Saturday, March 31, 2007

Learning with Muppets

Shreya is like any other 5-year-old - inquisitive, stubborn, experimenting, loves to rush out to the playground at class recess and hates to wake up for school early in the morning. However, for the last one year, Friday mornings have always been a special treat for Shreya. Now that she knows her numbers quite well, she gets someone to help her with the alarm clock, so as to wake up the next morning and catch Sisimpur on BTV at 9 am every Friday. “It's a wonder how hell breaks loose every time we try to wake Shreya up for school though,” says her mother Rahela Anjum, an executive working at a private company in Banani. Evidently, watching Sisimpur happens to be Shreya's top most priority at the moment. “My favourite character is Tuktuki,” she says, referring to one of the muppet characters featured in the show. “But I also like Halum since he can talk like a human and doesn't seem to scare anybody,” she adds talking about the tiger, yet another muppet character on Sisimpur.

Sisimpur has been designed and planned in such a way that it meets the learning needs of children between the ages of 3-6 years in Bangladesh, irrespective of social classes and regions across the country. The Bangladeshi adaptation of Sesame Street, Sisimpur under an organisation called Nayantara has been running for the last one and half years on Bangladesh Television (BTV), every Friday at 09:05 am, with repeats at 02:05 pm every Saturday, Monday and Wednesday. “It is based on a syllabus or a curriculum,” says Sara Zaker, eminent actress and the Project Head Nayantar, at a recent seminar held to create a special Media Forum for the show. “The show does not emphasise only on math, science, alphabet and letters but also plays a big role in developing the young minds regarding social and cultural values.” With a curriculum defined by Bangladeshi educators, the series showcases values such as self-respect, empathy and cooperation. Sisimpur moves a step forward and work on the very sensitive issues, such as improving educational opportunities for young girls; promoting good nutrition, hygiene and safety; and encouraging appreciation of the shared cultural heritage of diverse segments of Bangladeshi society.

Sesame Street developed in 1968 in the USA, working on the concept of children's learning through a television show. This idea evolved over the years and today it is a major platform for building a better future in many countries. Sesame Street, a production of the Children's Television Workshop in the United States, is an integral part of a child's education. From a very early age, children learn to recognise letters of the alphabet, count, add, subtract and also learn about culture of other countries. Sesame Street plays a significant role in developing the day-to-day skills of children, be it crossing the road, wearing the seat belt in a car, tying shoelaces and getting in and out of a school bus. Today, Sesame Street, which is termed 'the longest street in the world', has been adapted in many countries around the world, such as in China, Egypt, Kuwait, South Africa, Israel, Palestine and now in Bangladesh amongst many.

Ratan Pal, the executive producer of Sisimpur says that this might seem like a mere television show to the adults or a normal television viewer, but to a child Sisimpur is a way of life. “Our surveys and researches show that children who watch Sisimpur actually relate to the characters on the show,” he says. “The way the characters behave, think, even the way they speak seem to influence the children in a significant way.”

At the seminar, a few segments from Sisimpur were shown to members of the media to give a clearer idea of what the children have been learning in the past year and a half. In one of the segments, Ikri Mikri, a muppet character, wanted to buy permanent colour pencils from the nearby shop to colour herself purple so as to be like her best friend Tuktuki, yet another muppet character. The shopkeeper, however, explained to Ikri, that you don't have to change your colour to befriend someone. One should always be oneself and in turn respect the other's differences as well. To a child, this would seem a very natural and an obvious explanation. It's probably in the 'adult-world' where we have terms and concepts like racial discrimination and social class differences.

Dr. Mahtab Khanam an eminent psychologist and consultant to the Sisimpur project has conducted various surveys and workshops with children and parents alike in several remote areas of Bangladesh. “Our community outreach programme works on raising the awareness amongst families regarding early life nurturing, health, hygiene and much more,” she says. “This is closely related to how we plan our concepts and scripts for every segment in Sisimpur.”

According to writer, professor, Dr. Zafar Iqbal who is the consultant to the scriptwriters in Sisimpur, every script has to go through certain stages of official approval and certification from the authorities in Sisimpur Bangladesh and also in New York before it is finalised. Cultural contexts have to be kept in mind while making the scripts as well.

The famous actor-turned politician Asaduzzaman Noor says that Sisimpur is “educational and much more.” It is all about love, patriotism, the arts, values and the world we live in.”

The muppet characters that have captured the hearts of millions of children in the country are Tuktuki, Haleem, Ikri Mikri and Shiku. Tuktuki is a five-year-old extroverted girl who loves to sing and dance. She is a dreamer and does a hundred different things at a time so as to be helpful. Halum is a loving tiger and the children absolutely adore him. In fact, some of the kids even want to be Halum when they grow up. In many of the episodes, Halum has been shown enjoying a family of clever family members. However, his naiveté and his interesting collections of sorts, for instance stamps have viewers laughing out loud. fish and vegetables, which actually had many a child turn towards fish and vegetables as well. Ikri Mikri is a cute and cuddly three-year-old who is very affectionate and is loved by all. She has an imagination where she makes anything happen. Shiku is the intellectual jackal, who comes from a family of clever family members. However, his naiveté and his interesting collections of sorts, for instance stamps have viewers laughing out loud.

Children in this country need a reason and also a chance to dream. Sisimpur, which started out in 2005, is creating a positive image of Bangladesh for kids, and giving them lessons in alphabets and numbers. But it is also creating cultural awareness amongst young minds, something that no textbook can do.

Volume 6 Issue 12| March 30, 2007 |

Copyright (R) 2007

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Conquering Obstacles

From top: Mohd. Parvez; Mir Syed Ali; one of the many visually impaired children at BMIS; Mitu and Asiya writing and reading Braille.

Fourteen-year-old Asiya is studying in Grade nine at the Baptist Mission Integrated School (BMIS). Just like all other teenagers, Asiya likes to listen to music and chat with her friends after school hours. Since she lives in a boarding school, her teachers do get a little picky when she does not do her homework. However, she still finds her disciplined life and the open fields at her school better than when she goes back home to Faridpur during vacations. The only difference between Asiya and other girls her age is that she has been visually impaired since birth and does not view the world the others do. Her parents, now dead, had been first cousins, who gave birth to five daughters, three being born with visual impairments.

Located in Mirpur, the Baptist Mission Integrated School, the only school for visually challenged girls in the country, is a boarding school and runs on foreign and national aid.

