Of late, we (my wife and me) have been blessed with twin baby girls. Of course, it has turned out to be one of the best things that have ever happened in our conjugal life. But ever since my baby girls came to this world, I have been contemplating some weird things and some questions are constantly floating around in my mind. If I transmute my agony into words, I am left with nothing but a few questions.
As a father, will I be able to keep all kinds of pigeonholing at bay from my daughters when they grow up? Will the world they will live in be harassment-free and safe for their regular commuting? Will they feel confident to go out whenever they want just like their male peers and enjoy their lives? Will they enjoy the same freedom that men in our society do?
By the time you will finish reading this piece, you will understand that I actually don't have answers to any of these questions. As a father, many recent happenings are exacerbating my mental condition and my fears for the social security of my daughters are getting multiplied, instead of being assuaged.
First of all, I want my daughters to explore the world and experience things with a fortunate stroke of serendipity, connect better with nature and learn about the deeper philosophies of life so that they can grow out to be more compassionate towards others and humanity. To do all these, they need to step out of home. But will it be possible for them to do so without feeling intimidated? Before jumping to any conclusion, have a look at some stats and incidents.
Harassment in public places and transports has turned into a commonplace of ordinary life. Remember the incident of Rupa, a girl who was gang raped by the driver, helper and their accomplices in a moving bus in Madhupur, Tangail in 2017 and then thrown away in the forest. In 2015, a 21-year-old Garo woman who was waiting for a bus to make her way back home, was shoved into a microbus and gang raped while the microbus was moving around different roads in the capital for almost two hours. Even a few days ago, a female passenger was raped by robbers in a Dhaka-bound bus.
Almost every other day, we see this kind of news in different national dailies, which portray the grim realities women in our country face while commuting. Even different studies have also revealed this reality.
According to a recent online survey conducted jointly by UNDP (Bangladesh), NHRC and CRI, nearly 87% of women have been subjected to some form of harassment at least once in their lifetime. Moreover, the same survey has pointed out that 36% women have to face sexual harassment regularly on public transports. Harassment is also rampant in public places including streets, shopping malls and online platforms.
Because of such ubiquitous presence of abuse everywhere, the spillover is that women in our country are developing some kind of disorder known as agoraphobia. To put it in layman's terms, agoraphobia is the fear of going out in public places or being in situations where help will not be available. People suffering from this kind of disorder feel scared of commuting through public transports, visiting public places like shopping malls and leaving home.
In such a backdrop, when the society is already hell bent on foisting different orthodox values on women just to clip their wings on the pretext of saving them and women are subjected to different biased treatments, recent remarks on women's clothing by the High Court has come as a bolt from the blue and are a bellwether for our shifting social impetus.
Why shouldn't my daughters have the right to choose what kind of dress they want to put on? I believe in my country's constitution and imposition of dress code violates the rights enshrined in the constitution.
Article 39 of the constitution grants every citizen the freedom of thought and conscience and guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression. Of course, freedom of expression includes someone's individual choices of attire as well since our lifestyle choices are an essential part of the way we express and present ourselves.
Owing to all these, I get butterflies in my stomach whenever I think about the society my daughters are going to live in when they will grow up. Given the current zeitgeist of our society and the changed social impetus for moral policing, it is undeniable that it's getting increasingly difficult for women with conviction to live their lives on their own terms.
So, what's the way out of this nightmare and to get our society back on the rails where everyone will feel empowered and an inclusive environment free of abuse and violence for women could be ensured?
We need to start reverse stereotyping if we really want to create a safe society for women. We need to come out of the bubble dominated by misogynistic values and zero in our focus on teaching boys to respect women and consider them as individuals, not objects, instead of teaching girls different didactic lessons pertaining to the methods to avoid getting abused or physically assaulted.
Moreover, society at large needs to stop performing the role of a panopticon based on gender-biased impressional primacies, which always try to dictate everything for women only.
To put it simply, I want a safe, harassment-free and equal society for my daughters. I don't want my daughters to suffer from agoraphobia, and always be at the receiving end of sufferings and diktats.
Yes, it's true that tensions are hovering just beneath the surface of my skin, but I am also determined to do whatever it takes to help my baby girls grow into an opinionated, independent women with a sense of belonging for humanity.
Meanwhile, it's also true that the feeling is personal, but the responsibility is collective. We all have a role to play in this endeavor to develop a more women-friendly society.
Md Morshedul Alam Mohabat is a philomath who likes to delve deeper into the human psyche with a view to exploring the factors that influence it.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.