my maid’s home burned down.

My maid came to my house after missing one day at around 8 am, crying, and then screaming. She first apologized for not coming to work the day before, and then explained that her home had burned down from a fire. You didn’t know? she asked me. I didn’t. I left for work early and came home at night and in between, fire ablaze the slum area where my maid, Parveen had lived with her children and husband. It was a makeshift home of bamboos like so many others, built above a bed of water with illegal electricity and water running through the hundreds of homes. 150 makeshift homes, gone. Another reports 250. It was on the TV. (click here for the story.) Even my parents saw it from abroad, but I just had no idea.

I hired Parveen just a few days earlier. I have less than two weeks left and needed better help at home and she came in the mornings, around 6:30 am. She cleaned the floors, washed my clothes, cleaned my bathrooms, polished this and that, and occasionally cooked and made my morning tea. She was very, very talkative. I was not annoyed yet. And she was different than other maids I have seen– she accessorized more, wore cleaner clothes. She worked for about four homes in the area and used her money smartly. She even had a bank account. She bought a television, and she managed to purchase a cupboard. She fed her children with her money, one of whom suffered from a disability. Her husband was an occasional rickshaw puller, occasional gambler, and occasional abuser. Like all the other maids’ husbands, my aunt once told me.

She didn’t have shoes and I gave her a pair of flip flops. I gave her 500 taka. I didn’t have anything else to give at the time.I really didn’t. She wouldn’t take food–apparently she doesn’t have the appetite and they are already being fed by an NGO there. But here is the troubling part. I have been talking to some neighbors and people are sympathetic. She just lost everything. But they are also cautious. They told me, be careful, she is going to start asking you for a lot of things and emotionally blackmail you. But she just lost everything, I would respond. She works for four homes and has connections to ten others, she is getting a lot more than other victims who don’t have such connections. So what do I do, just ignore that the poor woman’s house burned down? I mean, she is poor after all, and you can’t deny the fact that house being burned down…I can’t even imagine. At the same time, my neighbors told me, you have to be careful because they are used to wanting more and asking for more and you don’t exactly know for sure how much she has and what she is exactly doing with all of the money and clothes. Cunning, selfish, greedy, and they are used to hustling, they tell me.

The conversations go on and I am left frustrated because I just don’t see how one can ignore that a person is a sufferer and a victim no matter their status in the social ladder of losing everything from a disaster. As someone who has a lot more, am I not obliged to help? If not obliged, shouldn’t I, if I can? How can I check that my charity is actually helping? But how can it not, for Parveen is very, very poor  despite everything.

And how about the rest? my neighbors ask back.

Published: Pop Ensembles. Lifestyle, The Daily Star

Speaking of pop colors, this week’s Lifestyle supplement is about pop colors and colorblocking, the new trend. I was asked to write the main feature for this week, which also happens to celebrate their new 20 page issue. This involved some research, talking to people around Dhaka, and also personal experience (if you know me, you know my obsession with bright colors). And yes, I actually wrote about fashion this time. The last time I wrote about fashion for the Daily Star was on Bangladeshi roots, for the weekend magazine, click here to see. Pick up this week’s Daily Star or read below, my fashion essay on this trend. Or click here to read. 

DRAMATIC: WARDROBES IMPOSSIBLE TO IGNORE

May 15, 2012

Olinda Hassan

If you had to sum up this summer’s style in two words, it would be: bold colours. And we couldn’t be more thrilled. Cheerful hues from mint, magenta, mango yellow, purple to neon are in, matching perfectly with the many sun-filled days to come. Bright pop colours have been showing up all over the runway, and here is the best part: they’re easy to wear and incorporate into your everyday wardrobe. We are talking about bright, solid colour pieces like a t-shirt blocked with another vivid piece, such as a cardigan and/or coloured jeans, making simple dressing look glam and dramatic. Fun accessories from neon coloured frames to replacing your everyday go-to-bag with mustard yellows and red pieces are all the rage. With makeup, we say keep it simple with your bold ensemble, but no need to shy away from bubble gum pink lip-gloss and creamy lavender nail polishes. This summer isn’t about shying away. It’s about being noticed: think vibrant and loud, and be playful with this fun trend.

Start by pairing separates, and invest in a pair of bold jeans. The easiest way to colour block is by picking separates and pairing them together, such as with two bright, solid hues. For starters, pick a neutral tone (brown, black, nude, etc.) and pair with a bold neon as your first baby steps. From there, you can slowly experiment with different colours. A violet maxi dress will look great with an emerald cardigan, for example. Think contrast, and don’t shy away if it doesn’t “match”. Think back to when you were in school and made those colour wheels stick to palettes around a colour you chose, and if you want to be especially daring, go with the wheel’s opposites.

This season, colourful denims are in and it looks like they’re here to stay. Fitted jeans in fire-engine red, mustard, fuchsia, plum, and pinks make colour blocking easy. “I bought a pair of emerald green skinny pants and my friends thought I was crazy. I wear it with a blue t-shirt I had in my closet or my pink one, and it works whether I am going to class or to hanging out with friends in the evening. It’s all the rage right now and has a fun element of risk and adventure in it,” said Nusra, a second year student at NSU who has been following the trend since the beginning of this year. “Urban Truth’s coloured denims and jeggings have been a huge hit with our customers who are young school and university students, the main trend setters in Dhaka,” said Momen.

Pink has always been a feminine colour, but a bright shade like fuchsia, neon pink or magenta screams confidence. “These are Zara pants I got at Doja and after a bit of tailoring, they fit like a glove and I love how happy they looks. This season can be hot and sweaty but that doesn’t mean you can’t dress like you are having fun!” added Sara, also from NSU, pointing to her pink jeans, paired with a white button down shirt and a choral blue chunky necklace.

GET WILD WITH PRINTS, TOO: We continue with this mix and match style when we bring prints into the picture. If you want to add prints to your colour blocked style, the shades don’t actually need to match. Animal prints, such as the leopard motif has been a big hit and can make a great combination when paired with a colour blocked outfit. Combining a colour blocked ensemble with printed shoes (e.g. Urban Truth’s python platforms or floral print flats) is also a great way to draw attention to different parts of your outfit.

