by Namira Hossain
Almost two months ago, a devastating tragedy ripped apart our city. For the weeks that followed, we continued to stay glued to our phones and televisions, and poured over newspaper articles trying to make sense of what happened. Stories began to circulate about women being tortured for not covering their heads during the incident, and streets and restaurants in Dhaka remained empty. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world, after the Burkini ban in France, women were stripped on beaches removing any agency they have over their own bodies. Every day, the newspapers are filled with stories about women being raped and killed and rapists walking free. It maybe a man’s world, but not if Bonhishikha (formerly known as V-Day Dhaka) has anything to do with it.
This year, at the Spectra Convention Center, on the evenings of August 19 and August 20, audiences got to watch the second production ‘it’s a SHE thing’ which was performed by 10 brave individuals as they took to the stage and shared their joys and sorrows as women, discussing real issues that women face everyday – such as having to sneak around on your period to change sanitary pads, to emotional abuse and the lack of rights of sex workers. One may think it’s a given that anyone attending such a show has feminist tendencies themselves, but in the context of Dhaka society, where many things are simply swept under the rug and denied, one can still anticipate a mixed bag of reactions.
Mrs Rahim, 75, attended the show because her granddaughter was performing and she was interested to watch a program about women’s liberation. ‘As women, we want to be equal,’ she shares, ‘but in truth we are not, we have our differences – I can do many things a man can do, but if you ask me to push a car, I will not be able to.’ Societal conditioning and generational differences dampened her experience of the show somewhat, as she was quite strong-headed about her beliefs. ‘My generation believed that a woman’s beauty lies in her modesty,’ she states.
She also believes that topics such as menstruation and prostitution should not be talked about openly. ‘We know that brothels exist but they should all be closed down – when you talk about these things openly, then they happen more and more and that’s why more men visit brothels nowadays,’ she says. Her statement was a response to closing act of the show, entitled ‘Wake Up,’ where the actors share real accounts of sex-workers about how they got into the trade and their experiences. Mrs Rahim’s statement highlights our society’s hypocritical and negligent attitude towards women in the sex-work trade and makes it clear why such conversations are necessary.
Not everyone, however, shares her opinion. Shehzar Doja, a 30 year old male feminist says he enjoyed the frank and open discussions and was especially pleased that the show was not cancelled because of security concerns. ‘I empathized with a lot of the topics that were discussed but could not necessarily understand them as a male,’ he shared. Syeed Ahamed, 40 and a father of an 11 year old staunch feminist also shares Doja’s sentiments. ‘If you want to influence people, joke about it – that actually gets through to them more than preaching,’ says Ahamed. Ahamed also claimed that despite being a self-proclaimed feminist, the show made him feel aware of his male privilege. Doja also enjoyed the subtlety of the show and how it covered various topics without being ‘overbearing or heavy-handed’.
Others such as Suraya Raisa, 26, thoroughly enjoyed the show and said that the dialogue was raw, vivid and relatable and that it surpassed all expectations. She particularly loved the performance of Consent, which was a spoken word piece discussing what consent is and what it is not.
Raisa’s voice was shaking as she shared how she was subjected to this culture of male entitlement through sexual abuse at the hands of a man, who spread rumors about her later on and she was shocked to find him in the audience at the show after all these years. Another piece which particularly resonated with her called ‘Blame Game’ which talks about emotional abuse and how often it is dismissed by our society. Raisa said that parents have a lot of responsibility regarding what they teach their children, such as what behaviours are acceptable and which ones are not.
At the end of the day, such shows which challenge cultural norms and make you think more deeply about issues related to gender may not please everyone, nor are they intended to. But thanks to the performers and writers of the show – hopefully more and more women will feel more confident about embracing feminism for what it is – an ideology that hopes to remove the power imbalance in society.