Public Seminar on Women’s Rights in the Digital Age in Bangladesh
On 08 March, 2015, the eve of International Women’s Day 2015, Law Life Culture, Faculty of Law, Eastern University and Asia Pacific Masters Alumni of University of Sydney jointly arranged a Public Dialogue at the Eastern University, Dhaka. With the theme of the event ‘Women’s Rights Debates in the Digital Age: Lets Picture it in Bangladesh’, the program title and concepts also coincides with the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, which is the clarion call of the UN Women’s Beijing+20 campaigns “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!”. The program reflected how the use of digitized communication and social media among ‘Young Bangladeshi Women’ can be situated and assessed in the present political context of Bangladesh. It is also important to note that this event made possible in Bangladesh where there are only a few ‘digital haves’, therefore, these conversations and analysis are not fully inclusive.
Md. Abu Bakar Siddique, Lecturer at the Faculty of Law, Eastern University as well as one of the alumnus of Master of Human Rights and Democratization (MHRD), University of Sydney, welcomed the guests and the audience at this seminar. More than 160 participants along with three alumni and a prospective student of MHRD, faculties, rights activists, lawyers, and professionals attended the discussion session in an interactive manner and discussed about contemporary issues of women’s rights in digital hemisphere.
Ms. Hana Shams Ahmed, a writer and activist of International Chittagong Hill Tracks Commission, emphasized the salient features of the social media and the role of women in establishing Digital Bangladesh as a keynote speaker. The speaker made conceptual clarifications at her very first point. For instance, she explained how the term ‘technology’ is still regarded as the domain of men. From her point of view, the usage of social media is still regarded as the luxurious option in the society, for which, the urban and middle class women in the country are lagging behind.
Afterwards, the open discussion was presided by Dr. Borhan Uddin Khan, Professor and Chairman, Department of Law, University of Dhaka and Advisor of the Faculty of Law, Eastern University. Dr. Sadeka Halim, Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Dhaka; Dr. Shahnaz Huda, Professor, Department of Law, University of Dhaka.; Ms. Chaumtoli Huq, Senior Research Fellow, The American Institute for Bangladesh Studies (AIBS) and Ms. Tasaffy Hossain, Freelance Advocate for Human and Gender rights and founder of the VDAY Dhaka were among other distinguished discussants. They focused upon and discussed about Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) input and participation in technology, telecommunication and Information communication sectors to ensure women’s rights, such as right to privacy, freedom of expression online or offline, and also to explore the general legal and administrative mechanisms to combat cyber stalking, hate speech and censorship, ‘harmful content’ and so on against WHRDs and netizens in Bangladesh
Mr. Rezaur Rahman Lenin, the Executive Director of Law Life Culture (LLC) made the closing remarks and thanked all the participants and guests for attending this event. He called for multidisciplinary actions for ensuring women’s rights and aspired to move further development of the society.
However, it was highly encouraged and projected to participants and discussants to focus especially on nuanced explorations of ‘civic participation of Women and ICT access’; ‘Women’s empowerment and digital divide’; ‘Identity and representational politics’; ‘free speech and online censorship in public sphere’; the debates between ‘communication surveillance vs. right to privacy’ and last but not least ‘tolerance vs. aggressiveness’ in acknowledging the libratory potential of young women’s use of Information and Communication technology (ICTs) and seeking to assess its effects in realistic ways. However, with such high expectations, inherent limitations, both organizational and intellectual and speculated prudence from discussants and participants, probably, we have failed to address many important issues. One of the key findings indicated by the participants is that there was no open discussion session after the ‘formal’ sessions and low participation and voices of female participants, compare to male in this event. Last but not least, a few speakers (political category here) were, in practice, to politicize things from their own political orientation (fair enough) and perhaps their deep political, social, cultural and personal interest stimulated reflective dialogues in current, critical and breathtaking political situations of the country. Nevertheless, we managed to foster critical understanding and awareness on emerging and contemporary women’s rights debates and digital rights issues in the digital space or the age of ‘digital Bangladesh’. Participants and organizers also acknowledged the serious need for comprehensive applied research to assess the emerging and crucial issues for women in digital space and how the use of ICT can both open up new possibilities for activism and agency and reveal the difficult and the challenging formation of what Nancy Fraser has called ‘subaltern counter politics’ among socially marginalized women.
In Islamabad on 13 December 2014, six human rights related films related rights of minorities, labor rights, tribal clashes, women in police force and rights of transgender communities were screened at a “Human Rights Film Festival”.
The festival was arranged by Asia Pacific Masters Alumni for Human Rights and Democratisation (APMA) in collaboration with Riphah Institute Media Sciences and Riphah Institute of Public Policy. The APMA is an emerging forum of graduates/students of Master of Human Rights and Democratisation- Asia Pacific (MHRD). MHRD is Asia Pacific’s premier regional degree in human rights and democratization which is being offered by the University of Sydney, in conjunction with four other universities in the Asia Pacific region. The Masters program is supported by the European Union.
Inaugurating the festival Director of Riphah Institute of Public Policy Dr. Rashid Aftab said that the Riphah University and its various institutes were open for collaboration with civil society institutions as it can bring academia and practice together. “Films are effective means of promotion and protection of human rights and visual arts can bring life to abstract ideas of human rights” he said.
APMA President Niaz Ahmed said that alumni initiatives were important tool to transfer benefits of academic programs to next generations. “Each year on human rights day, we bring together graduates of the program from Pakistan to present our work to wider audience, so that we can expand our network and find new collaborators” he said. Niaz said this was the first human rights film festival arranged by alumni and it will be arranged annually.
The selection of films was combination of those produced with contributions of the alumni as well as produced by renowned film makers like Oscar winning Sharmeen Obaid. The full program is available here. Enquiries can be directed to the APMA President, Niaz Ahmed via firstname.lastname@example.org.
MHRD Alumni presents at American Evaluation Association Conference in Washington DC
Shiva Dhungana, one of the alumni from the MHRD Batch-3 was invited to present at the American Evaluation Association annual conference in Washington DC on monitoring and evaluation of media capacity for peace-building in October.
Shiva who works with a media development organisation Search for Common Ground, in his paper presented the advantages and disadvantages of implementing a participatory- coaching developmental approach to evaluate a local media capacity training for a peacebuilding project in Nepal. This paper reflects the monitoring and evaluation realities that a peacebuilding not-for-profit faces as they try to understand the capacities of local media professionals but also improve general peacebuilding practices.
Alumni Welcomes 4th Cohort of MHRD
In July 2013, MHRD Alumni Coordinator Niaz Ahmed was in Sydney to attend the induction week of the 4th Cohort of MHRD students. He spent a week with the new students, talking to them about his own experiences of MHRD, social, cultural and academic aspects of the program and much more. Niaz was one of the speakers at the event to welcome the new students of MHRD, Human Rights and Development and Masters in Human Rights.
In his remarks Niaz said MHRD community very closely connected with the world movement of human rights in many ways. “We are practitioners, researchers and academics spread over 30 countries of the world. We are three generations of the MHRD graduates, in the field now, working with a number of national, international, inter-governmental and government organisations, national human rights institutions, parliaments and businesses” he said.