EVEN JUST A SPLASH OF COLOUR CAN HAVE AN IMPACT ON YOUR WHOLE OUTFIT: ACCESSORISE.
Not ready for the electric hue? Even just a splash of this colour can make a statement, so get on the trend by adding a pink stoned necklace or a bright fuchsia clutch. Colour blocking may not be up everyone’s alley, but including some scarves, belts, and shoes can add a punch of colour while practicing the trend in small doses.

Once you have some hues in your outfit, take the trend to the next level by adding some rich accessories. A deep-hued tunic can be paired with bright accessories and vice-versa. A bold blue dress paired with bright pink shoes and a white belt, for example, looks polished and trendy. “I love my ballet flats from Bata, they are a cheap and fun way to add colour to my wardrobe. I have them in their engine red and lavender hues and it instantly makes my boring black and white work clothes look updated,” said Sunaya, a banking professional.

Necklaces, bracelets, and earrings in solid colours are coming out chunkier to make a true statement. A mix of vibrant stones and bold shaped beads but in one colour scheme can instantly uplift a white shirt. A bright yellow kameez can look amazing with cobalt blue bracelets. If you are going to pick a chunky necklace, stick to simple studs for the ears.

This season, even our glasses and watches are getting a colour lift. Frames in green, red, orange, and white tones are becoming popular among both men and women. Might as well go all the way, right? Wrist watches are also picking up the trend; Swatch recently released a collection of watches for women in neon colours, with the lime green being most popular. A solid block of colour on your wrist can do a lot to keep you up with current fashion.

MAKE UP: WHY LET YOUR CLOTHES HAVE ALL THE FUN? 
Colour blocking can be based in our makeup too, especially if you want that dramatic look. It’s especially fun because you get to get creative and personal. The most popular and easy ‘colour blocking makeup’ combinations are coral and fuchsia, red and peach, and plum and orange. But make sure you are just focusing on one area of the face rather than using a colour blocking scheme all over. Blocking bright colours for the eye lid is especially popular. If you are feeling fierce, use a bright colour above your eyes (e.g. orange) and use a different colour to lightly shade under your eyes with a brush (e.g. pink). Dab an extra layer of mascara to make the colours pop even more. Lip sticks in berry, plum, and bubble gum pink (think Nicki Minaj or Lady Gaga) are also in. “Just remember that less is more, especially with our weather,” added Momen.

Unless you are a model hitting the runway, opt for simple neutrals to a colour blocked emsemble so that your outfit gets more of the attention it deserves. Momen suggests shimmery glosses and powders to keep things balanced and light, especially with the summer weather and humidity. Matte coloured lipsticks keeps the look understated but glamorous.

Don’t forget your nails, the endless palette for all of your colouring needs. Opt for matte finishes in the bright pink, orange, to purple and even mint and green nail liquors. It’s not about matching your outfit. Matte finish is all the rage right now, and so is taking bold step with nail styling. Using alternate colours for the nails or even colour blocking a nail with two or more options is a popular choice.

Colour blocking is not new in fashion’s history but it has returned this time with a bang. In this eye catching trend, you can use colour to enhance parts of your body that you love, while pairing with a neutral colour to minimise trouble areas. For example, enjoy a bold coloured top with a neutral bottom to bring attention to your upper body. Stick to three colours and not more to avoid looking like a waking rainbow. “There’s nothing stopping Bangladeshi girls with this trend. They should start experimenting more and be daring with this easy trend,” said Momen.

By Olinda Hassan
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Model: Airin
Make up, hair and styling: Farzana Shakil
Wardrobe, Jewellery and accessories: Urban Truth

Photos: Pop colors

On my recent trip to my mom’s hometown, Narsingdi, I found these pieces of net in the brightest colors, to be used later for mosquito nets. The bright purple, neon pink, orange, and lavender are my favorites. They were stacked in a small corner shop outside, across a sweet meat shop. It was a muddy alleyway, full of the smell of melted sugar and raw beef mixed together. Lovely. It was a nice change to see these bright, pop colors on my walk.

hartal hartal hartal. Writing from home on a national political strike day.

Since we are all talking about these hartals (political strikes declared by the opposition party where basically you stay home all day, etc. Click this link to read the basics), I should perhaps discuss some of my feelings too. Today is indeed hartal and I spent it out eating a lot—pepper steak and potatoe gratin for lunch at Timeout, strawberry cheesecake at the American Club while working on some ‘important’ things, and street-side fuchka in Gulshan 2. Just another day.

The thoughts about these things like hartals are mixed for me, as an expat with some but limited knowledge of Bangladesh’s politics, even though I have a minor in South Asia Studies. So who better to turn to than the pretty great piece written by Aasha Mehreen Amin, or as I call her, Aasha apa of the Daily Star, the Editor of the Star weekly magazine. I have known Aasha apa for a few months now and love working with her, whether that’s attending an album launch in Izumi or taking her guidance to write about Bangladeshi fashion. She wears a sari almost every time I’ve run into her—those nice cotton ones just pressed, with up to date prints, wrapped around her perfectly. She has a great way of speaking and making comments at the right time. In sense, I not only enjoy working with her but also talking to her about non-work related things (what are girls wearing these days?).

In her article titled “What People Say and What They Mean” Aasha apa in her usual funny way deciphers the past week and a half’s popular quotations by our famous political leaders in relation to this hartal and mess of the missing BNP leader, and other disappearances.

Example:

‘We will solve this case in 48 hours, we are doing everything to try to find the criminals.’

Decoded: 48 hours just sounds good, but actually I should have said 48 weeks or even months since we have no clue how to go about this; plus, hopefully other gruesome events will take place to divert public attention.

Click here to read the piece or grab this week’s newspaper for the Star Weekend magazine. Or read below for more.

What People Say and
What They Mean

Aasha Mehreen Amin

‘We will continue with our hartal programme until the government finds our leader who is still missing.’