“This school will be an integrated school from Standard six starting from the next academic year,” says Manju Samaddar, the principal of this school. “Though globally it is encouraged to have an integrated education system right from the beginning, it is not possible to do so in Bangladesh.”

Owing to social ignorance, lack of awareness on the part of parents and also the required technical support for visually impaired children, these children fall behind in their education, sometimes not getting any at all.

Amongst many of the international organisations that help support institutions like BMIS, Handicap International works in the field of disability and communities involving physically, visually and mentally challenged people. Starting out in 1997 in Bangladesh, Handicap International started working in partnership with the Centre for Disability in Development (CDD). In Bangladesh, Handicap International works towards prevention and early detection of the from disabilities community to the national level, supporting challenged people with items like walking sticks and hearing aids, promoting social awareness amongst the general people and disaster management. Handicap International works in many remote areas in Bangladesh, namely, the char areas of Sirajganj, Gaibandha and many more.

In Dhaka, Handicap's major works lie in the remote areas of Mirpur and Lalbagh. For the past few months, the organisation has been holding workshops and training sessions for the many communities in these areas. “There were several programmes in the areas which were being piloted in our area,” says Ansaruzzaman, a Mirpur businessman, who leads the many sessions and workshops that are organised in the area by Handicap. “The Ward Commissioner of No.13 in our area was looking for someone educated, experienced and also someone who could interact with the locals. That's when he requested me to supervise the programmes.” According to Ansaruzzaman, a committee has been formed in the area, which made a list of all the physically, visually and mentally challenged locals in the area.

“Trainers from Handicap held programmes and workshops where, not only the challenged residents but also the other locals, were taught how to take rapid action during natural disasters, for instance earthquakes and fires.” Ansaruzzaman further adds that according to international surveys, Tehran and Dhaka have been found to be the two cities in the world, which are very prone to earthquakes. “None of us will know what to do during a sudden shake,” he says, “let alone people with disabilities.”

Along with the workshops and awareness sessions conducted by Handicap, various international experts have gone to these areas and provided the challenged people with wheelchairs, white walking sticks, hearing aids and much more necessary equipment. “The first thing do during an earthquake is not to panic,” says Mitu of Class 8, yet another visually impaired student of BMIS. “We should try to get out of the building and search for an open space. If necessary, we should take shelter under the bed or a writing desk. We have also been taught about mobility and how to respond when we sense danger around us.” Mitu, like many of her friends at the school, walks with the special folding white walking sticks provided by Handicap International.

A group of visually impaired students taking some time out from their studies at BMIS

In Lalbagh, physically challenged people seem to outnumber challenged people in other areas. Haji Altaf Hossain, the Ward Commissioner of No. 61, says that these challenged people get an amount of Tk 200 as allowance from the government every month. “Lately however, there have been complaints of these people being turned away from the banks,” he says. “Handicap has provided the physically challenged people in our area with walking sticks, wheelchairs and other items to help them move around. Even then, it gets very difficult for the challenged locals to move around, since the buildings are not accessible to them. Banks, for instance, do not have ramps for the wheelchairs to move.

Manju Samaddar

The physically challenged people make a great effort to go all the way to the banks, just to get turned down and asked to come later on. To make things worse, they are not given a fixed date either. We have been receiving similar complaints regarding the Sonali Bank in Lalbagh, where these physically challenged people have been turned away several times. They have a right to a monthly allowance, but the authorities seem to consider this an extra burden.”

For Mir Syed Ali, life could not have been crueler. A road accident 5 years ago had left him completely disabled and mentally unstable for a few months. “Initially, he was left unattended at the hospital for at least 24 hours and was also given the wrong medication,” says his brother. “It is only when we took him to India for treatment that the doctors told us that the operation that was done in Bangladesh had been absolutely unnecessary and had in fact worsened his condition. They told us that there was a high chance of him not surviving.” However, with continuous efforts from his brother, mother and other family members for 5 long years, Ali can now sit up, move his arms and


communicate with others. “There was a time when I used to travel occasionally to Delhi, Agra and Jaipur,” says Ali who was a small time businessman. “Now I can't leave this bed without help.”

In spite of being almost bedridden, Ali moves around a little and attends the workshops and seminars held by Handicap International in his area. With the help of a wheelchair provided by the organisation, Ali attends the seminars with his brother.

According to Md. Humayun Kabir, the commissioner of ward no. 59 in Lalbagh, because of Handicap's continuous efforts, the Lalbagh locals are more socially aware and conscious regarding the issue of disability. “There are many physically challenged people here who were always referred to as the kana (blind) or the lengra (lame),” he says. “But that has changed now. Though it's still a very slow process, the locals here are more conscious and sensitive to their neighbours who are physically challenged. In many cases, the locals also go out of their way to help the challenged people in the community.”

Mohd. Parvez is in his mid-forties and is visually impaired. He had suffered a bad case of Typhoid when he was only six months old, which had snatched his eyesight away. Ever since then, he has been depending on his family members to move around. At the moment, he lives with his sister and aunt. Parvez is a very cheerful person and is well liked in his locality. In one of the close-knit communities of Lalbagh, his neighbours

Mohd. Ismail Hossain Siraji

sometimes turn to him for advice or even to chat and spend quality time. Unfortunately, because of his visual impairment, he was never sent to school as a child and did not receive any kind of education later on. “I make it a point to attend the workshops and seminars that Handicap organises here in Lalbagh,” he says. “Not only me, but my neighbours and friends in the locality have learnt a lot from these sessions. The most important part of the seminar is probably the part about disaster management.”

Mohd. Ismail Hossain Siraji is the principal of the Intermediate Level Madrasa in Lalbagh and is actively involved in the development of the physically challenged people in the locality. “The ones who are most affected during an earthquake are old people and children,” he says. “In these workshops, many of us have been trained to build makeshift shelters and look out for the affected people. Similarly, physically challenged people are also in danger of losing their way or simply suffering in silence due to their inability to move out of the way of danger as fast as possible. The workshops and training programmes organised by Handicap has taught us to help ourselves and others around us. I am also planning to have several of these orientation programmes and workshops in my school in the future.”

Disability is not a curse, but merely a difficulty which physically challenged people try to overcome. Handicap International Bangladesh creates the opportunities for these people to win over these obstacles and bring together communities all over Bangladesh.

