Meet these stellar Bangladeshi icons
Bangladeshi women have taken great strides over the recent years in all aspects of the society. Women’s Day is the perfect occasion to observe and celebrate all the little-big achievements of inspiring girls and women in retrospect. Whether they are in the country or abroad, these Bangladeshi women are making us proud and leaving their mark across the globe.
One such individual, Umama Zillur, a Mount Holyoke College graduate, aims to promote gender inclusive development through education in Bangladesh. She founded Kotha - a primary intervention program that addresses the attitudes, behaviors, and conditions that support, condone and lead to sexual violence. One of Kotha’s primary initiatives, 'Kotha at School' is working specifically with high schools to address the lack of institutional knowledge sharing about the effects of rigid gender norms and stereotypes, maintaining good mental and physical health, valuing consent and about proper communication between friends and partners.
Inspired by the people around her who are brazenly different, especially women, Umama is ecstatic about the great response. She says, “There is a real hunger for the information and knowledge that Kotha at School works with and people are enthusiastic about being part of the conversations. However, the biggest struggle is convincing people you work with that there should be a demand for programs like Kotha At School that equip the youth with skills to solve the problems they face in their daily lives. The critical thinking skills that they are introduced to also really helps them question the culture they grow up in and this is essential. There is ample stigma attached to the many topics Kotha deals with, youngsters (and adults too) shy away from having conversations which eventually leaves the youth vulnerable and unprepared.” Kotha has plans to expand to more high schools and start Kotha At Work program to tackle issues like gender inequality and work place harassment. Umama and her unique approach to tackle the taboos of the society is a much-needed movement to establish a future where there are no negotiations to be made about a women's freedom of choice. She dreams of a future where girls and women do not have to overcome systematic or structural, societal barriers to fully realize their potential.
An uprising star with tremendous potential to dazzle the entertainment industry is Ridy Sheikh. Originally from Russia, Ridy made her debut in Bangladesh just a few years ago. Throughout her life, she has been promoting Bangladeshi culture with her dance, choreography and modelling at competitions, workshops and stage performances all over the world. Within a short time, she rose to fame with her unique dance styles such as hip-hop, jazz-funk, waacking, Bangla and Indian folk dances, semi-classical fusions based on Bharatnatyam, Kathak and many others. In 2016, she won the dance reality show ‘Mangolee Channel I Shera Nachiye’ Season 3 and established her career in Bangladesh and its neighbouring countries. Ridy is famous for dance covers of various multilingual songs on YouTube (where she promotes other dancers), her enigmatic choreography in music videos (Bondhurey with over 10 million views) and popular commercials with social awareness messages. Behind the fame, Ridy struggles to overcome her language barrier, as people who don’t know her often criticize her dialect as a fake accent. Her speech and communication in Bangla are improving with each day. Another problem she faces in Bangladesh is time management. When she was in Europe, she could conduct 6 to 7 meetings every day and still feel energetic. However, in Dhaka she has to cancel meetings or other engagements due to heavy traffic.
Currently she has started her own dance classes in Dhaka and is also focusing on acting. For those who don’t know, Ridy graduated with distinction from Plekhanov Russian Economic University majoring in International Economic Relations. Ridy says, “An ideal future for women is where they get equal rights, where every human being has access to free primary education.” Talented, fierce and a classic example of beauty with brains – Ridy is truly born to inspire.
Trotting across the world and inspiring everyone along her way, Priota Farelin Iftekhar won the title of Miss Culture Worldwide 2018 as Miss Bangladesh on December 16, Victory Day. She is also the first Bangladeshi to participate in Miss Tourism World. She shares, “My pageant journey started when I was a judge in a national pageant. I felt there were some inadequacies in grooming and preparation of participants who were going abroad from Bangladesh. Later a friend from Ghana suggested that I should participate and represent Bangladesh myself!” Priota is happy that the pageant industry in Bangladesh is flourishing, but despite the glamour and fashion, she feels a majority of the allocated resources are misspent on mass advertisement and the event itself,whereas participants desperately need professional coaches and proper training. Her future plan includes improving these conditions for pageant participants so that more talented and eligible females come forward. She, herself, struggled to acquire sponsors and all her pageant journeys were self-funded but she is happy, as she is not liable to any organization. She thinks a woman should be able to stand on her own feet and always be financially independent, no matter what. Famously known as ‘The Flag Girl’, Priota has raised her flag in almost 50 countries. She is a Brand Ambassador at Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation. Priota is currently focusing on her higher education. It is incredibly heart-warming to see her represent Bangladesh with such passion on international platforms solely based on her competence.
No one can explain the importance of financial literacy better than a banker. Tanzeri Hoque became the branch manager of one of the prestigious banks in Bangladesh in less than 10 years. A graduate from BRAC University, majoring in Finance and Marketing, Tanzeri was recruited as a management trainee of a leading private bank after her graduation. She works in a great organization and her female employees are highly motivated due to the phenomenal work environment. The women don't see patriarchal practices in the company and Tanzeri hopes that all other organizations follow the same path. However,she does face some trouble while working in the front end when she has to deal with different kinds of people from various backgrounds, cultures and communities. At times it gets a little difficult to deal with clients when they see a female branch manager or customer service officer. “It is unbelievable that there are educated and reputable men who would ask for your visiting cards, then start calling and disturbing you!” Juggling between work and family, Tanzeri wants to concentrate on her current position, grow and excel. She feels there should be policies to ensure women's advancement, so they have better control over their lives and play an influential role in society as decision makers. There is still a lot to learn and she wants to keep enriching her knowledge about banking.
Knowledge knows no bound for Nazifa Chowdhury, an undergraduate student of Computer Science in University of Maryland. People assume that girls and women are not inherently good at performing tasks when it comes to science and technology. Nazifa feels that knowing how to program one is an extremely useful skill. It is required in all professions and walks of life in recent times, because of the digital age. She says, “I took plenty of time to solve basic problems and it took me time to adjust to the fast-paced world of technology and to understand numerous difficult concepts. But I was inspired by my peers, especially the wonderful group of students I worked with. A lot of those people were women who surprisingly suffered from the daily dose of imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is probably one of the biggest struggles. It is the fear that I am not good enough to do something or attempt to do something. While the number of women in tech has dipped since the days of Melinda Gates soon it will rise, as there are a lot more actions being taken to make the workplace more comfortable for women. My university, itself, puts in a lot of effort to make sure we have a community and that we never feel like we don't belong there.” Nazifa has organized an all-women hackathon, Technica, and a part of the hackathon is to have younger audience (middle school, high school) come join the hackathon in an attempt to start exposing women to tech from a young age. Her suggestion for ECA clubs in Bangladesh is to try and start teaching kids how to program as early as possible. Women should be encouraged and exposed to the world of CS and programming, so they can evaluate if this is an option for them.
From Jasmine Akhter Fatema operating a battery-run rickshaw through the busy thoroughfares of Chittagong, to Shahnaz Akter Putul as Dhaka’s Uber Moto rider, or the single mother who is riding a CNG to support her children’s education - a sense of freedom can be felt when girls and women are seen riding their bikes and driving their cars. Bangladesh has changed a lot in the last decade and has become a role model for women empowerment, thanks to other women and men who advocate for equal rights. Whether a girl or woman wants to talk about forbidden topics, dance her heart out or crunch numbers and codes behind a desk – she can do whatever she wants.
Tanishaa Arman Akangkha is a travel enthusiast and a tree hugger who works for an iNGO in the hope of making this world a better place.