Actual meaning: we really don’t give two hoots about what’s his name, we just need some excuse to create a situation that makes the government appear incompetent, petty and corrupt.

‘We will solve this case in 48 hours, we are doing everything to try to find the criminals.’

Decoded: 48 hours just sounds good, but actually I should have said 48 weeks or even months since we have no clue how to go about this; plus, hopefully other gruesome events will take place to divert public attention.

‘The law and order situation is in a better state than before (during the opposition’s rule). These are a few isolated incidents, which of course, we will investigate.’

Inner thoughts: I must say this mantra over and over until even I begin to believe it.

‘We would like the opposition to join hands with us to find what’s his name instead of resorting to such destructive activities as calling hartal.’

Interpretation:

Yeah right. We know they will never, in this lifetime do any such thing, unless we find another dictator to topple, but then again now we are the dictators so forget that. We just say these things because it makes us sound reasonable, open-minded and ah yes, democratic.

‘We were just holding a peaceful procession. There was no reason for the police to attack us. This is another example of how fascist this government is.’

We were just holding a peaceful procession. There was no reason for the police to attack us. This is another example of how fascist this government is.’

What was not said: We burnt a few buses along with a driver, terrorised a few CNGs and vandalised private cars and property. This will ensure that no fool brings out his vehicle the next day.

‘Hartal is a democratic right and although we know the public suffers the government has left us with no choice.’

Real meaning: Hartal means, burning, playing chase and counter-chase with the police, getting a few leaders bloodied, making sure a few dispensable ordinary people get killed, wrecking cars and generally creating enough panic among the general people so that they don’t come out of their homes.

‘We have to stay on guard to keep peace and to prevent activists from getting violent. We are just trying to do our job.’

Reality: It’s a good way to vent our anger against our poor salaries, uncomfortable uniforms, the unbearable heat and the fact that the rest of the people are lazing at home or are off to their villages while we have deal with these ruffians. We can beat the daylights out of these rascals without any impunity, even smash a few cameras of those pesky, arrogant journalists who make us look so bad in the next day’s news.

‘I have never been involved in any corruption. I have no idea where this money came from.’

Inner thoughts: That fool, what was he thinking.

‘A naughty nexus is wrecking our railway system. I am smelling a rat.’

Inner thoughts: The rat died a long time ago. One sort of gets used to the stink.

‘The people know that we are here to lift Bangladesh from the grip of poverty and put it on the map of the world as a growing, flourishing nation.

Inner thoughts: We just want to win the next election so a few empty promises are necessary.

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2012

It’s Raining ya’ll: Dhaka

View from my patio window last time it rained and I was home, few days ago.
View from my patio window last time it rained and I was home, few days ago.

I used to think rain was crazy in Arizona. The desert state’s monsoon season was nothing to joke about- it was severe and the nightly news was all about which car got stuck, which dry river beds filled up, and what to expect next. People got very, very excited.

The rain in Bangladesh is kind of crazier, especially because unlike Tucson, there’s people everywhere. As I write it is raining absolutely deliriously outside—in my room, even thought my bathroom door is locked, the wind has managed to rattle it. I can feel the wind through the thin cracks of my patio doors. The noise outside is that of the wind that you only read about in books, combined with the shouts of people who don’t have a covered home to go to and line up under the stores. Unlike the U.S., the store keepers here don’t mind that you enter to escape the rain. They get it. They know. The temperature is cooler, which is saying something for this tropical country of sweat and sun. The lightning’s glow is felt in my room, literally (A bright crackling noise, like in the fireplace once in a while, back when I was at Wellesley, studying in the LuLu).  Noise of car honks get louder—as if that solves anything. The crowded city of Dhaka gets a breather and pockets of random people form.

There is a lot of romance around rain in Bangladesh’s culture. Lots of poems and writings that I can barely translate, let alone read. Just Google “Bangladesh rain” and see for yourself. But I see what they mean, after having been caught in the moment now, thrice (the first time while I was on a CNG on my way home, the plastic rolled up covers doing little to help). Last time it was at BICC on my way to events coverage for the Daily Star. This time it was to my home where the desperation was different. A great excuse to stay inside. Not so much for the many who will stress about the leaks in their homes, the roofs of makeshift homes being blown away, what it means for their meals and the night’s sleep for their children. Very, very real problems most of us will never phantom to imagine.

I just got home from getting caught in the rain, again. This time, I had to run through the overpass in Shymoli to get to the other side. Two women in front of me yelled at each other as they ran. And then I had to get a rickshaw which was a battle since no one would go. I am already drenched at this moment (and wearing white of course). I paid 2.5 times the fare to my apartment building. My rickshawallah took a chance on me because he knew that he would earn double tonight with the rain, even if he might be in bed, sick the next morning. Money is now. Money has to be earned fast.

Currently, the prayer’s call is going off, mixed with the noise of the rain, though the voice of my nearest mosque is even more powerful. Nothing wrong with the microphones there. Mosques will be crowded, mostly by people who look on to shelter rather than prayer. Life goes on.

Bangles bangles bangles

Bangles are my favorite accessory. Most people who know me know this very well. Rarely do I ever NOT have something dangling/cuffing/twining/sparkling on my wrist. Bangladesh is the home of bangles and I love them. The following is a feature I wrote for the Lifestyle section of this week’s Daily Star. Click here to read or see below, or of course, buy the paper today.

BANGLES 
Chic Bangaliana


A
lam sits with his basket of glass bangles everyday in front of TSC, the prime location to target students who often stop their busy schedules just to look at his colourful collection.

“Of all the bangles I sell, the glass ones are the most popular, especially around this season,” he said, as he unwrapped a dozen red bangles that dazzled in the sun, reflecting the light.

Glass bangles can be seen everywhere these days, especially as we prepare for Pahela Baishakh. Men and women sellers alike line different parts of the street around Dhaka University where their collection of multicolored bangles do all the talking to attract customers.

There is something about glass bangles that never gets tiring. While metal bangles and plastic spray painted ones in various colours and ornamentation seemed to have taken over store fronts, simple glass bangles have never really lost the competition.