Volume 6 Issue 11 | March 23, 2007 |

Copyright (R) 2007

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A Summer Homecoming

Aasha Mehreen Amin, Elita Karim and Hana Shams Ahmed

It's not just the rising mercury that is warming up Dhaka this summer. Like all other summers it is a time of great excitement for many families whose loved ones living thousands of miles away have arrived. They bring with them much-awaited gifts in suitcases that smell of foreign lands and attitudes, ideas and mannerisms that amuse their local relatives who go to great lengths to pamper and please them and make them feel at home. For many of these visitors it is with a sigh of relief and sheer joy that comes from being with people who love you, eating all those exquisite foods that have been sorely missed and exulting in the luxury of being attended hand and foot. For others this summer homecoming brings opportunities to work in a country where their roots lie and experiences that will last a lifetime.

Nadia Kabir Barb's highpoint every year is her visit to her motherland with her husband and children. “Coming to Dhaka is like coming home for me, despite having lived abroad for most of my life, I am very Bangladeshi at heart, people complain about the dust, heat, crowd and noise, but to me it is part and parcel of Dhaka life. It doesn't bother me,” says Nadia, “I have my mother here, my relatives and so many of my friends.” She also admits that with her hectic life as a mother of three one of the best things about coming to Dhaka is being indulged by her family. “I do get pampered a lot here. It's nice not to have to worry about getting the kids to school on time, what to cook for dinner or deal with all the daily chores. I can just leave those things behind and relax.”

Nadia, who lives in Central London with her British husband and children, also adds that she is more encouraged to come here because her children love it. “People think I've brainwashed them when they go around telling people things like 'everything in Bangladesh is more colourful, it's much greener here and even the air is fresher in this country'!” she exclaims laughingly. But besides that, she says, they enjoy being here and spending time with their nanu.

Her three children Ayesha, Mikhail and Iman agree full-heartedly. 10-year-old Mikhail loves to get away from the cold and drab weather of London to sunny Dhaka. 13-year-old Ayesha further adds, “We get to spend time with our cousins, go out to visit relatives and eat a lot of types of food that we don't get in London like Dhaka paneer!” What seven-year-old Iman finds amazing about Bangladesh is the “atmosphere”.

Like most Bangladeshi expatriates Nadia spends a lot of time socialising with friends and family. “But it is also nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city to my ancestral home where my father is buried. The children can take boat rides or go fishing.”

Nadia, with her children who love everything about Bangladesh

If there's one thing that worries Nadia, it is her kids' falling ill. “The health care system here is obviously not what it could be. If one of them falls ill I want to be able to make sure that they get the right treatment. Although we have highly qualified doctors, we don't seem to have the facilities and the aftercare in hospitals is not necessarily adequate.”

“And of course the traffic here is horrendous,” she adds, “and it just gets worse.”

Sitting at her mother's spacious apartment she exclaims that the one thing that she misses most about life in Dhaka is the support system that exists with family and friends. “If I had this support system in London I could consider pursuing a full time career”, says the 30-something freelance columnist.

Syeda Saira Hussain, a homemaker with a penchant for interior design and fashion trends, has been living in California USA for the last twenty-two years but her heart has never left the city where she spent her childhood and adolescence - Dhaka. While it is her family ties that bring her back every year or so, it is also her attachment to her motherland that nurtures a long standing dream to someday come back and settle here. "There are so many things that attract me to Bangladesh besides my family; it is the smell, the greenery, even the chaos that fascinate me and which I am so familiar with" says Saira. Unlike many Bangladeshi expatriates who find the unpredictability, political instability and lack of basic conveniences (so easily available in the countries they live in) so exasperating, Saira has a surprisingly positive take on Bangladesh. She looks forward to the changes in Bangladesh every time she visits: "I was very impressed with the spic and span airport when I arrived, the shopping malls and the numerous shows on the various Bangla channels which showcase the talents of our people. It is very encouraging."

" Living in a developed country has its conveniences" says Saira who is married to a hardware engineer, "but it also means that life is very routine, mechanical and often isolating. We wake up at 6 am and go to bed at 12 am and then wake up the next morning to do the same things all over again. Sometimes I have sense of emptiness and homesickness - even after living there for so many years".

Saira with her two sons-diehard Bangladeshi fans

Saira admits that back home in Bangladesh with all the pampering and adoration from family and friends makes her miss her country of birth all the more. "I feel like a queen," confesses the vivacious mother of two sons who are diehard fans of Bangladesh.

"It's like a retreat and solace from the drudgery and stress of my life in the States." Which is why she spends so much time just enjoying being in her parents home where she grew up in. "I love chatting with my mother and siblings till the wee hours of the morning, spending time with my many nephews and nieces ranging from age 1 and half months to eleven years."

Like most other visitors she laments over the impossible traffic situation, the lack of basic health care - major deterrents to potential resettlement. But it is also the competitiveness among members of the privileged that she finds disconcerting. And of course the obvious poverty that one cannot escape no matter how cushioned one's life is here.

Saira- looks forward to the positive changes every time she visits home

"The violent politics is of course very disturbing but people have learnt to live with it. I'm sure I would too if I lived here". That may not be too soon as there is little scope for Saira's husband's expertise to be utilised in this country. Meanwhile Saira is sure to make frequent visits to her beloved Bangladesh for her family, lalshakh, paani phuchka and of course shopping.

For Pamela Jabbar, a young aspiring writer whose parents are Bangladeshi but who was born and brought up in England, the experience of visiting Bangladesh is quite different from the usual expatriate Bangladeshi. Her first visit to Bangladesh was when she was a child and this is her third stay. This time it is to research for her first novel. "My main characters are Bangladeshi and they come to Bangladesh", 'so I thought I should come to the country to get a sense and flavour of Bangladesh - the things that seep into you when you go to a country..." This together with a curiosity about a homeland she visited as long as 22 years ago, lured Pamela here with a plan to stay as long as the place could hold her interest. She has already been here for three months and is looking for a job that will suit her credentials. As a writer Pamela finds Bangladesh quite fascinating. " There are so many dramas being played out every second of the day. There's always something new - the way it rains, the political rallies, the street fights and hartals, the day to day encounters of masters and servants, the social differences being played out...the way the temperature fluctuates and how it affects you. So from a sensory point of view, Bangladesh is fantastic"

"It is also the images and characters you see around you - the dichotomy of huge buildings erected next to shanty-like shops that you know wont be there the next time you visit - how do they coexist..."

