February is the month of imbibing the intrinsic spirit of Bangaleeness on pledging the nation's love for mother tongue. But does the month-long book fair in Dhaka and book fairs of shorter duration in other cities and towns really have a positive impact on life in the rest of the country? The findings of a survey conducted by the Bangladesh Mohila Parishad are too disquieting to make such a claim. As many as 337 women and girls were subjected to physical and sexual violence in what is known as language month. Of them, 114 (74 girls and 40 women) fell victim to rape and gang rape. Nine of the victims were murdered after rape and one committed suicide later on.
Now it is March, the month hallowed by the blood of the first batch of martyrs of the Liberation War and tinged with the soul-stirring memory of declaration of the country's independence in 1971. The Mujib Borsho, celebration of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib's centenary also begins from this month. Then the International Women's Day will be observed on March 8. If the preceding month's statistics -which by no means is a complete picture of violence against women - present a grim picture in the context of the nation's love for mother tongue, the outrageous trend is unlikely to decline this month. Newspaper pages are already replete with reports on horrendous physical and sexual crimes against girls and women.
The hard truth is that celebration of national and international events is limited to the most advanced segment of society and the rest of the population -the larger portion -remains rather untouched and uninfluenced. Had it not been the case, the people as a unit would have respected the month of mother tongue where one learns language from the mouth of mother not father. Here woman or the feminine spirit has naturally been highlighted. The month that captures the nation's attention to mother tongue -which to the nation's credit has been accepted as the International Mother Language Day -could not be desecrated by such aberrations.
There is a gulf between communities at different levels. Like maldistribution of wealth, opportunities, education, cultural orientation are also disproportionately made available. Thus the majority of the people have little chance of educating them, refining them through cultural pursuance. The elite and the privileged have failed to take their message to the common masses and the pep talks at seminars and workshops prove a poor tool to deal with the challenges posed by explicit materials now easily available, courtesy of electronic gadgets -smartphones in particular.
At a discussion meeting arranged by the ActionAid Bangladesh at the Shawkat Osman Auditorium of the Public Library with a focus on the International Women's Day, a highly important subject was raised by the participants. It is the upbringing of the male child in a family. As a follow-up, male members of society will have to be prepared for accepting empowered women. Here the two are complementary to each other. Even in lower sections of society, women can enjoy greater respect than they do if their contribution to family is recognised. Where formal credits are disbursed by non-government organisations, the recipients are mostly women but it is the men who as family heads use the money. In such cases, men cannot dominate women and mostly cut a low profile. In such families, chances of women getting physically abused diminish to a large extent.
However, mutual respect based on understanding, love and compassion demands a more enabling environment where society gets involved with special emphasis on human rights. No slogan of gender equality will transform society unless the educational, financial and cultural background supports the precept. Education here does not necessarily mean academic education but traditional knowledge and principles. In some ethnic communities the matriarchal tradition and values corroborate this fact.
Families based on relations of gender equilibrium -no matter if those are not very advanced in education -stand a better chance of inculcating sobering values and respect for girls and women in a male child. In matriarchal societies such esteem and courtesy are almost inborn in a male child. This cannot be expected from boys from rest of the communities. Here perhaps the NGOs disbursing loans among the villagers can play a role. If the person at the grassroots level is trained or the government appoint a counsellor at the local government level to hold family counselling sessions during the weekly instalment collection or at any other convenient time, the attitude of male chauvinism may give in to better treatment for girls and women.
From the primary school level, the value of treating boys and girls equally may be instilled in children. In fact, girls are doing better now in examinations at most levels of education. They are proving their merit and power. Now the need is to guide men and youths to judge all individuals irrespective of male or female by their qualities. Charity must begin at home, though.
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