“I think it’s the noise that keeps making me come back and buy more and more. They are traditional and classy, so never out of style, which I love. Every time they break, it just means I get to buy more!” said Nishat, a second year student at Dhaka University.

Indeed the sound of glass bangles as they glide against each other on your wrists puts us in a celebratory mood. “My mother bought them when she was a student, and now I am doing the same. We sometimes come here and buy glass bangles together and walk down memory lane,” said Tasnia, also of DU who plans to only accessorise with glass bangles this year for Pahela Baishakh. While glass bangles also come coated in metallic specks and glitter for design, she still prefers the simple, one-tone bangles that her mother used to wear.

While red and white continue to be the most popular colour for glass bangles around Pahela Baishakh, the blue, green, and pink tones are catching up. This season, many sellers agree that women are opting more and more for mixing two to three bright, bold colours for their wrists. “Girls love to come and try on as many colours as they can, and the biggest problem that they have is usually which ones not to buy, along with bargaining with me of course, said one elderly woman who has been selling in the Dhaka University area for years.

Nowadays, she sells bangles in all sizes, as glass bangles are catching up with small children as well. “You can’t go wrong with glass bangles, which makes them popular among boys too, who buy them as gifts,” she added as she unwrapped the white paper off of a bright purple set designed with indentations.

It is perhaps the slightly translucent finishing of the bangles that makes them more special, with their light paint coating and smooth texture. Glass bangles also hold a strong tradition in South Asia, as well as various meanings; it is often thought that because glass bangles match the colours in nature, they can express the natural energy of wearers and even bring luck.

Folklores of this region often include glass bangles. And of course, in this season of festivities, glass bangles continue to be a fashion staple for women of all ages. If you haven’t bought them yet, don’t worry: expect to find lots of glass bangle stalls with a rainbow of selection this Pahela Baishakh around the city.

PhotoSazzad Ibne Sayed
ModelAirin
Makeup and stylingFarzana Shakil
WardrobeFarzana Shakil
Location: Coffee World, Road 27, Dhanmondi

Published in the Daily Star: Kony 2012 and the New Age of Social Media in Political Action

My interest in social media is a recent phenomenon, mostly triggered by the Arab Spring. The recent attention on Kony 2012, both the good and bad has been particularly eye catching because it has attracted the youth, and also attracted attention to issues that have already been a problem for a long time– why now? The power of Facebook- what was one laughable- is actually serious. YouTube? Twitter? These sites do not even ask for spell check on Word anymore. Anyway, I wrote this piece for this month’s Forum magazine in response to the many questions that buzz my head as I think about the way I use and don’t use social networking sites and the media. The article can be found by clicking here, or read below, or by buying this month’s copy of the magazine, available in Bangladesh.

Kony 2012 and the New Age of Social Media in Political Action

OLINDA HASSAN looks at the significance of social media in bringing political change.

Can social media be used to make an effective political change? This question highlights recent reactions by activists, academics, politicians, to journalists in the wake of Kony 2012, the video aimed at bringing public attention to Joseph Kony, the militant leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda. The 30 minute video as of March 19 has had 82 million viewers. That is almost triple the population of Uganda.

Joseph Kony led the LRA under the ideology of creating a theocratic state based on the Ten Commandments in Uganda. For over a quarter of a century, Kony built a sizable army of child soldiers and ordered the abduction of thousands of girls to become sex slaves. Though in 2005 Kony was indicted of war crimes by the International Criminal Court, he has yet to be captured.

Kony 2012 was created by a US-based advocacy group, Invisible Children Inc which has long worked in Uganda to bring access to education and quality livelihood to a post-conflict community that suffers from poverty and the memories of war. The video brings to light these issues, with the hope that it will lead to the capture of the militant leader before the end of the year.

Invisible Children Inc has been long known for having one of the strongest social media bases in the nonprofit world. The video’s viral purpose is clear as it repeats the images of people using social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and of course, YouTube. The video opens with the words “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come. ” Kony 2012 does not necessarily make Kony the celebrity but certainly the bad guy, and more interestingly, it personifies the viewer — that it is you watching who can bring change. Furthermore, it uses a simplistic story line — some argue too simple — and thus, misses some key facts and features of the atrocities committed. However, its simplicity was the reason why the video was able to target so many viewers — and from so many intellectual and other backgrounds. In an age of technological communication when so many millions of users utilise social media around the world, this is certainly telling.

The simple story line, as mentioned, has been the root cause of a backlash of the viral video. Critics argue that the simplification of the complex issue has instead caused “slacktivism” rather than actual activism. Slacktivism, derived from slack and activism, points to the effort of no effort — a pejorative term that describes supporting a cause through simple measures, like sharing a link of Facebook, and feeling good about it and not going further. As many have argued over blog posts, advancing awareness and social media alone will not do much to stop the atrocities in Africa, let alone capture Kony. Journalist Anthony Kosner writes, “the radical simplification of the situation in Uganda that makes Kony 2012 such an effective piece of social media is the same thing that undermines it as a piece of political activism.” (Forbes).

Social media and international politics


We have entered a new era where social media can and have shown to matter, even in as complex an area as foreign policy. Facebook and Twitter have fueled the Arab Spring uprising, giving both men and women equal footing and voice on some of the most pressing issues of governance. Videos have been coming out of Syria on a regular basis, giving them a chance to be noticed by the outside world. As author Philip N. Howard noted, “It was social media that spread both the discontent and inspiring stories of success… into the Middle East.” “Occupy Wall Street” in New York has its roots in social media outlets, the same tool used for similar protests around the United States. Young people around the world have especially been hit with the use of social media and also in actually becoming active. It has become an inspiring and a dangerous tool, mainly because so many people have the access, and thus the voice, regardless of gender, age, socioeconomic status to some extent, or language.

