Women in Bangladesh are usually considered a second-rated species. They have to comply, barring in high societies, with dress codes and several socially sanctioned restrictions. Their status cannot be said to be very enviable by any account. Rape, murder and torture for dowry and other reasons, harassment in public places or buses make screaming news. The list of the ordeals they undergo both at home and outside is long. This is notwithstanding the fact that the country's prime ministers since the fall of Ershad have been women. Right now the prime minister, the leader of the Opposition and the speaker of the Jatiya Sangsad are all women.
When incumbencies such as these could not make much of a difference in the plight of women in general, a quiet revolution is taking place on an unexpected front. The under-15 girls' football team has sent a highly positive message for girls and women in the country. Their latest emphatic victories and clinching of the championship in Hong Kong against teams rated higher than them is a clear indication that the girls are after more football glory.
In the Jockey Club Girls' International Youth Football tournament they beat Malaysia 10-1, Iran 8-1 and the host Hong Kong 6-0. The manner of the wins speaks volumes for the prowess of the girls. This team has to its credit the title of the inaugural U-15 SAFF tournament. They have been invited by the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCAF) to its next competition to be held in the USA.
How the girl footballers will fare there is not known but the fact is that their performance has drawn attention by competitors on a world stage. When the men's national football team is ranked 185th in the world, the girls are showing sure signs of promise. If they can compete on a par with the teams in the CONCAFF championship, the girls will do something no men's team has ever done.
Now the success in football for them will have its positive impacts on the overall status of women in the country. They have broken a barrier when they stepped on the football pitch. Hats off to the man who had the ingenuity to think of building a girls' football team in a village called Kalsindur, a sleepy village in Mymensingh. A number of girls came to the national team from there. When they began, their fathers were against their daughters playing a 'man's game'. But now they savour the success and are proud of their daughters' achievements.
This is how success begets success. The change in attitude of the simple villagers is what makes a sea of difference in social perception. The girls in the team have earned it. People will shower praise on them for their success but the imperceptible change in perception of people will reform society from within. Football here has acted as an agent. In the same way success for girls in other games will produce the same effect.
This is woman power -actually human power. At certain point the gender discrimination will have no place. But to do so other areas of strong point for girls and women have to be explored with similar dedication. Girls may realise their potential in areas like fine art, song and music, drama and performing art. But sports and games make players and athletes popular instantly because it goes with national ethos and individual emotion related to unrealised dreams. Some of them become iconic figures.
Overall there is a need for a cultural awakening by which both boys and girls will grow up through a healthy competition. They will value each other as human beings instead of male and female. If they can develop such gender-neutral attitude towards each other, the environment of mistrust and unnecessary inquisitiveness will not vitiate their relations. They will know each other better and cooperate with each other in an effort to taking society ahead. The lesson of the girls' success is therefore most emphatic.