Each year from November 25 to December 10, women around the world unite and raise their voice in support of the UN’s 16 Days of Activism Campaign against gender-based violence. Following the same trend, the annual international campaign for this year started on November 25, the international day for the elimination of violence against women, and ran till December 10, Human Rights Day. This year’s theme was “Orange the World: Generation Equality Stands against Rape!” and as a part of the campaign, the Canadian High Commission partnered with The Reading Circle, and “Gantha,” a group of dedicated Bangladeshi women intellectuals - to host a reading session titled “Women’s Voices joined Together from East to West in Literature” as a part of the sixteen-day long activism.
Considering storytelling an important tool in terms of raising awareness about gender- based violence, giving voice to survivors, creating a safe space to reflect on and be critical of one’s environment, and inspiring activists to take action, the intense discussion was held at Six Season Hotel in the capital on 7 December, 2019 at 3.00 pm. It was based on a selection of diverse women’s voices in literature from East to West and their contribution to eliminating violence against women. The High Commissioner of Canada in Bangladesh Benoit Prefontaine attended the event, and confirmed that addressing gender-based violence is necessary for achieving gender equality- also “critical to eradicating poverty and building a more peaceful, prosperous and inclusive world. Eliminating gender-based violence needs to be a priority for all counties, especially those working to attain the Sustainable Development Goals.” After his welcome remarks, it was the turn of Professor Niaz Zaman, an academic, writer and translator herself, to moderate the reading session and introduce the writers of the day, whose deliberate involvement and constant efforts in establishing women rights both in East and West have proved successful over the years.
Among the writers, educators and artists, were some of the most renowned names of Bangladesh including Selina Hossain, Anwara Syed Haq, Jharna Rahman, Shahnaz Munni, and Razia Sultana Khan whose stories function as a reminder of the program’s motto: the elimination of violence against women. Alongside, were the translation works of Alice Ann Munro by Jackie Kabir, Sauda Akhter, and Shahruk Rahman and their works were read out by a number of readers, following which was a question-answer session where the audience had the opportunity to engage with the guest speakers, authors and translators directly. Rosalee LaPlante, the Program Manager (Political Counsellor of the High Commission of Canada) also remarked on some of the seminal Canadian women’s voices in contemporary literature like Margaret Atwood and Alice Ann Munro, encapsulating the diversity and complex socio-cultural reality as portrayed in their writings. Munro’s work was described as having revolutionized the architecture of short stories, especially in its tendency to move forward and backward in time, some of which have been edited and translated to Bangla by Niaz Zaman and Papri Rahman. The successful program came to an end at 5:45 pm, followed by a reception and book exhibition.
With a view to promoting women’s economic empowerment, their full and equal participation in all aspects of social, economic and political life as well as international peace and security, the joint venture of Bangladesh and Canada further promised to stand together in the future to shine a spotlight on the impact of gender based violence and women and society.