Pamela is also intrigued by the seeming coexistence of modernity and tradition of Dhaka city. "There is a raging battle between the two, something that happens everywhere when you try to mix modernity with traditional values. This is quite interesting from the anthropologcal-sociological background that I have."

On a more personal level for Pamela there is a quest to find what her Bangladeshi heritage really means to her. "It's the country where my parents come from, one that I am part of. My identity is that I am partly Bangladeshi", says Pamela who speaks Sylheti and was always in touch with Bangladeshi culture thanks to her parents who take pride in being Bangladeshi.

Pamela, as a writer is fascinated by the country

Sadly, Pamela's need to be accepted as a Bangladeshi has been a little disappointing. "I've been treated like a foreigner, the term bideshi has been used a lot - it's almost like an identity people want to pigeon-hole you in. It's strange to be a foreigner in what technically should be your homeland".

Other rude shocks for Pamela include being harassed by security guards at Zia International Airport where she was stranded for three hours, having arrived on a hartal day. "I am surprised at the lack of human courtesy and civility. When you land at ZIA it's such a different experience than when you land at other airports."

"It's also the way people look at you when you're out and about, it's quite difficult for me. Then what I find very disturbing is the dependency of people on domestic help who are treated with such little respect. They are such an integral part of family life here yet they are treated as unequals."

But there are experiences that endear Bangladesh to this passionate writer." I love the sense of family here, that people actually take time to spend it with their family members, just sitting and talking" says Pamela who is staying with her brother's wife. " It is something I don't get a chance to do back home. It feels like such a luxury to laugh and joke with friends and family and not feel guilty about it. It's an essential and integral part of day to day living - I love that."

Mohammad Nurul Karim- always in touch with what is happenning in his homeland

The scenic beauty of rural Bangladesh has worked its charm on Pamela. " The lush greenness, the paddy fields, the yellow mustard fields and tiny tin-roofed houses - these are scenes I remember from childhood. There is a concept of Bangladesh being incredibly poor, which it is, but there is also a rich vibrancy in it that gets lost in the headlines."

"I read in an article on the Happy Index where I think Bangladesh came 37th compared to England which came to like 112 or something, which is interesting because in England you have everything but there is a lot of depression and lack of happiness. In rural parts of Bangladesh, there is this innocence and a certain sense of contentment which makes Bangladesh richer than any of those wealthier nations".

According to 55-year-old Mohammed Nurul Karim, there is no place like home. A Lecturer of English, Karim had left the country in 1978 for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to teach at the Ministry of Education. Actively involved in the cultural activities, he graduated with a Master's degree in English Literature from Dhaka University. He also worked at the ShilpaKala Academy and the External and Home services of Radio Bangladesh, Dhaka as a broadcaster. However, back in those days, a well-paid full time job was rarely seen for an average Master's degree holder. “Once I was offered a job at the Ministry of Education in Saudi Arabia, I grabbed the opportunity and have been there ever since,” says Karim. After working for more than 20 years with the Ministry of Education, he recently joined the Ministry of Health, teaching English at the Health Science College.

Karim and his family have been coming back to Bangladesh almost every summer, visiting with other family members. This summer he plans to visit his ancestral home in the village

Naimul- gets in touch with the Bangladeshi music scene this summer

in Chittagong. Over the last few decades, Karim has made a note of the various changes that took place in the country. “Almost every summer, I come back to a new country, thanks to the way the country has changed and shaped up in the last few years,” he smiles. He speaks of the changes that took place in fields of culture, technology and even the social structure. “However, the political unrest has gotten worse,” he implies. “I never miss the news telecast on the satellite channels back in the Kingdom and wonder how the country is still surviving so well.”

Nurul's son 16-year-old Naimul Karim is currently studying in the 12th grade at an International School in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Born and brought up in the Kingdom, he has been visiting Bangladesh with his family from the age of 7 months. According to him, coming back for the summer this year is definitely very different from the past summers that he spent in Dhaka. “I was too young to go places by myself and learn about the country in the past,” he says. “However, for the past couple of summers, I was exposed to much more. This is because of the changes that have taken place in the past few years. For instance, there are lots of eateries in Dhaka now. There are lots of places in the city where teenagers can hang out and have fun. Last summer, I had fun at the new Pool and Snooker places that opened up in Dhaka.”

This summer, Naim plans to attend as many concerts as he can in Dhaka. “The music scenario has changed a lot in the past few years,” he explains. “I even got to meet many of the underground musicians personally and saw them while they jammed. I am even thinking of getting a guitar for myself from Dhaka to take back to the Kingdom.”

Keenly interested in sports, computer games, books, movies and writing, he is also spending this summer as a contributor to a supplement of a daily newspaper. “Life here as compared to the Kingdom is very eventful,” he exclaims. “I can explore many different fields related to music, education and sports and even meet with experts if I need to. This is something very difficult to do in KSA. However, I am still not used to the hartals that are frequently held in Dhaka. That is when I wonder how difficult it is for people to get on with their lives here.”

A Working Holiday

Sarah getting hands-on experience in journalism

Twenty-year-old Sarah Mahmud is a bubbly Journalism student from Eastern Michigan University who although has spent a significant part of her life in the US still thinks of Dhaka as her home. “My grandmother lives here so I come here as often as possible, sometimes twice a year.”

This time around she is in Dhaka both on pleasure and as part of her studies. She's doing an internship with a newspaper. “I really like working here. I feel like I can relate to the people of this country rather than the ones in the US,” exclaims Sarah who is half Korean and half Bangladeshi.

“Living in the States, I get really homesick. I was born and brought up in Dhaka till the age of 12,"says Sarah, "I've been living in the States for the last eight years and even though it is much more developed, liberal, and there are a lot of things to keep one entertained, I'd much rather be living here,” she says.

Like any other girl, Sarah loves the shopping experience in Dhaka and she also enjoys going to historical places. “Even though I've been to the museums and Shahid Minar several times before as a child I feel the need to recharge my nationalism batteries a bit more every time I visit Bangladesh.”

Sarah is also crazy about the food here. “I love eating fuchka and chotpoti with my friends. And I love biriyani so much, that I've actually crashed a few weddings just to eat some,” she says grinning, “Most people don't really question me because they think that I'm a 'foreigner' and can't speak Bangla. I just say that I'm a friend of a really distant relative and act very confused and that's pretty much the ticket inside the party.”

What Sarah finds the most disturbing aspect of life in Dhaka is the corruption. “My family and I have had the unfortunate opportunity of experiencing it first hand and it never really ceases to shock me,” she adds.

