A spirited and committed team of teenagers have established a platform Oroddho (unstoppable) to campaign for a safe society for women. Zeenat Khan talks to one of the co-founders of Oroddho, Antara Farnaz.
In the recent months, in light of the repeated sexual assault incidents in Bangladesh, three young people in Dhaka started a non-profit organisation called Oroddho. By making it a social platform to voice their concerns about sexual assault and abuse, they are doing their level best in bringing awareness to the crisis. I came to know about Oroddho from a relative of mine in Dhaka. After getting a briefing about the overall mission of the foundation, I decided to dig deeper. I reached out to one of the co-founders of Oroddho Antara Farnaz, an A level student at a school in Dhaka. Antara’s foundation will act as a guiding light among her peers and those who are trying to take steps to stop the violence against women. Young voices must be heard, and in the absence of strong youth voice, change cannot really start.
New Age Youth: When was it that you decided to start a foundation? Why was it important for you to start Oroddho?
Antara Farnaz: I started Oroddho Foundation in grade 12. I felt that this issue of sexual assault and rape was pervasive on a national level. Despite your religion, location, or beliefs, this was an issue that affected you or your closest family. And, yet, somehow this was the subject that was very badly handled by us as a society. I rarely heard any positive discussions around the fight against sexual crimes. It was always an off-limits topic in my society. I wanted to change that to facilitate an open discussion.
New Age Youth: How did you come up with the name Oroddho? How would you define its mission statement?
Antara Farnaz: The name Oroddho means unstoppable in English. Its mission is to help reduce sexual crimes and gender based discrimination.
New Age Youth: Considering you have a big load of school work and other extracurricular activities, what was the deciding factor for you to undertake such a challenging project?Antara Farnaz: When a series of incidences of sexual crimes happened to friends around me, I felt a call to action. An urgent intervention was needed because an elite education did not guarantee any basic code of decency.
New Age Youth: Was there any specific episode that either you or any of your friends had to face, that made you think that we need to enforce rules to stop unwanted and repulsive behaviour?
Antara Farnaz: Oroddho mainly works on sexual crimes like rape, assault, harassment etcetera. For me, personally, the assaults my friends had faced pushed me to real action. My fellow co-founder, Noorin, wants young women who are victims of sexual assault to speak up without feeling afraid. She is extremely concerned and disturbed by what has been happening in the country pertaining to sexual abuse of young women. This was the driving force for her in starting an NGO. My other co-founder Debopriyo also saw the need to do something for his country. He believes that expression of values is the first step in changing all this. Oroddho is our joint venture where we emphasise that ‘Touching a girl without her consent doesn’t make you a man. It makes you a coward.’
New Age Youth: Is your movement directed towards boys of your age or all men in general?
Antara Farnaz: This movement is not directed at any gender or age group in particular. It is directed at our entire society, its entire people, including our institutions, law enforcement, and policy-makers.
New Age Youth: What is it that you feel most unsafe about, when you go out in public, by yourself or with your friends?
Antara Farnaz: I think what I feel most unsafe about, which is backed by statistics, is not the streets at all. It is my closest people. However, there is definitely a heightened sense of alertness when I am on crowded streets or public places for fear of getting groped or eve-teased.
New Age Youth: What made you think that starting a foundation will surely help in reducing street harassment, incessant teasing and raping of girls?
Antara Farnaz: The part of Oroddho I am in charge of is the workshop wing. Here we make modules or curriculum on topics like consent, sexuality education, toxic gender roles, sensitivity training etc. Conducting workshops on these issues with students of age 10-19 will change how we think, speak, and act on these issues. Many of the concerns we deal with are considered taboo in our society. What we have found is that starting a conversation about these suppressed topics goes a long way in making change. When we talk about taboo topics, they challenge people’s preconceived notions or beliefs and induce thought. This induced thought often changes their behaviour for the better, from stopping discriminatory taunting of friends to quitting asserting your dominance on family because of a certain power dynamic. Basically, we try to create consciousness. We make these modules from scratch on our own so as to carry out our specific vision. We try to be culturally sensitive but also bold. Our videos and social media posts also aim to educate and influence minds since the younger generations obtain a lot of information from these mediums. Our video on consent has 70k views now.
New Age Youth: What are you doing in getting the words out so that people know about Oroddho? Is it through Facebook and Instagram mainly?
Antara Farnaz: We have 5.2k likes on Facebook. FB is our main mode of communication with our targeted audience for now. We also use Instagram.
New Age Youth: What major steps are in the works in taking Oroddho to the next level in stopping sex crimes?
Antara Farnaz: Advocacy is a huge part of our vision. It will support movements like this to take our message further. For now, we are primarily focusing on building our organisation.
New Age Youth: So far, how much support have you generated for your foundation? Are your parents behind you in carrying out such an endeavour?
Antara Farnaz: We have a growing online support, and our parents support us as well. With family members behind me, I consider myself privileged.
New Age Youth: Running a campaign or any non-profit have some basic expenses. Is it self-funded or do your parents’ help?
Antara Farnaz: Right now, our expenses are minimal as we all volunteer our time. Any expenses that are needed are self-funded.
New Age Youth: Is your project long-term or until you finish high school?
Antara Farnaz: The project is of course, long-term. Some people in my circle are depending on this to continue because of personal history of sexual abuse.
New Age Youth: Do you regularly organise any school wide awareness to create an environment where students can come and talk about any experience of sexual abuse? Or Oroddho is an after school project for you?
Antara Farnaz: What we do is basically make curriculum on certain issues. Then we conduct workshops in schools on these issues. We are starting our pilot project this January.
New Age Youth: Do you believe that Oroddho will be able to make a real difference whereas others in the past had failed in changing the concept about what society says about girls and women?
Antara Farnaz: I don’t think others have failed. I think every effort made in this direction has had some impact and that is valuable. The unique capability that Oroddho has is an insight into how young minds in Bangladesh work. We are one of the only youth-based organisations working on this issue and we are made of young people. If we can capitalise on our target audience and help reduce sexual crimes even minimally, we would consider ourselves successful.
New Age Youth: How should teenagers really respond to vulgar gestures when they are out having some fun with friends or cousins? Should they just ignore it or stand up to the perpetrators?
Antara Farnaz: I think it varies and they should be allowed to exercise their own discretion in deciding what they want do. But Oroddho believes protesting at such acts is very important to send the message to the culprits that there is zero tolerance for this kind of ugly behaviour in a civilised society. Everyone in that situation collectively standing up against horrible treatment of girls and women will be an ideal response.
New Age Youth: How important is it to change the culture of narrow mindset of those men who tease and harass girls’ non-stop? Will liberal way of thinking change society’s outlook?Antara Farnaz: Extremely important. And we need to start young. The youngest children are the most impressionable and we need to supervise what content they consume and feed them positive content on gender relations, women, and conduct around women.
New Age Youth: What kind of city streets do you envision where girls don’t have to be self-conscious when they are out and about?
Antara Farnaz: I envision one where a girl won’t be constantly worried about whether what she is wearing is bringing an unwanted attention. I envision a safe place where she does not need to be on constant alert in her own neighbourhood expecting trouble, or where she can walk the streets like men and stay out as late as men and it will be considered normal.
New Age Youth: Would you say that starting this foundation has been emotionally satisfying for you?
Antara Farnaz: So far, with 30 active members, curriculums prepared, educational videos made, and events launched, I would say it has. I will be satisfied when ‘Stop Violence against Women’ becomes a national campaign.
Zeenat Khan writes short stories and newspaper columns. She regularly writes for countercurrents.org and New Age. She lives in Maryland, USA
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Icon