WOW - Women of the World is a festival that celebrates women and girls and takes a frank look at the obstacles they face across the world. It is a festival of performances, talks, debates, activism, workshops, food, music, exhibitions, mentoring and more. It is a place where hundreds of women’s stories can be shared, minds are influenced with lots of fun activities. WOW is for everyone and brings people together from all corners of society - both speakers and audience members - energising and providing the inspiration and tools to make a change - and is planned from the ground up through a series of community planning sessions.
Since 2017, five divisional chapters have been organised by the British Council in Rangpur, Sylhet, Khulna, Rajshahi and Chattogram preceding the full-fledged national WOW festival Dhaka in 2019. As a response to Covid-19, Bangladesh and South Asian counterparts launched WOW Global 24, a 24-hour virtual celebration around the world and WOW Virtual Bangladesh 2021. At present, the British Council, Mongol Deep Foundation and CCD Bangladesh are the strategic partners for implementing WOW in Bangladesh.
After successfully implementing WOW Chapters in Khulna, Sylhet and Chattogram earlier this year, we took the celebration to Rajshahi College on 28th July. The day-long festival included three engaging workshops for the protection and welfare of women. These were ‘Sex Education to Prevent Sexual Harassment’ facilitated by Professor Akter Banu from Rajshahi University, ‘Marketing Methods of Selling Home-cooked Food’ facilitated by Shamsia Fahmida Rahman and ‘I Can Protect Me’ by Krav Maga group.Two thought-provoking panel discussions also took place: one on ‘Suicidal Tendency Among Female Students’ and the other on ‘Preventing Child Marriage’. The former panel was moderated by Nurjahan Begum, who is a lecturer from Rajshahi College. The panelists included Dr Mahbuba Kaniz Keya, Chairman of Dept of Psychology, Rajshahi College, Mohtarama Asrafee Khanam, In-charge of Victim Support Centre, RMP and Meftahul Jannat, Volunteer and Social Worker.
The panel ‘Preventing Child Marriage’ was moderated by Udisa Emon, the chief reporter for Bangla Tribune. The panelists were Tanzima Johra, Professor, University of Rajshahi, Adiba Anjum Mita, MP of Rajshahi and Advocate Dilsetara Chuni, Director (Legal), Bangladesh National Women Lawyer's Association.
Throughout the day, local female entrepreneurs took over the Marketplace section of the program, showcasing some of the best handmade products and local food. To provide advices on different career paths, some well-known experts were also present as Speed Mentors during the event. They were traffic sergeant Sabiha Akter, cricket player Panna Ghosh, enterpreneur Nilufar Yesmin, career counselor Shahrina Yesmin, and advocate Ismot Ara Begum.
Some of Rajshahi’s popular women were able to share their inspirational stories of struggles and success. Shaila Bithy, the first Bangladeshi woman to conquer the Island Peak of Himalayas; Waheeda Khanam, co-founder of Foundation for Women and Child Assistance; Khristina Saren, first female councilor elected from indegenous community and Dr. Anika Fariha Zaman Aurna who is the publisher of Bangalar Janapath were among them. There was also the staging of a traditional folk performance ‘Alkap’ by local artists in Rajshahi which highlighted the social realities of women in Bangladesh.
The night ended with a rocking concert by ‘Channel I Shera Kontho’ star Moumita Tashrin Nodi, who sang a number of local and national pop favourites. This was followed by the highlight of the day's programme: a shadow puppet theatre performance by people with physical and mental disabilities, many of the cast were young children.
WOW Rajshahi proved to be highly successful. Not only did the talks, panels and on-ground activities generate highly engaging and thought-provoking conversations, but every element of the festival embodied all that WOW aims to achieve at these festivals.