Despite that Sarah feels that she has a much better life in Dhaka and plans to move back here after she is through with college. “The U.S is too big. I feel as though instead of a name, I have a number. I feel as though I owe it to my country and to myself to do something here.”

Rabi- dabbling with development work

Twenty-year-old Rabi Chowdhury has been working at BRAC this summer in Dhaka. An undergraduate student at the London School of Economics in London, he is currently majoring in International Relations. Having just begun his work at BRAC, Rabi plans to work till late September.

“I come every summer and winter since I have been away,” says Rabi. “I come every spring too if my parents can help it.” Getting a summer internship was Rabi's cousin Tahlee Afzal's idea, a barrister from London who has been working full time at BRAC since March. “Since she worked at BRAC, she was aware of the vacancies and also the need for a student worker or an intern to work there,” Rabi explains. “That's how I got myself an internship this summer.”

Rabi's major task at BRAC is to report on the Women's Enterprise Development (WEDp) programme, which branches out of the micro finance programme in general and also a part of the Progoti programme. “I have to go to the different branches of WEDp,” says Rabi. “And talk to the branch managers and district officers. Other than the paper work done at office, one of my major assignments is to do field work. I just returned from visiting the branch managers and the district officers in Mirpur and Badda today.”

Though he lives in London, Rabi is quite used to how things work in Dhaka. “I lived here for quite some time before moving to London,” he smiles. Nevertheless, working here in Dhaka is an altogether new experience for Rabi. Incidentally, this being his first real job, he has officially begun the process of learning how to mix with people from all walks of life and manage critical situations. For Rabi, spending the summer here is not only a fun-filled occasion to get together with his family, but also to put some real worth into the visit which he would gladly do every summer in Dhaka.

“Dhaka is getting so competitive day by day, I think it's a necessity for me to sample the job market here,” says 21-year-old Rumana Islam. A summer intern at the HSBC bank in

Rumana- getting some banking experience this summer

Gulshan, Rumana is a third-year Economics major at the Queen's University in Canada. According to her, there has been quite an upward shift where the middle-class section of the society and education is concerned. “I think I would like to come back to Dhaka and work here,” she smiles.

Her confidence and competitiveness to join the Dhaka market might be because of the fact that every summer that she visits family in Dhaka, she puts it to use by working as an intern somewhere or the other in Dhaka. “My first summer, I worked at Grameen Trust,” Rumana explains.

Ever since her younger sister and she were little, their parents would talk to them about the country, the economy and the prospects of building a better nation based on a stronger economy. Rumana grew up dreaming about joining the development sector in Bangladesh. “I still have some time till I finish my undergrad studies,” she says. “Meanwhile, I am gathering as much work experience in Dhaka as possible.”

Rumana is quite used to Dhaka and can work around the rough edges. However, she has been surprised, much to her annoyance, while dealing with customers at HSBC. “Back in Canada, there is a certain kind of unspoken or unwritten norm that is followed by both the customer and the service provider,” she explains. “This summer working at a bank dealing with customers, I figured that, if not all, there are some people belonging to the society, who simply don't make an effort to be responsible of what they do. For example, there are customers who come inside the office screaming, without reading the instructions properly, about a card which was discarded after due time by the bank authorities. Some simply don't realise that your bank account is your identification in a bank. If you don't have it with you, there's not much we can do to help you.”

Rumana had also gone through issues related to her gender while working this summer. “There was a male customer I was dealing with,” she says. “Who had called back at the office just to remark on how pretty I looked holding a pen and writing at my desk, while serving the customers. This is something that I was prepared for though, since even today, most people in Bangladesh view women as an ornamental display even at a workplace. I did speak to the man, the next time when he came to the bank, and asked him to be more professional while dealing with professionals at an office.”

Other than the little hindrances that seem to glide up from time to time, Rumana is very impressed with the bank and is sure to learn much more by the end of August when she leaves for Canada.

Volume 5 Issue 106 | August 4, 2006 |

Copyright (R) 2006

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Putting Bangladesh on the Fashion Globe

If attitude is an integral part of style then certainly Aneela Haque's designs have plenty of it. "I prefer my creations to stand out and show the right attitude," says Aneela, also owner of an advertising agency and a public relations and event management company. "I suppose that's what the people who walk into my store want as well."

Merging elements from the rural culture and urban sophistication, Aneela's designs are a combination of the east and the west. Having launched her fashion label, AnDes (ANeela's DESigns) about ten years ago, Aneela is one of the pioneers of Bangladeshi fashion today. She is also one of the seven founding members of Bangladesh Fashion Alliance that organised the first Bangladesh Fashion Week in 2004.

"My clothes and garments are like a passport to the world," she smiles. Her designs speak of the traditional Bangladeshi handicrafts, including the many influences that she has had.. "I love ghazals, karate, reading, gardening, interior designing, gardening and travel," she lists. "Travelling led me to work with different cultural motifs, for instance, fiery dragons from China, the hieroglyphics from Egypt, elements from Africa, Paris, India and also various elements from rural Bangladesh," she adds.

These elements are apparent in the 12 designs that Aneela created for the Bridal Asia collection to be held in October in New Delhi. Launched in 1999 by Indian designer Divyaa Gurwaara, Bridal Asia is a premier bridal show that showcases the latest bridal collections by the top designers in and around the country. "Bridal Asia is platform where one can actually see the obvious display of diversity in culture," explains Aneela. "Famous names like Ritu Kumar, Mona Pali, Arjun Khanna and many more are actively involved in this event. Even Mahin Khan from Bangladesh had represented Aarong from Bangladesh in this event last year."

Among the well known designers, Aneela Haque will be representing her own designs for the first time, representing Bangladesh this year at the three-day Bridal Asia event to be held at the Taj hotel in New Delhi from October 8-10. She will be unveiling, what she calls, "a poetic journal" where the "Majestic Royals by Aneela" will be displayed on the runway. "Travelling over the years has made me extremely sensitive to the cultural and social beauties of every country," she says. "There's something so beautiful in music, the art and the poetry that every culture represents. These art forms have a lot to say about one's own identity as a person as well. Every designer has his or her own character traits or identity marks clearly sprawled on the designs. One just has to look carefully at the clothes to know what exactly these characteristics speak of."

Her collection for Bridal Asia, in bold colours of red, black and white, is inspired by the writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Jibonanondo Das from Bangladesh, Chinese intellectual Li Bai from China and French poet Appolianaire.