Since the rise of the internet in the early 1990s, the world’s networked population has increased from a million or two, to low billions. At the same time, social media became “a fact of life for civil society worldwide” (Clay Shirky, Foreign Affairs). It has involved the average citizens, activists, nongovernmental organisations, students, companies, software providers, and of course, governments. As this new era’s communication processes gets more complex and intertwined, the population of users have increased. People have greater opportunities to interact, access information, and take action. The high level of production and sharing of multimedia content makes it even more difficult to suppress information. It is redefining freedom, especially in countries where such rights are limited. This was especially true for Egypt, for example, where outlets such as Facebook and Twitter carried the message of freedom and democracy to help raise political uprising. Democracy found its footing in social networks.

The new wave of political activism through social media has certainly attracted the attention of politicians, who on average are much older and in general, of a different demographic than the average activist (who tend to be younger and more in tune with technology as evidenced by recent uprisings and activities). When protests erupted in Tehran, Iran, the US State Department asked Twitter executives to suspend their scheduled maintenance of the service so it could still be used as a tool for political organisation during the demonstrations. While the Green Revolution in Iran in 2009 may have been the first modern rebellion to be recorded on Twitter, it did not bring down a government. The links between social media and revolutions are still being examined by researchers.

Egypt has almost 10.5 million Facebook users, ranking at 20, ahead of countries such as Japan (25) and Russia (29), and way ahead of other North African countries Algeria (44) and Tunisia (47). Bangladesh is ranked at 55, with a little over 2 million users on Facebook, with users from ages 18-24 making up more than 50% of the users (Source: Socialbaker). Bangladesh is also not new to enforced censorship and social media blocking enforced by the government. It is important to also note that many users of sites like Facebook may originate at one place, but the user may live in a different country, as well as the use of multiple accounts and other glitches.

Social media alone is of course not the main driving force of uprisings — on-the-field activism is. Rather, social media has been taken up to make people aware and inform them of activities taking place that they can participate in. Certainly, awareness is part of the scheme in bringing in changes.

Regulation and censorship (?) 
At first, using the words “censorship” and ” media” will inevitably bring in an abundance of negative reactions, especially in the 21st century and in an era of technology and global communication. In terms of social media, however, the debate goes further than initial reactions.

Censorship of social media sites are often compared to the censorship of books, films, or the press — most people do not support such censorship and social media in some ways fits into the category. But because of the complex nature of social media (where everyone can be an author and everyone can have access), it is hard to directly apply the same principles.

Furthermore, social media sites have been used to both organise mass protests that have fueled success (e.g. Egypt and the Arab Spring) to violence (e.g. instant messaging services facilitated the London riots). False information is notorious for appearing in, and being shared around via social media sites. Twitter users’ panic tweets about gunmen attacking schools in Mexico allegedly led to 26 car accidents. There are also notions of social media sites being used to develop and strengthen underground cults and gangs in urban centres, such as in Los Angeles to London.

With no proper means of addressing and defining social media (after all, is it really “media”?), governments are left to do as pleased given the right purposes. China, for one, has been known historically to censor internet content. But as a recent Carnegie Mellon University study has shown, Chinese web users have also cleverly found many ways to access forbidden sites and micro blogs to serve their political or social purposes. Iran similarly has just posed another ban on social media outlets, making it more difficult for citizens to communicate, repressing Iranians instead of empowering them through what used to be an easy communication tool.

Kony 2012 and the new age of internet 
Returning to the discussion of Invisible Children Inc, Kony 2012 has become one of the most highly viewed videos of recent times on YouTube. The video has attracted notable celebrities such as Ryan Seacrest, Justin Beiber, Rhianna, Alec Baldwin and Taylor Swift who used their Twitter accounts to spread awareness of the video. Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project has reported that the first two days after the video was released online, 77% of Twitter conversation was supportive compared with only 7% that was skeptical. However, since its release, there has also been a massive rise in actually analysing both the video and the content from bloggers and journalists so that since March 7, when the response picked up dramatically, the percentage of tweets reflecting skepticism increased to 17%.

And the criticisms are increasing. Some of the main denigration of Kony 2012 in recent days has been on its depiction of Uganda, and how the events covered in the video was the story of the past, and not the current state of the war-wrecked nation. The image of Africa as depicted in the video was also troubling. “This is another video where I see an outsider trying to be a hero rescuing African children. We have seen these stories a lot in Ethiopia, celebrities coming in Somalia,” said Rosebell Kagumire, a Ugandan blogger who explained that the video only showcased Africa as hopeless and constantly needing outside help. A lot of phrases like “white man’s burden” have also appeared among blog sites. Social media has both the ability to be used to increase awareness of a topic, and to also increase awareness of the details and critics of the topic itself in a very timely manner, as noted in the case of Kony 2012.

Social media is a very recent, and a very relevant player in today’s politics, as evidenced by increased government attention and also, government regulation and censorships. However, social media is also not the “only thing” and can often be misguided. The rules of checking facts, the sources, and basic common sense still applies to tweets and Facebook updates — just as it does for the press. Perhaps such caution is warranted even more for social media outlets because of its ability to be used by the masses and not just experts. Rather than information sharing, social media has perhaps been more actively purposeful for organising, whether that was in the Arab Spring, or as now with Kony 2012 in leading massive attention to a little known leader in the outside world of Uganda.

Nigerian human rights campaigner Omoyele Sowore states it best like it is: “The Internet has helped revolution; but the Internet is not revolution.”

Olinda Hassan is a graduate of Wellesley College, and continues to discusses various musings in her blog at olindahassan.wordpress.com

Trayvon Martin

We have a 17-year-old kid pleading for his life while a half-wit like Gerlado Rivera is left worrying about him wearing a hoodie? History went from people with hoods on killing us, to now getting killed because we are wearing hoods? Everyone has the right to protect their family and property, if that’s what they are doing. Nonetheless, that law in Florida is due for repeal because not everything that is “legal” is moral or right. There is a big difference between a “neighborhood watch” and somebody “watching the neighborhood!”

Malik Yusuf, Songwriter and Spoken Word Artist

It has been a month since Trayvon Martin was killed. A month. How does a justice system not even take a simple action after the public has made a storm in the headlines demanding justice. He was 17 years old. Attached a “neighborhood watchman” (not a policeman) who has a history of doing things he is not supposed to. Furthermore, the fact that Martin was black has been the talk to media- and rightfully so. Blatantly being thought of as suspicious for wearing a hoodie and being black walking in a dominantly non-black residential area cannot be a concern for the neighborhood self appointed watchman with a gun.

