You may have read the news today. A teenager was harassed on her way back from school. A housewife, raped and murdered. Just the other day, you read about the rape of an eight-month-old baby. Do these stories bother you? Or did you fold up the newspaper and sigh in relief thinking, “At least my daughter is safe.”
But is she, really? How are you so sure that no one is bothering her at school or in her workplace? Can you, as a father, always ensure that you will be around to protect her?
A recent finding by BRAC shows that at least 20 reported violent acts were committed against women every single day between January to December in 2016.
Long-term behavioural change initiatives are crucial, but they are not going to keep your daughter, sister or wife safe right now.
Equip her with confidence. What is the best way to do that? It starts in the way that she is raised. It starts when you tell her that she can climb a tree, ride a bicycle and go swimming.
Enrol her into self-defence training. Encourage her to learn cricket, or join the football or basketball team. The physical activity, practise sessions, and the discipline involved, will change her outlook on life. It will give her the confidence, in mind and body, to fight off any threat that comes her way.
Nita Biswas Puja is an 18-year-old boxing and football champion who hails from a typically conservative village in Jessore, Bangladesh.
“People questioned my whereabouts when I first started practicing. Some followed me to see for themselves, while others left my side. I felt lonely and cornered. Then I started winning football matches for my district and eventually won the gold medal in boxing. Once three boys were harassing me on my way to the training. I warned them, but they didn’t listen. So, I got off my bicycle, uprooted some tree roots from the side of the road, and thrashed the three with all my strength. No one has dared to bother me again. I want every other girl to be able to do the same. I want to start a boxing club in my village.”
Ayrin lives in a village in Bogra in northern Bangladesh, and she looks as though she is dancing as she practises her kata. She thrusts the edge of her palm forward into the air. This swift thrust to the solar plexus could take down anyone for a good few seconds. Ayrin is serious, confident and simple. She is only 21 and most of her friends are married. She thinks marriage isn’t such a big deal, and that anyone can get married at any point. She believes in hard work and that she needs to make a name for herself.
Rita Shah loves cricket. It’s in her blood. “It’s what I want to play till my dying breath. It also helps me earn my living and support my family. There were those who tried to stop me but I was determined to let my success shut them up. Now that I am part of the national league, I get VIP treatment in my village. I realised early on that people treat you based on how you carry yourself. If you show them that you are confident then they will stop bothering you.”
They are just a few of the hundreds of girls getting involved with sports through BRAC’s girls’ clubs, which offer football, cricket, volleyball, karate, self-defence and swimming training. There are 9,000 of these clubs in Bangladesh, and nearly 22,000 of their members are girls actively involved in sport. And the numbers are rising.
We need all our girls to feel this confident and strong. Regardless of where they come from, we want all our girls to be in control of their bodies and their lives.
Parents, the thought of your daughter learning to swim might scare you. But doesn’t the thought of her accidentally drowning scare you more? The thought of her falling out of a tree is awful. But imagine that she can’t escape a dangerous situation in her future because she has always been told to sit down. Taking a hard hit in a cricket match hurts. But being powerless- so that even if you have the physical strength, you do not have the confidence to use it- doesn’t that thought hurt you a lot more?
This International Women’s Day, let’s #beboldforchange and make kicking like a girl a compliment.
A concerned parent
Zaian Chowdhury is a communications consultant and Sumaiya Haque is a communications specialist at BRAC.