by Limana Solaiman Mridha
This year’s Dhaka Lit Fest saw a lively discussion with a panel of three successful Bangladeshi women, who against all odds have made their dreams come true in a patriarchal society.
The inspiring group _ mountaineer Nishat Majumdar, journalist Munni Saha, and entrepreneur and photographer Sabrina Islam _ talked to British director Jude Kelly, who runs the Women of the World (WOW) festival at the Southbank Centre in London.
The discussion evolved around the life stories and struggles faced by these exceptional women as they pushed ahead to establish their careers.
Nishat, the first Bangladeshi woman to summit Mount Everest, shared the story of her first climb to Keokradong, the 3,172-ft peak in Bandarban that is touted as Bangladesh’s highest.
When Kelly inquired on how she convinced sponsors of her capability to climb Mount Everest, which is 29,029 ft, Nishat replied that the task of arranging funds to go for the world’s highest peak was like climbing another mountain.
“It was not a simple task!” said Nishat.
The energetic Nishat told the captivated audience that as a child, she had always aspired for adventure travel, and considers herself lucky to have a supporting family behind her. Nishat added that she is a member of a mountaineering club where girls are encouraged and appreciated for their effort and desire to climb mountains.
The outspoken Munni Saha shared stories of her childhood and schooldays. Munni describing herself as a shy child made the audience burst into laughter as it holds no resemblance to her present self, a confident and courageous woman to say the least.
According to Munni, her mother, who always inspired her to fight for what she wanted, is her driving force. She also narrated how she was discouraged by her peers and associates, who told her often that a woman cannot be a TV journalist.
“Their discouragement worked to fuel my determination to prove them wrong on that account,” said Munni.
The dynamic Sabrina Islam talked about how she was encouraged by her family from childhood to do something meaningful with her life. She talked about her success in the business industry and how she managed to overcome all hurdles to make it big in Bangladesh.
The audience interaction round gave rise to some interesting questions and stories, among which the one narrated by a young woman got everyone’s attention.
When she was 13, the narrator said, a neighbour, who was about the same age as her, would come to play with her every day. She used to live on the ninth floor and the other girl on the fifth. Her playmate would always be accompanied by her six-year-old brother, and when questioned one day, the girl replied that her mother made her younger brother come with her just so he could “look after his elder sister if something went wrong”!
This story prompted the panel to talk about the deep-rooted ideas of men’s ‘superiority’ and role as ‘protector’ of women, and how the notion is hammered into impressionable young minds from an early age.
All the participants unanimously agreed that education alone is not enough to empower women in today’s world, and that both boys and girls need to be taught mutual respect to help eradicate gender bias from society.
Photos: Zaid Islam, Rajib Dhar