Apparently, Zimmerman said that the boy attacked him first and exchanged hostile words and he acted on self defense. How does anyone, especially a child in this case, not be concerned and start running if a large man in an SUV was following him that night? How is it possible that Zimmerman, twice the size of Martin, be “attacked” by the skinny 17 year old who apparently managed to get on top of him, and furthermore- how can he shoot the boy who cried for help and asked to please not shoot him? Black or white or whatever race- a boy was shot by a man twice his size after he cried for help and begged to be left alone.

Given the nature of the story, and people involved (and not involved), and the media’s reaction, as well as the issue of race involved (seriously America, its 2012), I do not see a ‘fair’ trial anywhere written here, jury or no jury. And it is true- the entire story has not been out there yet. What exactly happened is not clear. But in this day and age, the play of race, gun laws, and communities of complex relationships between authority and citizenship makes this case all that more important and demanding of answers.

Where is the accountability?

Bangladesh’s cricket- the final match of the Asia Cup game.

The final match between Pakistan and Bangladesh for the Asia Cup was certainly an emotional ride for Bangladesh, and the millions of Bangladeshis living abroad who tuned in at odd hours to listen and watch the game from their computers. I was watching  the 8 hour match at Pan Pacific Sonargaon hotel at the restaurant where I found a prime seat at a table in front of the TV. It is the same hotel where the teams from Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, and of course Bangladesh stayed for the tournament. There was a program going on that night at the hotel which I skipped to watch the game, taking as much time as I can with my overpriced Chef’s Salad so that I wasn’t kicked out of my table.

An emotional ride was exactly what it was. Bangladesh played incredibly on the field- perhaps too well, as some spectators speculated with rumors of game fixing. At the end, the entire restaurant was filled with staff and people from around the hotel who stood there watching. Managers didn’t scream at the waiters and cleaners who have been taking peeks at players as they go in and out of the hotel rooms for the past two weeks. Well suited men stood next to ground staff. Everyone watched until the last ball- because that was what it came down to.

While Bangladesh lost the game, people have been talking about how well the team played this year in the series. They were not like the old Bangladeshi team, in that they actually played to win and did not give up. Still, fans were skeptical, as we are so used to being after years of supporting a losing team. Even when there were only 4 runs to score to win between Sri Lanka earlier, I was thinking something just might go wrong. You just never know with the tigers.

This time, people cried after the game. We were that close. Articles and comments of fans crying and also, backing the team filled the news, rather than rage over why we didn’t win. We were just not used to ever playing this good for so long.

It is also a game that has taken over an emotional nation. One would think- how can you keep supporting a team that is so unpredictable? The answer lies in the fact that it is a national team that plays against countries with political histories with the young country whose memories are too sharp. The emotional capacity is felt during and after the games (reportedly, the captain of the team pleaded with the fans to be strong after reports of fan suicides).

It is interesting to be in Bangladesh at this time. Cricket is one of the very few things that unite the country together. It is if not the only source of entertainment that doesn’t see a mark on social status and wealth of individuals. It’s a game that anyone can watch, does watch, and understand. I find it fascinating how sports can actually do this to people, communities, cities, and nations.

It is still unpredictable what could happen to this team after the Asia Cup. However, beating Bangladesh at a cricket match can no longer be considered an ‘upset’. They do actually play pretty well. This is the message that has been echoed by the millions living in Dhaka and abroad who try just as hard to better the image of the country from whatever angle possible. Take us seriously- we are here to play.

Feminism and the Internet, and other thoughts. (Women in the World)

The recent Women in the World conference (hosted by Newsweek and The Daily Beast) included a session that drew a particular personal interest- the issue of feminism and the internet. The discussion, led by Chelsea Clinton, pointed to how the internet has been, can be, and should be used to discuss and fight issues of gender inequality and to promote and change the views of feminism worldwide. The internet, as I have argued before, is one of the few, if not the only means of easy communication with the world– what can possibly be more powerful in an age of globalization?

Increasingly, women are also taking charge in creating some of the leading blogs and websites as well. There is Arianna Huffington , the founder of the much read news website, the Huffington Post , a site that has become the leading source of information worldwide rom the usual politics and economic features to covering entertainment and categories such as women, weddings, books, travel, to comedy and health. Or how about the 19 year old Julie Zeilinger who has championed teenage feminism in the widely popular blog, the FBomb? Just two examples of women who are out there, voicing the issues and concerns. And why not? The reason that so much attention is given to those to want to make issues known is because people just don’t know. Women’s rights and equality simply have not been given enough chance. And it has not been won, and we are not even close.

As a graduate of a women’s college, I have been certainly influenced and molded into becoming a feminist. I have also learned that being a ‘feminist’ outside in the real world, outside the comforts of my New England private all-women liberal arts college was not so keen to accept such identity. People are laughing at it, men and women alike continue to think that being a feminist is too out there, too much, too radical. And this is happening in the privacy of our homes to the very public cyber world.

Clearly, something about being a feminist makes people uncomfortable.

The Women in the World conference included the likes of Hilary Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Meryl Streep, Angelina Jolie, Oprah, to Burmese activist Zin Mar Aung, to IMF chieft Christine Lagarde and Nobel winner Leymah Gbowee (who asked the question- why aren’t more American women angry?).  It was star studded, power studded, and reached all angles of politics, economies, entertainment, to social activism and development. Best of all, it was hopeful- more conversations on what is being done and what can be done took place than what has not happened in the past to historical accounts.

Don’t tell me feminism needs to be marketed sexily and needs a sex appeal for people to pick it up. Feminism is multi dimensional. And being a feminist- the title and identity itself should not be picked up any anyone unless you know what you are talking about. It is not a fad, it is not a label, it doesn’t make you a ‘hipster’.

I could continue and take this writing to all types of angles, and I already have. Women matter, but we are not close, and women’s issues do not just single out one gender. It matters for both girls and boys, men and women, and all identities, sexuality, races, cultures, and extends deep into history and to the future.

