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Women are sexually objectified across the world: Bangladeshi poet

Jul 22, 2017

Bangladeshi poet, writer, and women's rights activist, Sadaf Saaz, believes that in countries like India and Bangladesh, understanding sexuality is important for men and women, especially in times when porn has taken over everyone’s imagination. At the Jaipur Literature Festival- 2017, Sadaf speaks her heart out to Ashok Kumar of OneWorld South Asia on the state of women in the subcontinent.

Sadaf Saaz

Jaipur: I have been member of the women activist group called ‘Naari Pokkho’ which means for women, and have been involved in the women movement for many years engaging with work on violence against women and working with women all over Bangladesh.

One of the areas we were keen to work in was women and sexuality. It's important because girls are getting married later now, but unfortunately the society thinks that a single woman is vulnerable and could be raped or she is believed to have got into a sexual relationship.

Understanding sexuality is important for men and women, especially in times when porn has taken over all our imagination. Now both men and women are negotiating with each other. It is also important for work places to have a safe environment where there is no fear of sexual harassment.

It’s very surprising that Pakistan, India and Bangladesh being very conservative countries, watch a good amount of porn. It is really frightening because basically this is the first time they are introduced to how relations should be between men and women, and that’s extremely worrying.

Patriarchal societies do not want to recognise the natural needs of a man and woman, or their choice about the same. I have composed a series of monologues which are inspired by the Vagina Monologues based on the lives of Bangladeshi women.

Women like me are trying to turn on head the preconceived notions of stereotypes.

My monologues have been translated into Bangla and have been performed at various places in Bangladesh about positive and negative thinking related to women stories. Some of them are about rape, acid violence, and domestic violence but there are other positive stories about love in unusual places or about women having survived bad relationships and finding new love.

I think it was something we were nervous about, we performed at various places in Bangladesh. I think through theatre we were able to empathise people to a women's point of view, and those series of monologues were called in Bangla  ‘Je Kotha Jaye Na Bola’ that means something that cannot be said.

I wrote a story wherein a woman is talking about a woman who lost her husband when she was very young and she has to bring up her children, and how she found love and sexual awakening, and a new partner with whom she got married later on.  Despite criticism, she chooses her path.

I think it’s not just the sub continent but across the whole world that women are objectified. I think North have huge issues too. The way a lot of men do view women is to sexually objectify them and patriarchy hasn’t got out of there style. But I do think in the conservative societies like India or Bangladesh conversations are required at a very early stage in life before the gender stereotyping actually sets in.

We need to learn to respect each other and have positive relationships. You will hear a lot of families getting their girls married off early before an ‘event’ occurs, before she decides to date somebody or ‘something’ happens, like before she gets pregnant or somebody goes after her.

Nobody wants to recognise the fact that there could be unmarried women who are sexually mature. The fact is that earlier girls used to get married at 8-10 before puberty, and now you have from 8-22 or whenever you want women to get married. How can you expect that there will be no attraction to men or boys, there will be absolutely nothing, there is no recognition of what happens to that girl or boy from like 8-22 or 8-25 age group.

The society needs to accept that that girls and boys will get attracted to each other. Society doesn’t want to deal with this but what we get to see is the abnormal side of relationships which is porn and other things but a lot of time some of the parents don’t want their kids to attend sex education classes or even to understand about what is appropriate and what is not.

Extremists capture the fancy of youth in countries like Bangladesh which eventually cuts down on free speech. I think we are scared to talk about religion. We are scared to talk about issues which we feel could be targeted by mob mentality.

Machete wielding youth are targeting free thinking bloggers and gay rights activists. These misguided youth are attacking our secular and democratic principles ,the principles on which Bangladesh was formed on, the principles that we all believe in. The principals that are against our 5000-year-old history of tolerance, pluralism and diversity.

Now, there are more girls being enrolled then boys in primary education and there also is recognition throughout society of the importance of educating girls. Even in a poor family, the girls now have career options, and are therefore not married off like they were before.

Transcription: Shubhangi Mangla

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