This Bangladeshi woman is changing the game for Muslim women everywhere

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.

 

Muslim women in Bangladesh. Photo by: Angela Jacobus
Muslim women in Bangladesh. Photo by: Angela Jacobus

 

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?

The more I travel, the more I learn to break out of stereotypical thoughts. The reality is, no woman should ever be told she can’t. YES SHE CAN. The truth is, the problem starts and ends with education. Men are taught to treat women as little children, who need to be told what to do and how to do it. And women are taught that they have a “role" to fulfill in society, that does not include them going out after their dreams. And it has nothing to do with religion. So many people believe it’s because I’m muslim that I have even more restrictions. But now that I have traveled to all sorts of countries, I realize that it’s in every society that women are regarded as less valuable. It’s incredible. We can see it even today in European parliaments. Women now are being attacked for attempting to have too much power
 Image may contain: 2 people, beard
Us women DO really need to change the game, and gain the power that we have been denied all these years. The first time I stepped out of Bangladesh alone, I felt like I was doing my part. And every time I talk to other girls, give a class to small children or do a show on radio or TV, I try to put that message across: Breaking barriers starts with the mind. And adventure does not know of gender.

Where has your best travel experience happened?

I have too many bests and worsts, what I do is remind myself of the bests and forget the rest. So far my most emotional trip is going to Sri Lanka with my mother. I showed her the world of adventure, crazy and fun activities and fortunately, she joined me for scuba diving and wide water rafting. Can’t talk about an absolute worst. I think when things get complicated, there is always a lesson to be learned. 
What I do have a lot of trouble with is men being rude to women. Calling names, getting too close, telling me who I should and should not be… guys, that is NOT flirting! 

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? 

Traveling has been the best teacher of my life. I have made amazing friends, experienced beautiful cultures, got rid of all my fears and started valuing money more often. I know how hard it is to earn it!  In sum, I love the changes traveling has created in me. I get to see how other people live and then bring the good back into Bangladesh. With this, I hope I get to make my country a better place for girls, little by little.

Check out her AMAZING adventures. 

If you want to follow the adventures of this beautiful and bold girl, you can go to her Youtube, Instagram and Facebook pages… I am sure there will be SO MUCH more from this girl! 

 

 

4 thoughts on “This Bangladeshi woman is changing the game for Muslim women everywhere

  1. Brilliant piece I love the fact she overcame many prejudices to travel and see more of the people in this world and see their customs. i despair at tge treatment of women accross the world and believe it right that women do take a stand for themselves. I think us men who tread down on women are cowardly and impotent and need to feel powerful and have no place in society. It wasn’t to long ago women in civilsed countries like the UK didn’t have the right to vote and considered 2nd class.
    if we including women accept this then well never change for the better. Men and women need to live together as equals to make this world a better place. women need to be respected just as we do each other no different. And if you don’t feel that way then your ignorant and blind.

  2. Reading this reminded me of 2 things one bad one good
    Bad
    The horrible treatment of women and there no doubt are many incidents than we can count one particular one was of Qandeel Baloch “Pakistani Kardashian” killed by her brother
    https://www.google.co.uk/amp/www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/07/16/pakistani-social-media-star-murdered-by-her-brother-in-apparent/amp/

    And then a good one
    Women standing together at Westminster London showing solidarity among all religions against terrorist attack.

    http://metro.co.uk/2017/03/26/women-gather-on-westminster-bridge-to-condemn-abhorrent-attack-6535415/

  3. Love the work you are doing.
    Keep it up for all the Bengalis out there.

    You see, small steps lead to big changes.
    Our generation might suffer a little, but our kids will at least have a better future.

    Sincerely
    A Bengali Man with a hope

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