"Marriage is a happy occasion and it reminds me of the colour red," she smiles. "There is so much romance in Tagore's poetry, which led me to use verses from the songs Tumi je surer agun and Tumi kemon kore gaan koro."

Aneela has used jute-silk, a variety of cottons, khadi, muslin and crepe-silk for her designs. "My clothes have various scriptures and calligraphy on them," she explains. "Being someone who appreciates being global, rather than pointing down to a particular culture, I have tried to blend my own culture with bits and pieces of the ancient cultures from Egypt, Paris and many others."

Aneela describes Bridal Asia as an event which literally breaks all cultural barriers and brings everyone under one roof. "The best part about this event is that there are cross cultural exchanges that take place and are very much welcomed by the artists present there."

Bridal Asia has had designers from the subcontinent coming together to display their designs and speak their expressions. Very soon, however, designers and creators from Singapore, UAE from the Middle East and London will be participating in this yearly event.

"Bridal Asia is coming to Bangladesh!" exclaims Aneela. "It will have one of its branches here in Dhaka very soon, which I will be heading. I plan to start work in December, merging festive occasions like Eid, Christmas, New Year, the wedding season together, not to mention winter itself, where a variety of designs can be created." Aneela also plans to involve designers from other countries such as Pakistan and India. "Eventually, we can move farther on the globe," she quips.

Volume 4 Issue 65 | September 30, 2005 |

Copyright (R) 2005

International Women's Day: Life Limited

We cannot walk alone in the streets because it is not safe. We cannot work long hours because it will hamper our household duties. We cannot go abroad to study because what if we go astray? We cannot think our own thoughts, speak our minds or even breathe as freely as we would want to. For every step we take forward, we must go back a few steps more. It is not just physical immobility that constricts women's freedom but social prejudice and parochial state mechanisms that ensure that women go only so far, whether it is in terms of education, profession or merely as individuals with identities of their own. Social constraints are so strong that they even manage to make women believe that they are not entitled to freedoms equal to their male counterparts. Thus they give in to the conspiracy of setting limits to their freedom.

Aasha Mehreen Amin, Kajalie Shehreen Islam
Srabonti Narmeen Ali
and Elita Karim

While poor women have the least freedom in terms of how they will lead their lives, women from more privileged backgrounds, too, constantly run against blank walls at crucial points in their lives. Freedom is curtailed by depriving women of education or the ability to earn. So is there a way out? And what really is 'freedom' for a woman?

"To me, freedom means to do as I like without being made to feel guilty," says Shakila, a 29-year-old woman who has lived with double standards all her life. Although she went to school in the UK, coming from a wealthy but conservative family, she lead a very different life from her brother. She was made to go to an all-girls school and was not allowed to go out unchaperoned. Her father eventually brought her back to Bangladesh while her brother stayed on to complete his education and later pursued a career. In Dhaka she was not allowed to go back to school and had to take her O' and A'levels privately. "I was not allowed to go anywhere. If I got crank calls I would be severely reprimanded as if it was my fault," says Shakila.

Soon, like so many young women, Shakila had to get married, after which she found herself in yet another prison. Her husband's job took up most of his time and every night he would come home at 1 or 2 in the morning. "I had no life at all. My mother-in-law would frown every time I went out, and when I wanted to start a part-time job my husband just said no. I fought for a while but then backed off as I was too tired of the confrontations."

If Shakila had to do it all over again, she says, she would definitely have completed her education and taken up some profession. "Women must educate themselves and be financially independent before they commit to anybody. This will give them the grounds to fight for their rights after marriage."

Although her situation has not changed much -- she still is discouraged to work -- she is a much stronger woman because she has managed to overcome her feeling of helplessness. "I read a lot and this has kept me sane. I no longer try to please everyone at the cost of my peace of mind."

To Aneela Haque, CEO of her own company, Andes, and an established fashion designer, freedom means "to be myself just the way I am".

"Our religion always talks about 'women's freedom'," says Aneela. "But our present religious practice has a negative impact on women's freedom. Religious fanaticism has placed major constraints on women's freedom. Societal norms are based on such fanaticism so girl children grow up under different rules than boys."

"If I want to go somewhere far with my friends," says 24-year-old Aditi, a university student, "I need to do a lot of convincing for my parents to give me permission. Even if I want to go on a long drive, I will have to take someone with me."

Her brother, says Aditi, has it much easier, and can almost always get his way with their parents. "When I wanted to get a motorbike, my father wouldn't let me, because he didn't like it. But my brother managed to get his way."

"It's funny," she says, "how, as he grew older, he just assumed his right to the front seat of the car, something I never did or could."

Aditi wants to go abroad to pursue her higher studies, but her parents want her to get married first. "They're looking for suitors living in the countries I want to go to," she says.

"Our parents are wonderful," says Aditi, "and they take great care of us, but when it comes to daughters, somehow, it's as if they feel insecure for they could easily lose their respect in society because of us. It's like the duck and chicken. Men are like ducks -- whatever they do, when they come out of the water, they're dry. Women are like chickens; when they come out of the water, they're completely drenched."

While her brother will most probably go abroad for higher studies once he completes his HSC, and look after the family business when he returns, Aditi's own future remains uncertain. She too wants to go abroad, perhaps do a Ph.D.

"But will that be of any use here?" she asks. Even if she comes back, what will her life be like, she wonders. Will she live alone with her husband or move in with her in-laws? The decision will not be up to her.

In a society where a woman's ultimate goal is seen to be finding a husband and raise a family (hopefully more sons than daughters) and with her own biological clock ticking away, marriage is inevitable. For most women, marriage significantly places limits on her freedom, whether it is freedom to go out of the house or to earn her own income. But is marriage an absolute necessity?

"No, I don't think that either being married or having children are an absolute necessity for happiness," says Zara, a happy single at 34 who works for a human rights organisation. "Not everybody is cut out to be a parent, as is indicated by the number of children who grow up as difficult or traumatised adults because of bad parenting."

"For those who like children, but may not feel a biological urge to have a child, I am sick and tired of hearing them described as 'unnatural', particularly if they are women. There are many unwanted children in the world, and I think more people should consider adoption."

"Most women in our country are raised as weak and dependent," says Aneela Haque, "for such women, marriage is a necessity. Women with education, inner strength and determination can choose to be independent and single. It doesn't have to be a necessity."