Above all, the summit produced a weekend of unforgettable discussions and deep connections between women of different generations and backgrounds, all bound by the conviction that “women’s rights are human rights” and that women have a moral obligation to work on each other’s behalf.

 

Published: Women in the Workplace: Gender-specific challenges in the corporate world (Daily Star)

The article can be found in this month’s Forum magazine supplement of the Daily Star or online by clicking here.

Women in the Workplace:Gender-specific challenges in the corporate world

OLINDA HASSAN explores the role of female participation and leadership in the workplace.

The last decade has witnessed an impressive rise of women in the workforce in Bangladesh. The encouraging rate of growth has been reflected in a variety of sectors. Being able to identify some women in high positions in the normally male-driven corporate industry is certainly encouraging. With change comes a social pressure for cultural shifts in perceptions. For example, today, the working women’s future ‘dreams’ are not just obtaining independence, but advancing in their respective careers. Such notions of career advancement closely resemble the historical aspirations of men. However, women’s paths towards such dreams are vastly different from men and the reaction that such women face from their peers and families continue to be problematic. Combined with the general consequences of a patriarchal society, women in Bangladesh’s corporate world are driven by additional determinants — How should I get ahead as a woman? How do I manage my life at home alongside my career? How do I deal with family expectations?

Traditional gender-roles and seeking female leadership in the workplace

A reason why women in South Asia, such as in Bangladesh, opt out of professional careers is to raise their children. Because of continued stigma attached to women and raising children at home, a woman’s continuation of work after birth remains a cultural obstacle. Women in South Asia also continue to have an uneven share of responsibilities when it comes to taking care of their elderly parents and/or parents-in-law. Combined with having to take care of children, many South Asian women find it exceptionally difficult to resume their careers at the level they left since they are unable to remain connected or develop professionally in a linear fashion.

Moreover, women’s participation in Bangladesh’s movements continue to be limited in scope. To this day, whether married or not, young or old, women face a harder time being able to work odd hours, overtime, or over weekends — the types of commitment that are needed in a competitive, corporate world. Women in general face more pressure than their male counterparts to explain and gain approval from their home as to why she would need to work longer hours, or why she would have to take a certain work trip out of town, for example.

The movements of female workers at the workplace are more scrutinised with a magnifying glass than their male counterparts. “As women, we already face advances from our male colleagues. I have even been advised to flirt with them in order to be heard. The definition of what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour is definitely much more difficult to navigate for us than it is for our male colleagues. There is just too much cultural pressure,” said one female communications manager for a multinational corporation in Dhaka who asked for anonymity.

At the work place, it is more difficult for women to break into a male-dominated industry, since a woman in leadership or seeking a leadership position must showcase that she is as capable as any other man at work. She must work hard, if not harder, to gain staff respect and understanding.

Thus, women often have to choose between their career and their family life as both components require much attention and physical presence.

However, some of the difficulties listed above may be used as excuses and are self-created. In a recent article in Business Standard, Vinita Bali, the managing director of Britannia Industries was asked about how she felt working in a male-dominated industry and she expressed that sometimes, “we talk about it so much we make it bigger than what it is.” While problems may exist, embedded problems from culture can be changed. Women must thus be more vocal in defending themselves at their home and create a reasonable venue for approval and understanding. After all, more women than ever hold corporate positions in Bangladesh, and this could not have been gained without achieving understanding between families and communities.

“This isn’t a golf-playing, beer-drinking homogeneous culture,” Naina Lal Kidwai, Group Managing Director and Country Head of HSBC in India once said in an interview regarding corporate women in South Asia. “Women could join the workplace on their own terms…You still have to network; you still have to work hard, but that made it easier” (HRM Asia).

Appearances, its judgments, and why it may matter to a woman’s employment

The Bangladeshi corporate woman can instigate all kinds of images. You have the one who wears stylish, trend-setting saris and comes to work with her designer bag and always perfect hair and flawless makeup. On one hand, she embodies professionalism with her clean, clear cut modern image. On the other hand, she is seen as a bit too much — a bit too modern, a bit too smart, a bit too out there. Who does she think she is, better than all of us?– a common Bangladeshi sentiment arises. The leading corporate woman can also wear a simple sari or shalwar kameez, with visible dark circles under her eyes and non-flashy shoes and I-care-more-about-my-files bag. This can generate a nod of approval from those who want to see a hard worker, but she can also be subjected to being too simple, too sloppy, and too intelligent. Either way, no matter how she dresses and presents herself, a negative perception and related typecasting can, and most often does, follow.

With slow economy worldwide and higher competition among job seekers, men and women alike are facing new challenges in the market. Interestingly, in the array of research, articles and advice blogs written to aid women, there has been a particular assertion: looks matter.

“If you want to get a raise or a promotion, you might want to throw on a pair of heels and suck in that belly. Your looks can help (or hinder) your chances of getting a well-deserved promotion, regardless of qualifications, especially in a sour economy when advancements are few and hard to come by,” recently wrote journalist Laura Sinberg for Forbes, one of the leading publications for corporate America. According to the Journal of Labor Economics,attractive people earn about 5% more than their average-looking colleagues.

A 2009 study by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons found that 73% of women felt a “youthful appearance” played a role in getting a job, promotion, or getting and keeping clients. Many in the study cited difficult economic times as the reason for such a sentiment; the better-looking are the ones advancing in their careers where competition has become even more rigorous.

Such statements and studies may seem anti-feminist and anti-women’s movement. It certainly can be seen as offensive. But given the recent economy, women are certainly taking the looks-factor into consideration.

In Bangladesh, the number of working-women who are in the rising stage of their careers, between the age of 25-45 are visiting the parlours more than ever, opting for work-appropriate looks ranging from haircuts to subtle manicures. New boutiques and fashion houses are offering more and more “work-appropriate clothing” specifically created to make a woman feel and look more serious. Young women employed in major business and banking industries in the city are increasingly “looking the part.” It is not that one should ever not look work-appropriate; rather, there is a conscious decision made by many women to have to look attractive in the workplace, beyond just being “presentable”.

