The desire to see the unseen and know the unknown is perhaps latent inside every individual. The memories we make during travelling leave a captivating effect on our psyche. When we are depressed, the memorable experience can help us shake off our gloom and bring joy.
But when it comes to travelling solo, it is still considered to be a "guy thing", especially in this part of the world where parents still do not feel comfortable allowing their daughters to travel alone. Even at times, women themselves are not courageous enough to travel alone due to security reasons. Moreover, social taboo renders another barrier.
However, a positive wind of change is blowing as women themselves are taking initiatives to explore the world around them and see the unseen like their male counterparts.
One such initiative is “Travelettes of Bangladesh” (TOB) -- a Facebook group. The platform, solely operated by women, helps women travel as a group across the country by providing them with proper security and facilities.
They first create a public event on Facebook and set a place to travel to. Information like approximate cost is mentioned there as well. Those who are interested send money to the organisers through mobile banking service.
"That's how the process starts," Sakia Haque, president of the platform, told this correspondent.
“Parents do not allow women to travel alone in our society. But if we do not travel, meet new people and explore the world, we will not be able to learn. Ultimately, real empowerment of women will be hampered," she said.
Asked how it started, Sakia said she along with her school friend Manoshi Saha Tuli, now general secretary (GS) of the platform, launched TOB on November 27, 2016 with the motto “Empowering women through travelling”.
Since its inception, TOB has successfully arranged 25 expeditions in different districts. In each expedition, they cover several districts. Women of different ages, starting from 12 years old, are allowed to travel with them, said Sakia.
The Facebook group now has more than 15,000 members.
“It is a huge achievement. We started with a couple of members, but now we have thousands of them giving us inspiration to work more with the young minds,” said Manoshi, also an intern at Dhaka Medical College (DMC).
“Travellette means a woman who is not afraid to jump out into the unknown world. We want women of our society to be bold and independent,” she added.
Talking about the expenses, she said, “Since it is a voluntary organisation, everyone pays for their own expenses. But we try our best to minimise the cost while ensuring a better travel experience.”
TOB has volunteers in different districts. They fix the spot and inform local police stations about arrival of the lady travellers.
“Till now, no unexpected occurrence has taken place. We keep contact with local police stations to keep our travelettes safe,” said TOB president Sakia, also a student of DMC.
The platform has been able to gain trust of elderly women too.
Nasreen Akhter, a 60-year-old mother, said, “It is nice to see women arranging everything on their own. I feel comfortable back at home when my daughter travel with them. Sometimes, I travel with them as well.”
"TOB is helping women cross boundaries," she said. Her daughter Tamanna Ferdous said, “This group instills confidence into women about taking care of themselves like men. Travelling with TOB is like travelling with my own family.”
Aside from travelling, the platform has a project called “Narir Chokhe Bangladesh” (Bangladesh through the eyes of women). Under this project, a group of members visit educational institutions across the country with an aim to make school children, particularly female students, aware of the Liberation War history and their health during puberty.
A total of four members visit the institutions travelling on scooters. President Sakia gives lecture on female health while GS Manoshi on Liberation War. “We are not a travel agency. We believe in change. So, we not only travel, but also help create awareness among school girls with the help of other women volunteers,” said Sakia. While talking about the challenges during travelling, they said they used to face criticism. Though the challenges still remain, they feel proud of their initiative as the positive outcome eclipses the negative side, said Manoshi.
Both the founding members would not like to be content with what they have achieved in this short span of time. They want to do more for the women in the days to come to ensure more freedom for their fellows.
Besides TOB, there are also a few other groups, which help women travel. Such groups include Lady Travellers Bangladesh, (Chittagong) Lady Travellers Bangladesh, and Solo Women Travellers of Bangladesh.