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. 


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.

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.

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

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.


‘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.’


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) 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.

Chic Bangaliana

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
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

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.

Published in the Daily Star: “Trans-nationalism and Identity: The multinational Bangladeshis”

I wrote this piece reflecting on my own personal identity and struggles to integrate into the Bangladeshi society when I first arrived in September 2010. I talk about the multinational identity that many have these days with Bangladeshi origin, focusing on its cultural and economic implications, with globalization in mind. Pick up a copy of the Daily Star or read online by clicking here, or below.

Trans-nationalism and Identity: The multinational Bangladeshis 

OLINDA HASSAN observes the struggle between personal and nation-imposed identities.

With globalisation catching the attention of economists and policy makers worldwide, cultural anthropologists are much more concerned about the shifts in culture and the development of the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. This is certainly true for Bangladeshis, both living abroad and in the country with dual citizenships. A good number of individuals with Bangladeshi roots have complemented their lives abroad (usually in a Western nation) to their ethnic heritage to create an identity of dualism. In this century of globalisation, this idea of identity as well as citizenship is particularly interesting.

A few months ago at immigration at the airport, I remember one gentleman in the “foreign citizen” line yelling at a woman who had mistakenly entered the line. He exclaimed to her, “This line is not for you, you see, do you have one of these? I am British, you are not.” He said this in heavily Bangladeshi-accented broken English, holding his British passport firmly in front of her. The bewildered woman did not say anything but walked away. I remember this scene in particular because the gentleman (as I later found out from the expressive immigration officer) had just returned from only his second visit to the UK and had never actually lived there.

The fact that acquiring a non-green passport raises eyebrows cannot be ignored. Having a Western passport can immediately put the individual in a different, heightened social category, which in Bangladesh still continues to play an important role. This can be compared to education as well: putting aside personal connections, if one is able to acquire a foreign degree even if it comes from a no-name university (of which there is an abundant number across Canada to the US to all over Europe, often specifically targeting international students with a sizable bank account), he or she will get an upper hand in various job positions in Bangladesh over candidates with local degrees. Similar can be said for multiple passport holders and their place in the ‘social ladder’ of Bangladesh.

However, over time, passports have become less and less testimonial of a citizenship, let alone an individual’s loyalty to a nation. Rather, passports have become claims to participate in different economic markets. The numbers of dual citizens living in Bangladesh rather than abroad are increasing; as one businessperson who asked for anonymity explained, his claim to a British passport was mainly for economic and social purposes: it got him the contracts he wanted, entrances into the right clubs and a swift immigration clearance at the airport. He chose to live in Bangladesh because the luxury that Dhaka offers as result of his dual citizenship is incomparable to what his life would have been in the UK. The acquisition of a Western citizenship is still highly coveted in Bangladesh as it serves in many ways that are not necessarily related to defining one’s identity.

As for the many Bangladeshi-origin individuals living in the US, for example, citizenship is just one of the complexities of this particular group. Unlike the UK where South Asian descendents transcend to generations, Bangladeshis in the US is fairly new. Bangladeshis did not migrate to the US in high numbers in the 1980s when debate concerning poverty, social exclusion and the growing incidence of criminality among third generation Bangladeshis dominated conversations in the UK (Oxford Development Studies, 2002). It was only in the 1990s that Bangladeshis began to migrate to the US, and this group itself was mixed in terms of education, class, work experiences, etc. Nevertheless, Bangladeshi Americans in general are of the middle class to upper middle class range, with more than average education levels and income. Additionally, a sizable pocket of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh are also noted in urban cities, such as New York and Detroit.

Because of the relative new migration pattern, the attempt to hold on to a root culture continues to be practised by parents upon their children. The idea of parental expectations of success once they arrive in America, a country even further away from the UK, resonated alongside expectations for their children. The two areas that have been specific to Asian culture that guided parental expectations are: children taking on the responsibility of enhancing family pride, and using education as a way to advance in the social classes and achieving the ‘American Dream’, (research has shown that education has, and continues to be viewed as the highest valuable asset and the sole tool to achieve goals. Since education is available for everyone, this is seen as an opportunity for parents and children). Combine this with many parents’ determination to connect their children to Bangladeshi culture, whether through the food, language, or dances and music as commonly witnessed in larger cities. The identity of these immigrants and their children are exactly what they are titled: Bangladeshi and American, or Bangladeshi American.

