Syeda Samara Mortada Stresses On The Need For Women’s Safety

Drawing and Illustration by Jason Sabbir Dhali
Syeda Samara Mortada evaluates how the increasing security measures will affect the masses this Pahela Baishakh.
Syeda Samara Mortada  
Advocacy and Communications Advisor of SNV Netherlands
Development Organisation

As Pahela Baishakh approaches, we are all set to celebrate the day of colour, dressed in crisp sarees, panjabis, red churis and teep. As the occasion approaches us, we are once again reminded of the mayhem from 2015, or perhaps of many more years before then, that have somehow never made headlines.
The 2015 Noboborsho celebrations are tainted in a deeper red, as girls, during the Noboborsho festivities in Dhaka University were molested by hoodlums. While tragic, this is in no way an isolated incident-around the world that women are constantly harassed and abused during New Year celebrations on the 31st of December-especially (but not only) in large groups. The causes that lead to such incidences might be manifold-starting from the influence of alcohol that leads to one’s sense becoming numbed and as such leads to lack of control, to the whole aura of celebration that makes it difficult to differentiate between right and wrong, to sexual predators being just that-sexual predators. The point remains that the causes (and mental conditions of predators and victims) of such incidents are not direct and straightforward.

“Yes is a yes,’ and ‘no means no’ are still concepts alien amongst many, even women. Let’s encourage men to join such discussions and encourage women to say it out-loud-whatever it is, to be bold”

However, while one may debate on the circumstantial evidences in the case of the predator, many will be unfortunately complacent on the status quo of the victim.While it’s common to hear statements like “girl’s shouldn’t be celebrating on the streets alongside men,” “girls shouldn’t be dressed in so and so manner” and even things like “girls shouldn’t be out at all-she had it coming,” what was interesting in the timeframe following the 2015 incident was the number of people who raised their voices collectively against the harassment that took place on 14th of April, in Dhaka University-through social media, but also through public organisational statements.
Following the act of violence, BRAC organised a human chain as part of the safe cities for women coalition, urging others to join them-who believe that such incidences need to be put an end to. Naripokkho, issued a public statement urging for the ban of the vuvuzela, the dynamic sounds of which, blocks any other kinds of sound, thus being used as an instrument of misconduct and violence. Some even went on to call it an organised crime of sorts.
Various other organisations over the years have committed and joined the call for safe cities for women-some taking on creative measures to voice their opinion. The women’s marathon for instance was organized second time in a row in 2017, whereby women declare their presence in public spaces and their right for a safe and secure Dhaka. The question remains, has Dhaka become safer since 2015? And more importantly, will women feel safer taking to the streets while celebrating Pahela Baishakh this year? I do not have the answer to that. What I can say is that following the issue of the statement from Naripokkho, last year, the vuvuzela was banned from the Pahela Baishakh celebrations, along with matches, lighters and masks-the latter being deeply tied to traditional Baishakh festivities, hence being a big step. SWAT forces were in place during the festivities at Dhaka University, as well as some other smaller arrangements. All entry points to Dhaka University were blocked at 4:30 pm-and all these measures, needless to say reinforced a violence-free celebration, atleast according to the media.
The question that might arise next is, has banning anything ever resulted in stopping it or in other terms, resulted in the positive? Well, for starters, Dhaka-in all its glory, needs to be first made a safe place, not just for women but for everyone-men, women, minorities, foreigners, etc. Whether it is going out at night, using a mode of transportation, or partaking in festivities, until and unless concerned authorities deal with this very important issue at hand and pledge to not let any cases of misconduct go unpunished, we will not be able to live in peace and without fear. Until that happens, small-term security measures will need to be in place and practiced, especially when there are large groups of coalition in place.
In the long term, what remains amiss till date is men’s participation in these discussions-of ending violence against women and violence, in general. Men need to understand and be part of a system that educates one and all on equality, and how that correlates to respect. ‘Yes is a yes,’ and ‘no means no’ are still concepts alien amongst many, even women. Let’s encourage men to join such discussions and encourage women to say it out-loud-whatever it is, to be bold. Here’s hoping we have a safe(r) Noboborsho celebration this year around.