institutions. Women face violence here frequently. The society is male-dominated. Women live here in fear of becoming victims of violence. The society blames the women who actually are the victims. Laws provide some rights. But all women do not have the access to legal procedure and services. Violence against women is a violation of human rights. Women tend to limit their activities to safeguard themselves because if something goes wrong against them, society blames the very women and reaching out for legal help is too complicated for them. Cyber security issues must be addressed among the girls of schools and colleges.
I would get dolls and kitchen items at childhood, and my brother would get balls and cars to play with. Our families and the society teach us discriminatory gender roles like women have to do the household chores and raise children. We have to face violence at different levels. Men also face violence to some extent, but the ratio is more significant in case of women. The fear of violence starts within the family. Such violence may be of two kinds; one is in the maternal family and another in the spouse's family. I had to tolerate misbehavior for going out previously, but nobody says anything now because I earn these days. So, women have to create a position for themselves. They have to be independent.
Violence can take many forms. Such traumatic experiences affect our normal development and productivity. This also affects our liberty as a person. Women, men, and children of our country generally have to experience different types of harassment, including sexual abuse. I myself faced violence as a child. When we were children, our society did not care much about such issues. Children are afraid of mentioning such incidents. Our families and institutions do not have an atmosphere where people can talk about any such violence or abuse they face. The Human Rights Commission handed over a draft law regarding violence prevention against women in institutions. There is a committee in Prothom Alo to deal with such issues. But dealing with such issues is a complex process. Yet, we have to initiate the dialogue. The victim needs not to feel dishonored socially. The situation has changed than before. The press does not publish the victim's identity anymore as there have been legal obligations to ensure this. But there are more issues left that should be addressed in this regard. None of us is safe online. You have to use social media responsibly so that your privacy and safety is not compromised.
Maybe the teachers will take necessary measures in such cases, but these institutions do not have dedicated committees. If there is any, it needs to be informed among the students. Without circulating information about such committees, we will not know that. I have to take family members with me for outings because of fear of violence. I cannot wear the clothes I want to while shopping because I get concerned about how the shopkeepers will react. Passers-by often pass abusive comments. Neither can we wear dresses as we like nor can live our lives without fear of such violence. Because of such pressures, we cannot live our lives or utilize our potential in full.
Male children get priority in the families. We do not discuss issues like gender equality and it affects every aspect of our lives. The society sets different gender roles and teaches men to grow a dominating tendency. Violence occurs on online platforms more than on the streets. Women are protesting these now. The police have Facebook page to deal with such issues and people are reaching out there seeking help. But we have to find an appropriate solution. We try to choose better friends and avoid those who disrespect women.
Jinat Ara Haque
Why do we fear? The fear originates within the family. Families set some boundaries that incite fear. We have to conform to those family obligations that make us dependent on them. This dependence on parents is the reason we are afraid of them. We also fear our lovers, friends and spouses because of this dependence. We even remain afraid in schools and colleges. We have to face abuse in the streets. Whenever I protested, my family told me that I had to ignore. I want to say that women have to prepare themselves accordingly. There are 12 laws and some other facilities for prevention against violence but very few people know about that. There are helpline numbers also including 999 service. We all need to know these. Why cannot we complain at workplace if any such thing happens? We have to ensure a supportive workplace environment. Exposing your weaknesses is not a good idea. We have to overcome these with our experiences and by becoming independent.
Gargi Tanusree Paul
I am lucky because I have never experienced such violence, but many of my friends have, directly or indirectly. A close friend of mine had to endure verbal abuse for a silly reason one day and she had to take early leave from the school; she also stopped coming back for the next two weeks. Our society blames the victim rather than the perpetrator. We have to stop victim-blaming and the victims have to start raising their voices. Only then will such problems come to an end.
Plan International Bangladesh has an initiative to prevent harassment in schools and colleges. As a part of this initiative, we delivered complaint boxes to educational institutions. There are many initiatives in our society to prevent child marriage. I myself prevented one. I see incidents of verbal abuse while traveling by bus. I protest whenever that happens, but many are reluctant to do the same. Viqarunnisa Noon School was remotely situated from our home and I had to convince my family to take admission there. It would get dark to return to my home from school and my mother had to worry a lot about that. But if we can keep overcoming that fear, the society will start to change.
Mohammad Ullah Jafri
Lack of good education is a significant reason behind violence. Once I suggested someone to correct spelling mistakes. But that person started mocking me and many others began to poke me for that. We hope that the time will change and better days will surely come. I believe we will become ideal human beings with time, overcoming the fear of violence.
