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     Volume 4 Issue 58 | August 12 , 2005 |

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Protectiveness vs. Power-games


Dhaka is not as boring as it once was. The social scene for teenagers is much more enjoyable than before. Some teens love living in Dhaka so much that they do not have any plans of leaving. The main problem with this is that the only teens who feel this way are…teenage BOYS. The freedom which boys are unquestioningly given is very different to that which girls receive.

One reason for this is that as Dhaka becomes more fun, it also gets more dangerous. Even the most liberal parents do not generally allow their daughters to do what they would not think twice about letting their sons do. Of course this fear does not exist without cause. For example, a girl I know went through a truly terrible experience the one and only time she decided to use a rickshaw on her own. She had often seen her brothers using rickshaws unaccompanied rather than waiting for the household car. So one day when her car was unavailable she decided to meet her friends at an ice-cream parlour taking a rickshaw to get there. Her parents were not too keen on sending her off alone, but in the end she managed to persuade them. Just as she arrived and was preparing to pay the rickshawallah, some men in a black cab grabbed her shoulder-bag (which was still hanging from her shoulder) and drove away. She was dragged along for several feet before she managed to let go of her bag.

Clearly a story like this is enough to scare parents out of ever sending their daughters out alone again, but, one such occurrence is no reason to think that this will happen every time one's daughter leaves the house alone. I mean, if somebody goes out in a rickshaw and has a perfectly normal and uneventful ride, they are not likely to go around talking about it! It is not right to automatically assume that allowing your daughter to travel alone (and therefore gain some independence) will place her in significantly more danger than when your sons go out alone.

My friend Saima is the youngest child in her house. However, she hardly (if ever) uses the household car. Every time she goes out she uses public transport. She does everything herself. She even shops in places like Bongo Bazaar and Dhaka College Market by herself. It's not as though her parents would not give her the car if she asked for it, it's just that she prefers to travel on her own. That way she has more control of her life and need never worry about how she will manage when she is forced to live on her own.

Then of course there are those parents who do not seem to make any sense at all. My friend Shahnaaz moved to the UK roughly a year ago. Before she left, I remember there was always some sort of trouble getting her to come over to our houses or go anywhere with us. Her parents were extremely protective of her and strongly disapproved of male friends. They would question every one of her friends if they ever called her on the phone.

However, after she arrived in the UK, she received so much freedom that we were all completely stunned. She is allowed to have as many friends as she wants, she can stay out past midnight on weekends and until 11 on week nights and her parents no longer distrust male friends.

The above example may not make much sense but I assure you it is true. It also appears to be quite common. Several of my friends had to endure parental overprotectiveness before they moved abroad, but right after they got there, their parents seemed to metamorphose into normal, and perhaps even excessively liberal, parents. Taking this sort of approach is extremely confusing and rarely (if ever) has a positive outcome. Many girls I know who lived extremely sheltered lives in Dhaka went absolutely wild when they moved abroad because they did not know how to deal with their new found freedom.

For those who remain over-protective, the lack of security is the excuse most parents use when asked why they are so strict with their daughters. And yet, 10 years or so ago when there was not nearly so much danger, people still stopped their daughters from going out as much as their sons. The problem is that some people are using security as a way to control their daughters. Parents do not seem to understand that by giving so little freedom they are unintentionally making their daughters over-dependent on others. This, in turn, makes it easier for women to be totally controlled by the men in their lives and hence reinforces sexual stereotypes.

And for those who truly fear the danger, they should stop to consider the fact that, by accepting this sort of lawlessness as normal, they are merely allowing themselves to be defeated. Rather than accept this, I feel that they should reconsider how much freedom they wish to give their daughters. For instance, letting them go out with a large group of friends so they can be sure that their daughter is not alone. One thing parents should take into account is that times have changed since they were teenagers and they should try and move with the times. Therefore, the challenge for parents today is to find a reasonable balance between too much freedom…and not enough


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