Fear is a basic emotion, and possibly one of the first times we experience it is as children afraid of that thing that creaks in the dark. But as girls, we learn early on that there are many other things out there to fear that does not usually apply to our male counterparts – the fear of becoming a victim of abuse or rape. Almost all girl children will be able to testify to being warned about all the dangers that a woman can face, and often being faced with unrealistic restrictions to counter this fear. But can we really blame the society for being overprotected?
It takes a lot of mental preparation and courage for a woman to leave her home, because of the fear that the world out there is not one that welcomes her true self into it. This journalist spoke to some women regarding this daily struggle, one that is barely noticed yet a huge part of the lives of a huge portion of our population.
Being 'modestly' dressed does not reduce sexual harassment
Saudia Afrin, a student at Dhaka University (DU) and a woman in her mid twenties, said “I had to change my attire completely once I started my Masters at DU. I used to wear jeans, sleeveless and all sort of fusion clothes. I had to adapt to my surroundings, and now I wear kamizes with the dupatta wrapped around me whenever I go to classes. But even now I am gawked at or I hear sleazy remarks, but still I feel like I am less devoured by these unwanted eyes on me. Who would expect such behaviour in an institution that is meant to give us knowledge?”
Delruba Mahmud, an officer at BRAC, also shared her daily fears of traveling.
“I was on my way to office by a cng. The cng driver was not that old. When I got in, the driver adjusted the rear view mirror and kept smiling at me, and devouring me with his eyes. After a while, he even started to unbutton his shirt, while fixedly staring at me. I was really freaked out and started texting a colleague for help – luckily there wasn't much traffic and I reached office soon.”
She added, “Since then, I have stopped traveling alone by cng. When people say women get harassed because of the way they dress, I have certainly proved that wrong. If a person is by nature like that, it doesn't matter what you wear.'
You aren't what you wear
It is not just random men, and even women, on the streets who become judges of the morality of a woman, based on nothing but the clothes she happens to be wearing. However, it is not only complete strangers and nosy neighbours who equate clothes to modesty and 'good' personalities – sometimes even the people who are closest to you can take you apart based on what you wear.
Shahreen Preety, a junior HR executive of Bengal Foundation, recently came out of a ten year long relationship. She said, “After my breakup, I rediscovered myself as a good-looking, bold and independent woman. My boyfriend used to mentally abuse me; verbally abusing me, dominating me and publicly harassing me. His insecurity was to such an extent that I wouldn't be able to wear any sort of makeup - even putting on the slightest of 'kajol' during a special occasion was forbidden for me. Dressing up or being trendy was completely out of question, and I used to dress according to his standards of morality so he would stop calling me names in public places at least.”
She added, “Once I started to work for Bengal and become more independent, I began to understand what a poisonous relationship I was in. One fine day, I wore a kurti that I actually liked to work and a colleague of mine told me, 'Wow, you look great. Finally you are not wearing a boro bon kamiz.' That was a turning point for me, and helped me to get out of that horrible relationship.”
Will the fear ever go away?
For safety reasons, more and more women have started to carry precautionary weapons.
“I carry a flick knife all the time,” said Ahona Ahmed, an ex-journalist.
“There is always a “Volini” spray in my bag. People think I use it for muscle pain. But little do they know it is my safety weapon, as I travel alone all the time,” said Zaima Zahra, a fellow of Teach for Bangladesh.
“A woman should always carry an umbrella. That is the best used weapon of all to protect yourself from any unwanted situations,” said Tahera Jannat, a school teacher of Academia.
However, it is sad to see that women now feel the need to resort to their own defences, rather than having faith in law enforcement and other agencies that are meant to provide her with safety. In an increasingly modernised world, regardless of personal views, we should be able to walk freely in our country, without fear of harassment or abuse.