We all have become heavily dependent on smartphones because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Especially, the children have become addicted to it. Many of the guardians lack adequate knowledge of digital devices. They must understand them before handing them over to the children. Parental control must be set to avoid risks for children. Schools are not prepared for dealing with changes among girls during their puberty. A class would have been taken each week in my school addressing sexual and reproductive health issues. Teachers would encourage us to come to school even during our menstrual periods. We were encouraged to overcome the fear of such matters. But this does not happen in all other schools.
I have been befitted by coming here by enriching myself listening to these young minds. Someone talked about victim-blaming. In case of a rape incident, the victim gets the blame. This adversely affects the family and others even more. This is our mentality presently. But there has been a change. We cannot blame the victim because it is not their fault, yet they bear the burden of other people's wrongdoings. Victims must not bear the burden and need to be free of it. If you are traveling by a bus and someone is saying something wrong to you, do not feel bad. You should not feel bad because you are not doing anything wrong. If someone says something terrible to you, it is their fault, not yours. Many professors in the medical profession now are women. These female professors are taking care of their families. Women are doing great in armed forces like police, BGB, military, and navy. Some are writers. Prepare yourself. Develop skills. Then go ahead. The society will be enlightened then. Best wishes for you.
One reason behind violence is discriminating between boys and girls. Boys will terrorize, and girls will be terrified - it has become the practice that acts as a barrier in preventing violence. A video of mine swearing to prevent violence against women was published on Facebook recently. My friends started bullying me for that. A man saying something about women is also a difficult task. In the textbooks on information and technology, the discussions are limited only to technology; issues like digital or online etiquette are absent. It will be efficient if the syllabus is prepared, including information, technology, and moral education.
Rasheda K Choudhury
I thank Plan International Bangladesh to gather the youth here. Not everyone get equal opportunity. We have to support them. All are born with equal merits, but some cannot flourish it for lack of supportive conditions. We still have some stereotypes. The youth can work on that.
When we were children, we would go to school with our friends. So, boys did not dare to bully us as we moved in groups. If we go even back, my mother read in Sakhawat Memorial High School. She became a doctor in the '50s, even being a mother of four. She told us that they used to go to school by bus. And there would be a female attendant in the bus with a stick in her hand to ensure the girls do not talk loud enough for the driver to hear their voices. We performed in the drama Kalidas while studying in MC college. Some of our relatives complained about it to my father, saying that it would be difficult to get me married for such activities. My father replied to them, 'You need not to be worried for my daughter's marriage.' Family support is essential. So, we have to emphasize families' role in this regard.
Rabindranath Tagore said that the fools do not spoil the society; rather, the society is spoiled by foolish acts of the wise. Let me mention another incident from the late '80s. A researcher from the Harvard University came to Bangladesh to study women's representation in textbooks. While working on that project, I found that there was no gender discrimination in my family. But we found discrimination in the textbooks. A picture in one of the books showed that a farmer sat to eat after returning from the field while his wife attended him. A boy returned from school and his sister prepared his food. This was the context then in the textbooks but it has changed a lot since then.
I went to visit a school in a remote area in 2018. We asked the students there if they wanted to continue their studies and they said that they would like to. But the girls said that their parents wanted them to get married because they were facing harassment on their way to school. The District Commissioner proposed arranging counseling for the girls in their schools. But the girls frankly opposed that idea and said that 'We do not need counseling, provide this to the boys and their parents.' We could not achieve much in this issue; thus, we must work on it.
Family teaching on moral values is important here. We can utilize the community radio in this regard as it is trendy among people living in rural areas. When it comes to violence against women, rich or poor status does not count here. We have to break the silence. Such violence took place long before as well as it happens now. We need studies to gather data. We have to keep raising our voices if we want to end violence. I would suggest you to seek help and provide support to others as well. We expect this from all of you.
We want to continue this 'Generation Dialogue' on behalf of Plan International Bangladesh. We advocate for youth leadership. We encourage nourishing leadership skills among them. But most of the policymakers are much elderly like us. We think and decide from our own perspectives. But we want the youth to come up with great ideas and proposals accordingly. We want to hear you out more while making decisions for your wellbeing.
Let us keep the talks about this issue ongoing. We hope that a safe and jovial environment will be created for the next generation both at home and outside. Thank you all for your participation in this 'Generation Dialogue'.
· Contents on etiquette and safe behavior online should be included in textbooks.
· Strict measures must be taken to prevent harassment in public transport.
· Expectations of the new generation must be addressed before taking initiatives for prevention against violence.
· Necessary measures should be taken to ensure women-friendly workplaces.
· Effective committees should be formed in educational institutions to prevent sexual and harassment and violence.
· More studies are required through both public and private initiatives to collect realistic data concerning violence.