Looking back on her life of 50 years, Parvin is more or less satisfied. Though she was under certain restrictions while living with her parents, during her married life, she has been relatively free. "I worked. I went out. I pretty much did as I wished," she says. "But then, I didn't really have to work nights or stay out late. Perhaps then there might have been problems."

A girl or woman is almost always dependent on a man in some form -- whether father, brother, husband or son. And her situation always depends on her having or not having such a man in her life. Many girls' futures become uncertain if their fathers pass away. They are pressured to get married earlier to reduce the burdens of the mother and other family members. Families with many daughters also feel the need to marry them off early, especially if the father is, say, old and approaching retirement.

Naila got married young and, until then, never quite thought about doing anything other than what her parents wanted.

"I didn't mind getting married," she says, "but I didn't realise that I would have to quit studying. I moved abroad with my husband and couldn't finish my Bachelors until I came back to Bangladesh some years later."

"I never really felt confident enough to work," says Naila. "Maybe if I had economic freedom, I would have felt more independent. Or perhaps if I lived in another country. For, in many countries, housewives are considered equal to working women and their contribution to the family and household is recognised as work, unlike in our country."

Forty years down the road, Tinni's life is not very different from that of Parvin's and Naila's. While living with her parents, she had her freedom, except for being allowed to go on class picnics and trips with friends. But after her father died, she was forced to marry her cousin.

"No one can say no to anything my uncle (her mother's eldest brother) says," says Tinni, now 23. So, when he wanted me to marry his son, my mother couldn't refuse, and I had to do it -- against my will."

A year into her marriage, while in her third year of university, Tinni had a baby daughter. Having a child has obviously brought on more responsibilities. "I might have to skip classes to look after my child."

"I am obviously not as free as my husband," she says. "He does as he pleases, goes out on business or for whatever reason, whether I want him to or not. I'm obviously not allowed to do that. Wherever I go, it's with my husband."

To many women, the dream of marriage is not one that coincides with reality. The acquisition of gold zari-threaded saris and heavy sets of jewellery, the smell of uptan on the day of the holud, the anticipation of starting a new life with that new someone, the concept of having and being a family unit -- all of this falls short when the more practical face of marriage rears its ugly head. Responsibilities come into play and all of a sudden the decision-making process does not involve only one person, but rather two.

Marriage is an institution which both the man and the woman have to adapt to and compromise in. There are certain things that singledom awards that married life does not allow. But the question is ,how much of that adapting and compromising affects a person's personal and professional growth?

Many women feel that they have had to compromise on their professional lives and their careers after marriage.

Shiuli was a 22-year-old who had graduated from a reputed private university in Dhaka and holds a degree in English Linguistics. She finally got married to her dream man, a young executive she had been going out with for some time. She was planning on applying for her Master's degree in the USA, train under a good linguist, work towards a Ph.D. and then return to work in Dhaka. Within a year, Shiuli gave birth to a baby boy. She decided to forgo going abroad and opted for a Master's degree in linguistics from the same private university from which she had done her undergraduate studies in Dhaka. She was about to register for the semester, when suddenly her two-month-old son got ill and she had to give up her dream of doing her Master's altogether.

Now, almost 25 years of age, Shiuli works at a nearby school as a Class 4 social studies teacher. She looks upon her dreams of being a university professor as a far away thought and sometimes dares to ask herself as to why she sacrificed her ambitions to fulfil her duties as a wife and mother, only because she is a woman.

Even in an age where women are encouraged to have a mind of their own and think of a future for themselves, their dreams usually stop with the thought of marriage. Over the centuries, the birth of girls has always been related to marriage, either positively or negatively. Even today, society seems to judge a woman by her marital status, no matter how successful she is in her career.

Twenty-year-old Farzana, an architecture major, is working part-time at a foreign company in Dhaka while pursuing full-time undergraduate studies. She dreams of having her own architectural firm in Dhaka one day, and plans to work on a Master's degree as soon as she gets done with her undergraduate studies. However, she is also getting married to a man her parents matched for her, within a year's time. "I have to get married. There's no question about that," says Farzana. "Even though I would like to work towards my own firm, I would never say no to a good match. Society would never shun me if I were both married and working."

In our society, women often suffer from the stigma that the recipe for being a successful career-woman involves being married. However, on the flip side of the coin, many women feel that being married holds them back, or rather, puts more pressure on them, thereby stunting their growth professionally.

Twenty-three-year old Rahima worked at an NGO as a programme coordinator. She often had to work long hours. When she got married, she found that this created a problem in her married life.

"My husband was very insecure because I had a very time-consuming job," says Rahima. "It has only been a year since we were married, but I have already quit my job. I had to. Before we were married he was so supportive and admiring about my job but now he says that a woman's place is to stay at home and I have no choice but to listen to what he says."

But do women really not have a choice? Twenty-four-year-old Samira recently got married to a doctor residing in the USA. Samira had to let go of a full-time job in the Human Resource Department of a very popular company in Dhaka, just so she could get married to a man she never knew and live in another country.

"I had to get married because I am not getting any younger, you know," says Samira. "It's hard to get a man if you reach the age of 25, and that's when you become a burden to your family."

"I think women allow their careers and lifestyles to be influenced by men and marriage," says Tupa, well-known model and choreographer, Binodon. "Instead of looking at marriage as a social institution, women should see it as something that we want to do. No one can put limitations on you unless you let them. Men shouldn't be in a position where they can tell you how to live your life. It will be hard for women to stand up for themselves and say no but they have to at some point because if they don't, they will lose their identities. We are not children so we need to stop giving in to social pressures. Women should stop seeing themselves as victims because that is the worst thing that they can do to themselves. You're a person, a human being, and you have a choice to say no when you want to and say yes when you want to."

Maliha has been married for over 25 years. She has three grown-up children and has been working in the development sector for almost 15 years. For her, economic stability and the power to be financially independent are key.

"I feel that there are two sides. Marriage provides social mobility to women in the sense that they can be less vigilant about following social norms basically because our society looks at them less critically. But this mobility doesn't necessarily translate into freedom unless there are certain economic, environmental and personal factors that go with it. One important thing is having economic freedom and one's own source of income and the ability to have the psychological strength to be economically independent. The moment a woman is economically dependant on a man, be it her father or husband, it obligates her to act in a certain way, and she feels that she has to repay her so-called debt."

