Korail slum’s karate queens

October 11, 2016 by

Today is International Day of the Girl Child, and the karate girls of Korail in Bangladesh are screaming – as they are most days.

Standing tall, and bellowing from the bottom of their lungs as they kick and punch, the girls are decked out in their dark blue gi (the traditional uniform used for karate practice). They don’t lose composure for a second as hordes of curious bystanders hear the sounds and crowd the door to watch.

There’s barely any light in the meagre tin room; a tiny shack with no address, the only nearby landmark being the sign for the local kazi (Muslim marriage registrar) office further down the road. They are in the heart of Korail, the sprawling mess of tin roofs that make up the largest slum in the megacity of Dhaka.

“We’ve always been told, as girls, to keep our voices low. Not to be loud,” says Rumki. She smirks and continues, with her friends smiling behind her, “but I’ve got a lot to say. My voice is my greatest weapon.”

She demonstrates scenarios of women being sexually harassed; at the workplace where a co-worker grabs her from behind, at home where the husband pulls at her hair, and on the street where a group of men surround her.

In each scenario, she calmly analyses the situation, calculates her time, and within the blink of an eye, lands a strong kick and a powerful punch. With every single move, Rumki screams as loud as she can, startling her attacker, and everyone around.

Her scream is strong and confident as a kiai (the Japanese martial arts term for the short yell or shout voiced while performing an attacking move is meant to be). The purpose of it is to startle and intimidate the opponent, and express one’s confidence.

The girls and their kiais are already making the dimly-lit alleys and passageways of the slum safer.

“A few months ago, some of the local boys surrounded us. They teased and grabbed our clothes.”

The girls yelled their loudest, beat up a few of the boys, startled the others, and dragged one of them to the police station. According to them, no other boy on that street has dared to do anything like that ever since.

That might just be one street, but Rumki isn’t alone in this mission to make the streets safer.

There are 9,000 girls clubs across Bangladesh, providing safe spaces where 225,000 girls are given the chance to be themselves, and the skills to become what they want to be. They learn life skills, self-defense and build networks. Research has shown that the clubs help girls to stay in school, become more financially literate and communicate more confidently. Similar clubs have also been started by BRAC in four other countries; Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan, and Sierra Leone.

This International Youth Day, let’s celebrate these girls who have been teaching thousands of others to kick #likeagirl since 1993. From tin shacks across Bangladesh, they are making thousands of streets safer by simply teaching girls how to be confident, and scream.

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Zaian Chowdhury is a sub-editor at BRAC Communications.