Pen in the Hands of Women
Noor does not like writing on the traditional issues assigned
to many women journalists. She is a litterateur, but, she
says, "Where messages in pure literature take a long
time to spread, it's much faster in journalism" -- and
so her pursuit of both fields of writing. She has written
features on the environment and on religious issues and has
even received threats for the work she has done. She is also
interested in writing on the fact that women in Sylhet don't
actually vote -- men belonging to the different political
parties force their fingerprints onto the ballots where they
please. "These are sensitive issues in Sylhet,"
says Noor, proud of her bold work.
completed her LLB as well, "Not to practise but to know
the law," she says. She is a network member of Bangladesh
Environment Lawyers' Association (BELA) and has undergone
training under institutions like Democracy Watch.
Farzana is a teacher of home economics in Moulvibazar. She
had wanted to study journalism at university but was discouraged
by her family. "Sylhet is very conservative," she
points out, and journalism is not the traditional choice of
profession for women. So Sharmin studied home economics and
later went into a more acceptable job for women -- teaching
-- while contributing to some newspapers. She still hopes
to change her profession at some point, however, and get into
full-fledged journalism, writing features and perhaps making
documentaries for the electronic media.
Noor and Sharmin Farzana are among the 32 students in the
Salma Sobhan Fellowship in Journalism for Women offered by
Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) and Pratichi
Trust, founded by Nobel laureate Professor Amartya Sen. The
initiative was taken to encourage women into journalism. The
32 women from as many districts were selected for the programme
last year. They underwent a two-week training in journalism
and development and have been writing on various issues since,
with many of them being published in the Daily Prothom
Alo. The recent training -- phase two of the programme
-- was held from June 5 to 13 on the BRAC University campus
is a year long and the programme initially aimed at training
200 journalists in three years from every district. Various
experts in the field -- university teachers, development practitioners
and journalists -- have taken classes on different aspects
of reporting such as feature stories, human rights and gender
reporting, women and children's issues, the environment and
development and so on. The students have also been taken on
field trips and given assignments there.
women, with no background whatsoever in journalism, testify
that the training has helped them greatly not only in growing
an interest and pursuing a career in the field but also in
their everyday lives. They are much more confident of themselves
now and see the whole world and people in a different light.
of the women have said that the experience has been very rewarding,"
says Syed Waliul Islam, Chief Trainer and In-charge, BRAC.
"One woman even broke into tears while describing how
she wrote about an ill boy's fight for survival and how, after
the story was published, society came forward to help and
the boy survived."
Begum Bizlee from Lalmonirhat has been teaching at a primary
school ever since she was a student of Philosophy under National
University in Rangpur. She also runs a shop there and works
with her father in the fields. She wrote for various newspapers
before getting the Salma Sobhan Fellowship. Since then, she
has written on women's issues, divorce, and how jobs and dowry
seem to be interchangeable for a woman. One of her entries
has even found its way into Banglapedia.
Shoma Mukherjee, receiving her certificate from Prof Amartya
Sen last year
fellowship has taught her to look at life and people in a
different way, says Bizlee, and to treat people (like criminals)
nicer for her own professional needs than she would have otherwise.
She hasn't faced too many problems in her journalism career
so far, except for young men teasing and harassing her for
being a "shanghatik".
might very well leave her seven-year-old, well-paid and, most
importantly, safe, teaching job for journalism. "I'm
not afraid of taking a bullet," she says with conviction.
"Death isn't a big deal. I'd rather work well while I'm
Saha, from Narayanganj, is currently teaching at an English
medium school in Dhaka. She has written features on child
labour, early marriage, tuberculosis in women, a fire at a
garment factory in Narayanganj, the brass and jute industries
and working women. She's not sure whether she wants to pursue
journalism as a career. "Let's see how this year goes,"
she says, "and then I'll decide."
Parveen, an accounts officer at an insurance company in Habiganj,
has had 50 percent of her writings published in the Daily
Prothom Alo. Some of her work has also been broadcast
on a private television channel, but when she applied for
a job there she was rejected because "women wouldn't
be able to go everywhere and cover everything necessary".
She has written on issues like child marriage, on a woman
who lost her leg in the Liberation War but receives no government
support, and on the families of some of the victims of the
grenade attacks last year.
The students feel much more confident after the Fellowship
Mukherjee has come to Dhaka from Narail only twice in her
life -- for the fellowship programme. Her work within the
programme includes stories on the Adivasi community, pottery,
Chorok Mela and a morgue. She is very excited to be in Dhaka
and wants to see Dhaka University and one of her fondest memories
is that of receiving her certificate from Amartya Sen last
December (and giving him a pen in return!).
from all over the country, with different dreams within the
same profession. From writing about neglected freedom fighters
to a milk trader who aspires to send his son to an US university;
from traditional arts and industry to the disabled girl whose
own father threw her into the river -- these women have seen
much in the last six months, and, in their own way, given
back to their society. As one participant poetically described,
she had always seen people's sorrows, their hardship, but
it was only when writing about them, could she string them
all together in a garland.
from now, after completing phase three these women will be
Fellows of the programme and a new batch will enrol. So far,
the current batch has shown great promise in their accomplishments
in this short time. And, while the organisers naturally wait
to witness the success stories of the trainees, people are
on their way to getting some great journalists to tell their
(R) thedailystar.net 2005