Safe Havens Freedom Talks addressed the issue of artist and press freedom in Bangladesh with an event presenting first-hand experiences of the censorship and many challenges for women in the country, which led to the creation of Women Chapter International (WCI) livestreaming on the commons-based peer produced HowlRound TV network on Friday 12 November at 8:30 a.m EST (New York, UTC -5 ) / 13:30 GMT (London, UTC +0) / 14:30 CET (Stockholm, UTC +1) / 19:30 BST (Dhaka, UTC +6).
In this Freedom Talk, Shucheesmita Simonti, Shumu Haque and Supriti Dhar from Women Chapter International will have a conversation on the story of the platform and the challenges faced during its journey since the beginning.
Early part of the 2010s was a tumultuous time in the recent history of Bangladesh. As the country kept leaning towards a culture of Islamic fundamentalism, the status of women became even more dire than it had been in the past three decades as the post 1975 dictators and even some of the democratically elected governments started to rely on the Muslim Fundamentalist Political Parties in a desperate bid to hold on to the power.
What this meant for the women of the country was that as the country's policy kept leaning more and more towards a more conservative Muslim patriarchal setup, from the education, to the job sector to the legal framework and even in the social infra-structure, everywhere women found their scope of personal liberty becoming narrower everyday.
It is at this time, at the end of 2012 and early 2013, the youth of the country took down to the streets demanding justice for the war crimes committed against its population during the liberation war of 1971 by the Pakistani Army's collaborators (most of whom are now connected to and heading the numerous pro-Islamic fundamentalist political parties such as Jamaat E Islami, or Hefazat E Islami Bangladesh), the whole country woke up with the hope of a new transformation not unlike the Arab Spring.
This movement, widely known as the "Shahbagh" (Named after the popular locality in the Bangladeshi Capital of Dhaka, where this started, much like Tahrir square in Egypt) or, "Projonmo" (The word for "Generation" in Bangla) movement, also opened people's eyes towards other areas in the society desperately in the need of reform. Supriti Dhar was an active part of this movement.
As an activist and journalist, she was painfully aware of the lack of a safe place where the Bangladeshi women could openly discuss the issues that were a matter of life or death to them. Issues such basic such as equal rights to education, work, safety from domestic or gender-based violence, sexual violence, access to information on their reproductive rights, etc.
This encouraged Supriti to create the online portal Womenchapter.com, which became the very first feminist portal in Bangladesh as well as in Bangla language world wide. Gradually, Womenchapter created an English Section which opened its doors to writers and stories from across the globe.