Women are raising their voices all over the world. Some want to decide on their bodies, some want to be free to marry (or not marry) someone of their choice, some want to stop being traded around by parents as a coin and some even want to be able to free their chests in public with the #freethenipple movement. But one thing they have in common: They all want RIGHTS. Rights that men have never even had to CONSIDER being taken away because they choose, they get, and they show off their hairy chests (or hairless, whatever) without a care in the world.
In the life of women everywhere, they have to think of other’s perceptions of their clothes, their makeup, and what their eyes say before they can think of what they actually want. But for most women, it’s been enough already, and the time to fight back has started a while ago.
Now, as obvious as it may seem, I am a woman too. I know inequality, I know powerlessness and I know abuse. So I know what women all over go through, even if I am privileged in a way that I can speak my mind, fight sexism and help create a movement everywhere.
In Muslim countries, the complex relations between women and Islam are defined both by Islamic texts and by the historical and social context. Frequently, a single passage can be interpreted in many ways, depending on religious leaders, which results in marked differences in practice within various Islamic societies. Now, be aware, this is not exclusive to Muslims… In almost EVERY society, women are considered second-class citizens, even more with the rise of new movements against “so much freedom" for women.
Even when the Quran proclaims equality between the sexes, the superiority of man is clearly indicated: “Men have authority over women by virtue of the preference that Allah has given to some over others and the goods they spend. Virtuous women are devout and caring, in the absence of their husbands, of what Allah commands them to take care of. Admonish those whom you fear to rebel, leave them alone in the bed, beat them up! If they obey you, do not bring anymore with them".
Still, (and before I get some hate), NO MUSLIM text teaches to hate, kill, or alienate themselves from society.
And Muslim women think it is time to re-interpret.
For Priota Farelin Iftekhar, the way to do it is to spread the beauty of freedom, bringing her country’s teachings really close. According to Priota, being Muslim is no impediment to being free.
“Getting out of house was very small a struggle compared to how hard it is for world to expect me. I face many restrictions because of my nationality and religion, Did you know that Bangladesh holds the 189th ranked passport? That means serious trouble for travel."
Becoming The Flag Girl
Her journey began with secretly seeing out of her house. “I slowly started to sneak out from coaching and came back alone, to show that I am responsible enough to move about on my own. After series of scolding at home, I finally proved that I don’t need a car or driver or guard to drop me to places."
“Back in 2012 I had a great opportunity to apply for an Exchange Program to USA, but within a second, my passport and my national ID was taken from me. I opposed to it so bad, my house was a war zone. I was told I could only travel once I’m married. After that, my husband would safely guide me to places. “
Slowly but surely, she proved to her family that she was more than capable enough to take care of herself, and wander around on her own. She started off as a local traveler in Bangladesh, going to places like Cox Bazar, Srimangal, Gazipur…. She joined travelling groups an started meeting fellow travelers and got the REAL taste for travel! Also, I enrolled to ‘Travellers of Bangladesh’ and that’s when I got the actual taste of adventure. 8 out of 9 people who traveled with me were complete strangers but major travel enthusiasts and I loved it!
In 2014 she took her first step towards international travel: Sri Lanka. The visa process is on arrival, but she never knew it would be such a hassle for a Muslim girl traveling alone.
“I packed my bags, took some cash and headed to the airport. My new passport was completely empty and I was traveling alone. I was taken to another room for the inspection. After a long and not pleasant conversation with five officers asking detailed questions about my trip, I finally managed to head outside Bangladesh."
A few years later, she has managed to travel outside of Bangladesh 29 times and my passport is out of pages. Take that, people!
How has your view changed on human perception after visiting some countries?
Where has your best travel experience happened?
And the challenges?
Yes, applying for my euro trip visa, it’s a long process. The fact that I am an unmarried South Asian Muslim girl with low bank balance makes everything more difficult. I face visa issues on a regular basis, my visa for Europe was recently canceled because I don’t have enough bank balance.
I think that there is something exciting, even fun, about challenges. It’s basically all about my 189th ranked passport. It is a bit ridiculous, the place where you’ve been born define if it’s going to be easy for you to travel abroad or not.
What is your ideal for Muslim women in Bangladesh?
An ideal Muslim woman in Bangladesh or anywhere should be whoever she wants to be. But to me, she is one that loves her family. She will do everything that it takes to make them happy. I am very thankful to Almighty Allah for such a lovely family, yes they were afraid of me traveling alone… I think even a girl from the west gets the same warnings when she wants to visit South Asia. Parents warn because they love us the most. Luckily my mother is my biggest supporter. And my ideal for every woman, not just for Muslim women, is that they are free.
We may never get rid of traditions, clothing, and mindset that non-Muslim countries do not understand. But we can be a free, educated, and harmonious society.
What is next for “The Flag Girl"?
I am still on a mission of raising my flag in 50 countries and the 64 districts of Bangladesh. It is a goal that I have set for myself to prove that regardless of my passport, my religion or my gender, I too can travel. There is discrimination and racism that I face on a regular basis. There are many hostels I cannot book, tour guides that are rude and overly displeasing, I get scammed… The sad reality for every traveler, but it makes it worse when people know I am Muslim. They start overreacting because of the perception that they have about Muslims in their head. It’s so saddening to be set aside for what I believe in.
“There are good and bad people everywhere. Muslims are not the problem, they are being targeted."
On the great side, I have come across amazing people who are very supportive. They are amazed by my goals. I have learned so much from them. It’s always trying to look a the bright side of things, and I have definitely met more good people along the way. I don’t know what I would do without some of them!
Overall, what do you make of your stepping out into the world?
Check out her AMAZING adventures.