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Powerful stories of women that inspire

  • Published at 08:20 pm November 9th, 2018
From left:   Kangalini Sufia, Dr  Sayeba Akther, Nomita Halder, Khaleda Shahriar Kabir with Nobonita Chowdhury
From left: Kangalini Sufia, Dr Sayeba Akther, Nomita Halder, Khaleda Shahriar Kabir with Nobonita Chowdhury Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

The session kicked off with the story of Engineer Khaleda Shahriar Kabir, the first female civil engineer to have graduated from BUET in 1968

Moderated by journalist-presenter Nobonita Chowdhury, the panel titled, “HerStories: I Am Change” revolved around the compelling stories of Engineer Khaleda Shahriar Kabir, acid-attack survivor Nomita Halder, Dr Sayeba Akhter and baul Kangalini Sufia.

The session kicked off with the story of Engineer Khaleda Shahriar Kabir, the first female civil engineer to have graduated from BUET in 1968. At the time of her admission, the authorities were reluctant about female students in civil engineering since they would need to stay away from home to conduct surveys, and would encourage them to enroll in architecture instead. 

“As luck would have it, I came down with a bad fever on the day of admission for the Department of Architecture, whereas a few days earlier, I had sat for the civil engineering one. I stood second among 1300 other candidates and the authorities had no choice but to take my case seriously,” she added.

After graduating with flying colours, Khaleda joined the erstwhile Water Development Board, becoming the first ever female engineer to be appointed by the incumbent Pakistani government in East Pakistan. She shared, “You wouldn’t believe me, but I was actually the only female working in all of Motijheel at that time, apart from a few other Anglo-Indian girls who worked as receptionists.” 

Popular Bangladeshi YouTuber Raba Khan, left, and columnist Fariha Panni speak in the session “Women and Wit” on the second day of Dhaka Lit Fest on Friday. Photo: Dhaka TribuneThe next inspirational story was that of Nomita Halder, an acid-attack survivor who lost her eyesight in the ordeal but did not lose her indomitable will to carry on. She had to begin from scratch, learning how to study using the Braille system, and passed her SSC and subsequent exams with the help of a writer. After that, she decided to join Baptist Mission Integrated Schoolas a teacher - the very school that had helped her to get back on her feet. “It feels great when I see my students graduate and work in the mainstream. No matter what happens, you cannot let it affect you – that is what I want to instill in my students,” said Halder.

Dr Sayeba Akhter’s story is perhaps one that is unheard of in the context of Bangladesh. A gynaecologist whose name will forever be etched in history for being the inventor of the Sayeba Method used to stop haemorrhaging during child birth, she has saved the lives of thousands of women across the world. 

“I was making rounds at the wards when I heard about a woman who had had a stillbirth and was bleeding profusely. The normal procedure would be to cut off her uterus, leaving her barren for the rest of her life, but I urged the resident doctor to give me an opportunity to see if I can do anything. Using only a condom and a catheter, I managed to stop the internal bleeding within 15 minutes – saving her life as well as safeguarding her chances to become a mother again,” Dr Akhter said proudly.

The last superwoman to speak was Baul Kangalini Sufia, who shared anecdotes from her life, describing how she managed to overcome countless struggles to become the award-winning folk singer we know her as today. Singing one of her most popular songs “Buri Hoilam Tor Karone” which talks about the unpaid labour of women, the 80 year old mesmerised the audience, leaving them enthralled. Holding her beloved ektara, she exclaimed, “As long as I hold this instrument, I don’t know how but tunes come naturally – it almost feels like divine intervention from the heavens.” 

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