After class, I drop off some paperwork to the principal and ask her where I can go buy some new salwar kameezes. I only have three cotton ones, and my dry cleaning takes time. She told me to wait. I wound up reading a magazine that mentions a Fulbright Scholar from Bangladesh going to America for Human Rights laws – his speciality: working on the big Trafficking in Persons report. What luck! I emailed my Fulbright advisor who gave me his email. I'm waiting to hear back - cross your fingers! (BTW, read the proposal to my research here. Soon I will write a shorten version.)
While waiting for Susan, I talk with Julian, a man from New Zealand. He has been working in Bangladesh for seven years with a Baptist organization that promotes community building and development. He said, “Dhaka is the biggest development site in the world.” Perfect for my project: hopefully many groups to choose from. I told him my project and we started talking about gender inequality. Then he said something really interesting:
“Our goal was to get 50-70% to come to our different development workshops. For our first workshop, there were 95% women. I thought we exceeded expectations. Then someone told me that 50-70% women was hard, because it is hard to get men involved. Unfortunately, that is where the change is. Because men are still dominant decision makers here, it is more important to have men present as well as women. The more men involved, the more the group will be respected and have power to create legitimate change.”
He said that this wasn’t to say that women aren’t welcome, but for these development seminars and groups, increasing the percentage of men is essential to combating not only gender inequality, but in creating local change. According to UNICEF: State of the World's Children 2007, only 3% of property owners are women in Bangladesh, therefore men are still the decision makers of households and women have little power to step in with new knowledge and change things, like poverty or child mortality (watch this awesome video called The Girl Effect.)
It is definitely something to think about for my project.
After a little bit, Susan came out and said ‘Challo’ (let’s go.) She decided to come with me and take me to her favourite shops around the area! Ki mishti (how sweet), and she would grab my hand whenever we crossed the street. I’m not sure if it’s a cultural thing or she thinks I’m dim. But I was grateful.
We window shopped for about an hour chatting about family and our cultures. These stores were of middle class price. Not too expensive, she said, but good quality. The most expensive one I bought was $21 – includes the dress, the pants and the scarf (I wondered to myself for such a hot country, there is an awful lot of material.) One thing I noticed was the mannequins: they were all white, most with blue eyes, and much taller than the average Bangladeshi woman. Basically, I looked more like the mannequins than the locals did. I asked Susan why, she said, “Light skin is beautiful.” I’ve mentioned before in other blogs from different Asian countries (China, Thailand, India) that there is cream available to lighten your skin: a self-whitener (the opposite of a self-tanner.) Watch the video below:
It's frustrating because my friends and I in America lay outside, risking to develop skin cancer, to appear darker; here they yearn for lighter. Corny, but why can't we just be happy with the skin God/Allah/Ganesh/our mother gave us? Grass is always greener, man, always greener.
One more installment tomorrow!