Every woman is a daughter Jhalakathi daughters celebrate in nationwide first, despite threats

Every girl, every woman is somebody’s daughter. It’s a simple fact worthy of celebration; and Jhalakathi town did just that. The inaugural “Konna Utshob”, a first-of-its-kind festival dedicated to daughters, was held on 26 January 2018. Organised by five outstanding women, well over ten thousand daughters aged between five and ninety attended the event, held in spite of threats.

“I first dreamt of such a programme around two months ago,” says local councillor Sharmin Mousumi Keka, 40, also the secretary of the women’s Awami League organisation in Jhalakathi. “I hoped for a day where daughters could join together and share experiences. I wanted to honour daughters since it’s still true that many families prefer boys.”

It’s unsurprising that Sharmin would consider daughters: she has two of them. “At first, I shared my idea on Facebook. From women and girls there was a huge response! It really encouraged me to proceed.”

With help from the upazila’s officer for women’s affairs, Nasrin Aktar, Jhalakathi municipality ward councillor Nasima Kamal and two primary school headmistresses Shimul Sultana Happy and Jefrin Farzana Shimul, the event came to life.

Industry Minister Ameer Hossain Amu agreed to be the chief guest and prominent singer Momtaz Begum MP performed at the daughters-only function, held at Harachandra Girls’ High School.

“Women play an important role in the country’s development,” said the minister. “I am proud of this programme. It will inspire all present to strive for success.”

“I have performed at innumerable festivals across the country,” noted Momtaz, “This is the first women’s oriented function. I feel very fortunate today, to be a daughter among many daughters.”

Awards were presented to 17 mothers and 33 daughters for their contribution to social and community life. Around 12,000 women took an oath to stand beside daughters-in-need, to prevent child marriage and eve-teasing, and work towards women’s empowerment.

 

“After losing my husband, I was trying to marry off my college-going daughter,” says housewife Naseema Begum, at the programme. “I thought of my daughter as a burden; but today’s celebration has opened my eyes. Now I want to support her so she can complete her education. She will have freedom of choice.”

The celebration provided an opportunity for daughters to share their experiences and inspire others. Around 100 successful women did so.

“I had to fight a lot, against the odds, to complete my education,” Salma Nasrin, an additional secretary at the finance ministry and the first woman from Jhalakathi district to take on the role of a public administration officer told the gathering. “Only by facing all obstacles could I reach my dream.”

“I feel so inspired to hear the life stories of these successful daughters,” says college student and event attendee Shiala Aktar. “I wish to follow their example.”

Alongside such important messages, many daughters took the opportunity to express themselves through song and dance. It was, after all, their celebration. “Today I have the opportunity to be a daughter again!” says 72-year-old retired school teacher Afroja Khanom.

Unfortunately, not everybody supported the programme. “It was supposed to be held at the district school field which would have accommodated up to 20,000 participants,” says Sharmin. “But some Islamic groups opposed the programme. I was also threatened but I didn’t tell anyone until after the celebration was completed. I didn’t want women and girls to be afraid.”

“I thought I would be killed for my part in arranging the festival,” says Shimul Sultana Happy. “One Imam urged mosque-attendees one Friday not to let their daughters attend. He said nobody would participate in the funerals of the five women who organised this event. Even my family members urged me not to continue with it. But this kind of opposition is one of the reasons why such a festival is needed.”

“Some groups hope to influence people by misusing religion,” Sharmin adds. “They even distributed pamphlets. But we were determined.”

Law enforcers implemented specific security arrangements.

With the first daughters’ festival proving to be popular, there are plans to organise it once in every five years. “We wanted to show that daughters are not a burden for their families,” says Sharmin. “Daughters are an asset for all. We want everybody to appreciate that.”