Sometimes being financially independent does not always give you the clout that it should. Sayeeda and Sultana have both found that, after marriage, despite being financially independent and able to stand up for themselves and what they think is right, they have to deal with a lot of pressure from either their husbands or their in-laws to change their lifestyles and their ways.

"Before we got married, my husband used to love that I was so independent," says 26-year-old Sayeeda. "He loved that I had a set career path and was well-educated, had my own life, my own friends. After we got married, he became possessive, made demands, such as asking me to dress more conservatively, being more careful about what I did in public. He began to resent my job and always belittled me in public when I engaged in intellectual conversations. It's like he automatically became someone else when we got married. All his ideals and beliefs changed and he expected me to change too."

"My mother-in-law does not like the fact that I work," says 24-year-old Sultana. "Every time I leave in the morning for work, she makes a face. She tells my husband that she would rather I stay home and help around the house. At night my husband and I fight about it. He wants me to quit my job to bring peace within his family, but I refuse to do so. I have worked too hard to get where I am and I'm not giving that up, but sometimes I feel the pressure so strongly that I do want to give up, just out of sheer exhaustion."

"It's all about a man's security level," explains Maliha. "Most men -- especially in our society -- are scared that their wives will become more competent and successful. Men by nature are very vain and egotistical and it is hard for them to accept that their wives are more successful, or even successful to a certain point, so they start making boundaries and barriers to get in the way of a woman's success in her career. They get a kick out of the feeling and knowledge that they are the sole providers and protectors of the women."

Sometimes, unfortunately, the barriers are defined by a woman's family, rather than her husband or his family, and marriage is then seen as a way out, as is the case with 21-year-old Rima.

"After I got married, I was allowed to do all the things I was never allowed to do when I was living with my parents," she says. "I was allowed to further my studies, work full-time in a multinational company, wear whatever I want and go out without having to answer to anyone. It was like marriage was my ticket to freedom."

Often, however, women see marriage as that "ticket to freedom" and are cheated out of it regardless.

Says 30-year-old Tamanna, "I wanted to study medicine and become a doctor. When I got married, my husband and I moved abroad and I started to apply to med school. When I finally got accepted, he told me he would not allow me to attend because med school was too long a process and how would we be able to start a family and make a home if I was always studying and in school?"

According to Tupa, if the person you are to spend the rest of your life with cannot respect your needs, then it may be time to reconsider. "If the man in your life doesn't get it even after you sit down and talk to him and take your stand -- and the first few times it will be difficult -- but even if he doesn't get it after a while, then maybe he is not the right person for you, and you should have the strength to walk away for your own sake."

But is it so easy to walk away? Faustina Pereira, an advocate of Bangladesh Supreme Court and a director of Ain O Shalish Kendra, says that 'freedom' for a woman immediately translates to the ability to access the various structures and institutes of the State. This would encompass every facet of socio-legal interaction - from daily interactions in social and family life to participating in the highest level of State such as the Parliament. Pereira says that it is a vital mistake to see family life as something separate from State function.

What about the legal system? How does it constrain women's freedom? The legal system we have inherited, says Faustina, is not elastic enough to yield necessary benefits to women in particular and men and women in general because it is steeped in a male perspective, and that too the male perspective of a particular class. "We now have an all-women police cell in Mirpur; but we must ask what necessitated such a cell?" asks Pereira. It shows that the whole system left by itself, starting from filing a GD to the investigation to the trial, cannot adequately address women's needs, thus necessitating such "special" measures for women.

Pereira says that the main problem is that the perspective from which our laws have been legislated and implemented, have never taken women to be the subject of law. "The male identity has always been the subject of law and written according to male needs," says Pereira, a human rights activist. "Most of the procedural laws have been written by a handful of British, white, upper middle-class men who had their own perspectives and whose perspectives found their way into the law." Women on their own rights were never made the subject of the law. The good news is that some laws are changing with the times, says Pereira. This is especially true for family laws regarding custody or payment of maintenance and dower - major factors that have kept many women in abusive or troubled marriages. When it is a question of giving up the children in order to be free from an unhappy marriage, women chose to stay just to keep the children. "What we must convince women," says Pereira, "is that they are not as vulnerable or helpless as they are made to think." She explains that, under the present custody laws, the court predominantly looks at what is in the best interest of the child and usually for infants and minor children, it is presumed that the mother, unless she is proven to be unfit, is the better custodian of a child in whose custody a child's welfare is ensured. She points out to judgements and precedents where it has been shown that religious laws on father's prerogative over a child is not immutable, and those laws will not influence the judicial mind if the court believes that the child will be better off with the mother.

According to Pereira, more and more middle-class and lower middle-class women have taken advantage of this law and have gained custody of their children. The legal guardianship of a child, however, still lies with the father, but, Pereira says that while we continue our advocacy to fight for mother's guardianship rights, we should build upon the strengths of mother's custodianship rights. As far as providing maintenance for the children is concerned, there is no way that a father can evade his responsibility. Muslim law in particular pays attention to the fact that the father is obligated to pay the maintenance of his children and the children's mother, even if she is divorced from him, has the right to demand this on their behalf.

Sometimes, even when there are no children, women continue to stay in abusive marriages because they feel they have nowhere to go. If they do not have the skills or education needed to get a decent job, this financial insecurity will be the biggest reason to endure a bad marriage. In some cases, a prenuptial agreement that the husband will provide financial maintenance in the case of divorce, gives women some security, although it is usually resisted at the time of the marriage. Women can claim past maintenance from her husband after divorce but not future maintenance.

So is 'freedom' an untenable dream? There is no obvious answer and a lot depends on the attitude of women themselves.

"I think that real freedom is being able to make decisions about your own life based on reasons and feelings that you think are valid," says Zara. " It's perfectly normal to ask for advice or opinions from people whom you respect, but your final decision should be your own. Above all, you should be able to live your own life, provided you aren't deliberately hurting anyone, in the way that you want to, without everyone around you expressing an opinion about what you should do. One of the worst things in our society is the way that people feel that they have the right to pass judgement on others. They not only offer unsolicited opinions, they force them on you. And that is one of the hardest things about being a woman in our society - you are always subjected to the opinions of others, and made to feel bad simply because you don't fulfil whatever stereotypes they carry about how women should behave."

By equipping themselves with education, skills and the ability to support themselves, along with the determination to survive with dignity, they may not be guaranteed freedom. But at least they will give them a good chance to aspire for it.

Volume 4 Issue 36 | March 4 , 2005 |

Copyright (R) 2005