The dangerous reality of being a woman on the streets of Dhaka

The writer says staying on guard every minute of one's existence outside isn't really a solution when they're the ones who must be granted the right to safety on the roads.

Fatin Hamama

Fatin Hamama

The Daily Star


Photo: Orchid Chakma

April 14, 2022

DHAKA – Do you look back a lot while walking the streets even in broad daylight? Have you ever had a friend track you on Google Maps while you were in an Uber at night? Do you get to walk around late at night without having a trusted one’s number on speed dial? Fear of getting pickpocketed is probably your only concern when you’re amidst a crowd, yes?

If your first two answers are a no, and the rest are yes, I’m pretty sure that whoever you are, you’re in no way a woman on the streets of Bangladesh.

For us, the drill begins even before we step a toe outside the threshold, no matter what time of the day it is. Turning on location sharing with a family member, grabbing pepper spray, putting on a stoic facial expression so that we look rather unapproachable before going out might sound overexaggerated, but this is exactly what more or less every woman I know has gone or goes through on a daily basis. However, that’s only the beginning of it all.

The first thing we feel once we’re outside is not the scorching heat or the sheer chaos of Dhaka. It’s the constant predatory stares and snide remarks muttered and shouted from every possible direction. Half the women I see slipping in and out of the crowds on the overbridges and sidewalks have their backpacks at the front as a way of protection from bad touch and usually, I’m one of them too.

Public transports are no respite either and are such a hotspot for passive harassment that it makes the option of walking by oneself seem like a “good” option. You may think that women who own personal transport and drive themselves have a fair bit of advantage, but that’s not really the case either.

Firstly, the stares and scoffs intensify even more when a girl is seen riding a bicycle or a motorbike. Secondly, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen male drivers deliberately bumping into vehicles being driven by women and starting the usual string of misogynistic ramblings with nods from people around them.

What puts me in a perfect dilemma is how normalised it is for the majority of women to practise shrugging all these off from a shockingly young age but also, how hostile the situation becomes for a woman when she protests against the harassment she faced with half the mass around her pretending nothing happened and the rest turning on her with victim blaming.

I don’t understand why people keep suggesting us to learn basic taekwondo and self-defence techniques just so that we can take a small walk down the street? Staying on guard every minute of one’s existence outside isn’t really a solution when they’re the ones who must be granted the right to safety on the roads. It’s almost as if there’s a general societal consensus in Bangladesh that no woman on the streets has rights over her own body, let alone her safety.

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