Taking a gargantuan amount of responsibilities, keeping a respectable stature, being calm, kind and collected, but have strong leadership skills- all of that seemed like qualities of a superhuman. But then we witness the many women in leadership positions doing just that, and doing it wonderfully. Four girls, recently, got the opportunity to be shadow ambassadors for the embassies of Denmark, Brazil, Netherlands and the USA. The Shadow Ambassador initiative was designed to provide talented young Bangladeshi women to experience the daily activities of a diplomatic mission and to enhance gender equality.
Zaiba Tahyya shadowed with Dutch Ambassador Leoni Cuelenaere, Mehzabin Khan Elma shadowed with Brazil Ambassador Da Nobrega, Tasneem Kibra Orpa shadowed with the US Ambassador Marcia Bernicat, and Talbia Tanvir shadowed with Danish Ambassador Hanne Fugl Eskjær. These four enthusiastic young women each got to spend a day at the respective embassies and learn from such empowering women in leadership.
Foreign envoys to Bangladesh – who are all women – in December issued a joint statement calling for an end to gender-based violence in Bangladesh. This initiative was then first undertaken by the Danish embassy. Through an online competition, the candidates for each embassy were selected.
Zaiba Tahyya, with a degree in Criminology from the University of Essex, has been working for women empowerment ever since her return to Dhaka. “I saw the application on Facebook and applied to be the Danish shadow ambassador initially. They got back to me saying that someone was already selected for the Danish embassy, but they had liked my application very much and transferred it to the Embassy of Netherlands,” says Zaiba, “To me, the best part of the whole experience was watching her do what she does. I even googled 'how to talk to an ambassador', I was so nervous! But the moment she saw me, she gave me a warm hug and made me feel a part of the experience from the get-go.” she says, “She was so humble and joyful. But just when I was thinking that all this was very rosy and peachy, we walked into a meeting- and I was more in awe than before! People kept throwing information at her, and she was instantly analysing and giving solutions! I learned how analytical and quick a leader has to be - and she did all of that with a smile on her face!” While shadowing, Zaiba visited the slums to observe the Shokhi project by BLAST, a project that aims to sensitise and create awareness amongst women, adolescents and men in the local community regarding sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR), violence against women and girls (VAWG) and workers' rights.
Talbia Tanvir completed her degree on Finance and Economics from North South University. She had seen the application for the competition on the Denmark Embassy's official Facebook page. “Two weeks after applying, I was asked to come to the embassy where I was informed that I was chosen as the shadow ambassador,” she says, “I got to meet most of the team members of each department of the embassy.” She had gotten the opportunity to accompany madam ambassador to the Egyptian ambassador's residence. They later attended an art workshop held by the NGOs “MINA” and “SHAKO” for the Rana Plaza survivors. “Her ability to be benevolent and precise at the same time while making a point is very much worthy of genuine respect. I learnt that in order to be an effective leader one must never compromise with his/her ideals and morality, while at the same time being a team player and being considerate of others' relevant opinion goes a long way.”
The two younger shadow ambassadors were those of the Brazil Embassy and the US Embassy.
Mehzabin Khan Elma, an A Level's student of Academia says it was one of the best experiences she has had so far. “The one on one conversation with her (Brazil Ambassador, Da Nobrega), learning her perspective on women's rights, their involvement in society, what leadership is has inspired me enough for a lifetime,” says the enthusiastic Elma. They went to a meeting with DCCI and discussed the bilateral trade between Bangladesh and Brazil, and how it can be made better. Later on, they got to discussing current social problems and how they can be solved. “I learned, from her, to remain calm and collected at all times, no matter how dire the situation. I learned that to do something great is not about making major changes. It is about making small changes, and taking small ideas and executing them grandly. Leaders bring individuals together and achieve one unified goal,” says Elma. “Even though we haven't achieved gender equality yet, I have access to the youth of today and leaders of tomorrow, and I believe this experience can help me raise awareness amongst them and encourage them.”
Tasneem Kibria Orpa, an A level's candidate from Siddiqui's, was a member of the American Center from beforehand. “After my O level's, I was a part of the Kennedy Luger Youth Exchange and Study Programme (YES) for a year. The YES programme was what got me involved with the American Center. They were the ones who selected me and suggested that I do this,” Orpa smiles gratefully. With US Ambassador Marcia Bernicat, she visited Pan Pacific Sonargoan for US trade fair, “We met people from Johnson's, Chevron, and lot's big companies who I did a lot of networking with.” They then went to the American Center to celebrate the one year anniversary of the Girl's Club, who work to strive for gender equality. “There, I met many empowered, inspiring women, and realised that there are many, many of us fighting for this great cause,” says Orpa. “During my one on one talk with the ambassador, we discussed congress, her experience over the years. But we also talked about her family, how my family works, the challenges we face as middle-class women. She demonstrates the possibilities for bringing change. That's what a leader does – shows everyone that it's possible to achieve what we dream of.”
These four thriving, spirited ladies have had an experience that can not only change their lives, but also help them change the lives of many others who are currently being oppressed with discrimination and violence. Because of such a great initiative, where they get to learn first hand from the best of leaders, and also considering the response from the participants, we can finally now dream of a Bangladesh where the ladies reign. And reign we will.