“The first lesson I learned as a South Asian woman is, I don’t have to compromise my values, but I really need to understand how I articulate them,” said Shahla Aly, a general manager at Microsoft at a conference at Harvard Business School in 2005 in a discussion about South Asian women at work. “My need to dress modestly can be articulated in dress that is more pervasive. At that point [when she first began her corporate job], I had not yet earned the right to be different.”

Countering stereotypes as women increase their visibility in corporate South Asia

South Asian women in business sometimes endure stereotypes exclusive to Asian women; on one hand, they are deemed as very intelligent, sharp, and able to think from varied angles. However, they are also often labelled as passive and submissive, and unassertive. In the corporate business world, these perceived qualities can hamper a woman’s professional growth. Additionally, there is a massive disconnect between an educational system in Bangladesh that now produces a large quantity of female graduates and a business climate that has not yet included this talent pool. Even if a woman is hired for a higher-end position, she will earn less and have lower chances of a promotion than her male counterpart.

A recent survey by Catalyst found that companies with female board directors consistently outperform corporations without women on the board in areas such as return on equity, return on sales, and return on invested capital. Another study posted on the Harvard Business Review cites such trends to qualities such as women invest more on preparation before board meetings and have higher attendance rates. They seek to broaden the scope of discussions and bring in a different set of characteristics that makes any corporate board unique and all-encapsulating. Given the recent economic climate worldwide, such characteristics are needed more than ever for struggling or expanding industries.

The discussion of what inhibits female growth and entrance into professional roles in Bangladesh (in an age when we have become focused on addressing gender gaps) takes place in the light that more women than ever are indeed advancing their careers in South Asia. Let us take India for example: foreign banks (e.g. HSBC, JPMorgan Chase, Royal Bank of Scotland and UBS) and the country’s ICICI Bank and Axis Bank are all run by women. Half of the deputy governors at the Reserve Bank of India are women (HRM Asia). Even though the traditional Indian society is patriarchal like Bangladesh, modern women in the region do not need to act like the stereotypical male banker to advance their careers.

Increasing the representation of women on corporate and governing boards is not singularly a women’s issue — it is a gender issue, for both men and women, and a professional concern. It is often asserted that putting women in leadership positions can broaden a company’s perspective on social welfare issues and “counteract the ’empathy deficit’ on corporate boards” (World Economic Forum). While these studies certainly place attention upon women, it is time women take on more active roles and be seen not just as female leaders, but as leaders. Women, whether they choose to dress for success and maintain traditional norms are certainly able to also juggle a career. Both women and men must make a conscious decision to champion diversity and open the path for other women — it is not impossible unless it is tried, experimented and fought for.

Olinda Hassan is a graduate of Wellesley College, and continues to discuss various musings in her blog atolindahassan. wordpress.com.

You must feed your guests.

The most frequent question that my aunt asks me is: did you eat? This is followed by: what did you eat? As if to check that I was not lying. Since I live by myself in Dhaka, my relatives’ concern is if I eat or not, before they will even ask me how I am, or how work is going. When I meet strangers and they learn that I live by myself, I am always amazed at how many people will serious questions regarding my meals. How do you eat? Who cooks for you? Aunties will ask me this question with a smile that hides real concern. In the West where I suppose living alone is more common, I have never been asked this question. In Bangladesh, a different story. People are really, genuinely concerned about what goes into my stomach and if it is done often enough.

Likewise in Bangladesh, if you go to someone’s home or office, you are most likely offered something to eat, and also insisted upon. There is no refusing, unless you want to offend. This is not a matter of class or wealth. Two weeks ago, I was at a village in Bogra, in Northern Bangladesh doing some field visits for BRAC, and the women we visited at their tin-roofed homes insisted on serving us tea. One woman even forced entire bag of puffed rice to one of the students with us. The puffed rice lasted for days among a dozen people. In another village where I was working as a translator to a group studying microfinance in rural Bangladesh, a woman fed us her homemade sugar-syrup dripped cakes that she sold for 3 taka each in the market (we refused at first but it was too late, her husband was off plating it before she even finished asking/demanding out attention). I was at an urban slum recently in Mirpur conducting house visits with the same group of students and yet again, women were insisting that we enter, sit in their one bedroom homes in the slum, and drink their tea.

All of these women are poor, on the brinks of poverty, if not below poverty, insisting on feeding us drinks and snacks that they save up to purchase. They have barely any money to pay their rent, let alone send all of their children to school.

The same can be said when visiting offices. I cannot think of many offices that I have had to go to in Bangladesh for meetings and interviews where I was not fed at least tea; usually, biscuits and fruits follow. When I visited ASA, a microfinance lender in another remote village, after our meeting, there were plates of apples, oranges, grapes, and bananas set forth by the maids. After visiting a milk chilling center in Bogra, we were directed to another room where plates of hot samosas and again, plates of fruits lined the table, along with tea made from the very milk they packaged for the cities in Bangladesh. At the Yunus Center in Mirpur, I was served Grameen’s Danon yogurt, tea, water, and vegetable crackers in their state-of-the-art conference room.

The hospitality of Bangladesh and the relationship that people have with food is fascinating. A country that faces increasing rises in food prices and with a large number of the population living in or below the poverty line, food is certainly an important commodity. Feeding guests crosses social boundaries. It is not about class, as I have said. It is about respect and showing gratitude for visits, no matter what they were about or how long or short. Furthermore, it is also about pride. And in a society where class and hierarchy defines just about everything, being able to feed (no matter what, black tea or meals) matters more than affordability itself.

Though we in the second generation often make fun of our parents who still hold onto this custom 3,000 miles away from their homeland (I am talking about those of us who are South Asian Americans), I am pretty sure I will be doing the same when I become an “aunty”. Already, when people visit my home in Dhaka, I start panicking, wondering what I have to offer for drinks and food (which is usually, nothing since I spend so much of my time at work or outside and thus, eating out). It is interesting how this thing we do with feeding strangers and friends alike has become ingrained in our culture beyond out great grandparents’ generation.