On 16 August 2018, the British Council, in association with Jatrik, hosted a panel discussion titled “The Now Talks: Women’s right to choose” in its auditorium at the Dhaka University campus. The British Council has long been a partner to paving the  the roads towards woman empowerment and in the actions involved to ensure gender equity and has been conducting dialogues to influence policymakers that benefit women and girls, work with national and international partners to promote access and opportunity for women and girls to build skills and confidence to achieve their potential and have more influence on decision-making process.This panel discussion was designed to address the woman’s right to choose, in matters regarding reproductive rights and gender discourse.

Women’s rights and gender equality is a much-debated subject in all avenues of today’s world. Women gather to vote for change in constitutions, to report violence committed against women, to ensure equal opportunities for women in job and education sectors, to combat the challenges of patriarchy and research for ways to overcome moments of gender conflicts. Nevertheless, public harassment is still a severe problem in the everyday woman’s life, and women are often ridiculed online too. For example, a recent study by social economist Naila Kabeer in Bangladesh brings out the issue of how women’s choices in careers and going out of the home are severely affected by the harassment they regularly face and by the ways women are viciously trolled online.

The British Council distinguished a group of women with an incredible collection of experiences – Sabina Faiz Rashid, Dean and professor of James P Grant School of Public Health, BRAC University, is an academic expert on women’s health. Shireen Huq is an activist and policy expert, a founder member of Naripokkho. For over 25 years, she has proved herself as a resourceful person and trainer on gender, rights and development issues. Saba Zariv is the Gender-based Violence (GBV) Sub-sector Coordinator for the Rohingya crisis response in Cox Bazar District led by UNFPA, a humanitarian aid worker with extensive experience in VAW and work in areas of conflict. The session was moderated by Sadaf Saaz, a women’s rights advocate, poet, writer and entrepreneur. They discussed how violence affects women’s right to choose their paths and how the society can bring about a change. The discussion began addressing the general concerns under the women’s rights umbrella, and the panellists expertly navigated the conversation towards more specific streams: reproductive rights (abortion etc.), consent, and language of the female bodies.

Panel discussions such as this talk will continue in different cities to create awareness and to understand the systematic changes regarding women’s rights and agency. The talks will not only address the superficial changes to hold patriarchal hierarchy but also address the gender discrimination and inequity of Bangladesh. 

‘The Now Talks: Women's right to choose’ discussion is part of a series organised under Dhaka Lit Fest, which is to be held in Dhaka in November.