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Rape, domestic violence, abuse, sex-slave, child-marriage, dowry, prostitution – The first word that many associate with these concepts is ‘women’. For centuries, women all over the world have been subjected to oppression and till date, despite their achievements and contribution to society, a lot of women do not get justice. In a country like Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to drive; in the South East Asia, young girls are forced to marry at an early age; and women are killed in many parts of the world by so-called ‘honor killings’. Women are victims of violence by both society and their families, and many of their stories go unheard.
Connecther and Harvard College Social Innovation Collaborative (SIC) this year present Girls Impact World The Film Festival 2013, where high school and undergraduate university students submit 3-5 minutes long short films that address global women’s issues such as: education for girls, maternal health, violence against women and girls among others. This will bring into light many issues and stories of women who are deprived of protection and other privileges.
Azmina Karim, a Bangladeshi undergraduate student from Asian University for Women majoring in Asian Development Studies, made a film which focuses on the violence on women in rural parts of Bangladesh. To watch the video click here
Toonari Post(TP): When did you decide to make this documentary about violence on women in Bangladesh?
Azmina Karim(AK): When I heard of Girls Impact the world film festival, I chose to portray ‘violence against women’ in order to raise awareness about this topic. Girls Impact the world is a platform where women can speak for themselves and other women, where we can express that as women we need a safe place in the world to live and it is our right to speak up.
TP: Even though Bangladesh is developing, most people are still old-fashioned and traditional minded, how did you find the courage to take such an initiative? Did you face any difficulties (from government/society/family etc) while filming?
AK: Though Bangladesh is developing, the position of women in a patriarchal society is hard to change. Women are still objectified and thought as submissive to men. The notion of patriarchy has seeped into the psyche of men as well as women.
Women in our society take it as their fate, or some even think of it as their duty, to lock themselves into these modern day slavery practices in their very own homes. While filming, I particularly didn’t face difficulties from government or other social institutions. Maybe because these interviews were not taken in a larger scale to trigger any provocations. However, it was difficult to convince the battered and deprived women to share their stories as they were reluctant to speak up.
I discovered many were scared that we may take legal actions and many other women like Sonia Akhter, thought it was pointless to talk about this. Sonia Akhter shed some light on this topic when she mentioned, that prior to her interview with me, she shared her story to a news reporter and the news organization sent her back to her husband. This caused her husband to increase the level of torture because she’d seeked help from others. There is an underlying fear among these women that sharing their stories won’t bring any changes in their lives but rather make it worse.
Moreover, the notion of patriarchy legitimizes the violence against women in our society, so the women themselves accept that it is normal to be beaten by her husband or any male member of their family. Thus they don’t speak up.
I didn’t face any problem from my family in general while making these interviews, they were supportive, one of the reason being that I don’t have any brothers. My parents raised us four sisters by giving us the equal rights that they might have given to their sons.
TP: Have you received enough support from family/friends and/or other organizations?
AK: I didn’t work under any organization while making these interviews. My family members supported me; they even escorted me to different slums to cover the stories.
TP: What was your main inspiration for the film?
AK: Inspiration for covering this topic or even participating in this competition came from the latest incidents that took place around the world. The way women are being raped, the number of deaths due to domestic violence etc. – they made me want to speak up against male dominance.
TP: Have you seen domestic violence in your family or among your friends, where the woman got pressured to not report the case?
I grew up in a different environment where you can challenge the traditional structure of the society. My parents gave me and my other three sisters the opportunity to get education, and freedom so that we can choose our path and discern what is right from wrong.
However, living in Bangladesh the case of domestic violence is so obvious that almost every day we encounter stories of this kind of violence, be it from neighbours, stories of relatives, stories from friends and also in newspapers and tv channels. Most of these stories remain unheard, these women do not have any means to report these cases.
We don’t have strict laws against these violent acts, nor do we have good policies to support the women who fight for their right. Also the state does not provide shelters or protection so when violence happens, these women have nowhere to go. Nor do their family members support them in this case. The result in most of these cases is then that they go unreported, leading to only one option – living with their male partners, even if they are tortured all their life.
TP: What do you hope to achieve by your film?
AK: I hope to raise awareness and to prove a point that it’s about time we all get a safe place to live. I want to create collective identity for women, by sharing their stories and say it’s okay to speak up. I hope to get justice for women like Sonia Akhter and many others. I want to give a voice to women like her.
TP: Are you involved in any activities, such as protesting or rallying, to spread your message to the public in Bangladesh?
AK: No, I am not involved in any protest or rally as such because we haven’t had any such movements lately. So far, Girls Impact the film festival is the only platform that I have used to raise public awareness about these topics. Moreover, this documentary has been widely shared on Facebook and Twitter, so I hope people get the message that we, as women, have had enough of these prejudices against us for being born as a woman. We want to stop the occurrence of violence as a regular practice of a male dominated society. I firmly believe initiatives like mine will bring some positive change in our society.
TP: Do you think the women of newer generations also suffer from domestic violence?
AK: Women all over suffer from domestic violence of some sort, be they educated, working, from rich backgrounds or part of the new generation – they can all potentially fall victim to such acts. The dominance in society over female populations is still quite the same towards generations of educated, working class people. Even though these women might be educated and open minded, the structure of society did not change, neither did the mindset of their family often.
TP: What measures do you think the public or government should take regarding domestic violence?
AK: Gender studies should be included in the national curriculum. Women need to be made aware of their rights and feel free to share their problems. Often when NGOs intervene in domestic affairs, they tend to solve the problem from their perspective and make decisions from their points of view (the top-down approach). I think they should rather take measures based on what the victims really want.
TP: In your opinion, what is the solution to eradicate domestic violence in Bangladesh?
AK: There is no particular solution. Through a single initiative, we can’t remove it from our society. We have to create awareness step by step, not just from person to person, but through government. The social institutions or NGOs should step forward to ensure justice for the victimized women, our social structure should provide equal rights. Even the victims should be mentally prepared to make initiatives for themselves so others can help them too.
TP: Did Sonia Akhter get justice in the end?
AK: No. We could not take any action against her husband because Sonia Akhter herself resisted from taking any action, she wants to wait for her husband and hopes one day he will come back.
TP: What would you like to say to all those women who are subjected to domestic violence today?
AK: Speak up! That’s the only phrase I would like to emphasize. They have a huge responsibility, if they don’t speak up for themselves, then we will be left with a society where their daughters and granddaughter will undergo the same acts of violence. Because nobody dared to speak up for their rights.