There is a popular concept in the US: the American Born Confused Desi, or ABCD. This type of identity is not very confusing, actually. These children basically are American by birth and upbringing, but are also Bangladeshi through their parental connections to their homes. They are like any other Asian American in this sense, and whether an individual of such a categorisation chooses to emphasise one or the other part of this identity makes it just as fitting for “America” where the history of the country is rooted in the basic idea of immigration and mixing of different cultures, ethnicities, religions and languages.

The notion of the Bangladeshi American can however get confusing when they are confronted with a homogeneous Bangladeshi society that takes over the former component of their identification. For example, let us take Mr. X, a Bangladeshi American who visits Bangladesh and is then asked why he calls himself an American, when he looks just like a Bangladeshi. He is charged with that just because he holds an American passport, it does not give him any right to claim to be American. For X, is physically looking Bangladeshi, eating Bangladeshi food with his hands, or speaking Bangla more important in defining himself as Bangladeshi than his experience of growing up in an American society, attending an American school and speaking English as a native language? Does X’s majority of life spent in America not count?

During the process of citizenship, immigrants are naturally subjected to a particular nation-state’s norms and attitudes. The state, family and economic conditions and or opportunities direct these transnational relationships. Cultural anthropologist Aihwa Ong considers citizenship as a cultural process of “subject-ification”, in the sense that much of the process is self-made and also forcibly-made through the power relations that take place between the new nation and the original “home”. For Bangladeshi migrants, this is especially true as they bring with them a set of norms and values that complement and challenge their migration, as well as their children.

Furthermore, these notions of identity and citizenship are compounded by the fact that today, many dual citizens, especially from Western nations, are returning to their ‘original homes’. In recent years, many Bangladeshis who lived and have had children abroad are returning and resettling, mainly in Dhaka. The most common employment areas for this population are family businesses, new enterprises and positions in multinational companies. They bring with them years of experience living abroad to Dhaka where they must now balance the two or even three histories. Ong argues that as a result of such events in an era of globalisation, individuals as well as governments develop a flexible notion of citizenship and sovereignty. These flexibilities act as strategies to accumulate capital and power, which is essentially what the ‘returned migrants’ are doing. They have a flexible citizenship, which refers to the “cultural logics of capitalist accumulation, travel, and displacement” which induces such individuals to “respond fluidly and opportunistically to changing political-economic conditions” as witnessed in Bangladesh (Ong, 8).

With most of the population under the age of 30, the images of the West combined with the hunger for modernisation is rapidly changing social behaviour in Bangladesh. As a nation in transition, the placement of ‘returned migrants’ makes the process particularly compelling. In today’s Bangladesh, the multiple-passport holder is a contemporary figure. He or she represents the differences between nation-imposed identity of Bangladesh and personal identity caused by migration, changing global markets and exposure to a very different lifestyle. In modern times, national and ethnic identities become distinctly different entities, while at the same time, international boundaries become increasingly insignificant. As a result, Bangladesh and Bangladeshis are shaping new relationships not only with traditional norms and customary ideas about the family, but also to capital mobility.

My review of Srabonti’s album launch (as published in the Daily Star)

Click here to read online at the Daily Star.

I wrote this as an assignment when I had the privilege of going to Srabonti Ali’s first solo album, in collaboration with Arnob. It was a particularly chilly December night and Srabonti was dressed in her casual jeans and black cover, singing some of her new works while fans cheered on in the courtyard. Izumi in Gulshan 2 was booked in its entirety for the event which included close friends and followers, in particular of Arnob. Read below for details:

Album Launch

Srabonti Ali’s “Deluded”

By Olinda Hassan

On a cold Monday (December 19) evening, music enthusiasts and well-wishers gathered at Izumi in Gulshan, Dhaka to celebrate the unveiling of Srabonti Narmeen Ali’s album “Deluded”. With Buno (Bangla) on bass and Zohad (Nemesis) on percussion in an intimate setting, Srabonti, in collaboration with Arnob, delivered a stirring performance, starting with the single “Badha”. “Deluded” is an evocative, engaging debut for Srabonti, who described her first solo album as “eccentric, real, and varied.” With both Bangla and English pieces blended together to create a new kind of collection, the album was recorded here in Dhaka, a city she describes in several of her singles.

In front of a wall fountain, sitting next to Arnob on the guitar, Srabonti delivered her new music with ease — each song greeted with rounds of applause and cheers from the crowd who came to see and hear the duo. Fans cheered on from Izumi’s courtyard and balcony, especially after the performance of “My City”. Written and composed by Srabonti, “My City” describes the complexities of Dhaka which she personified through her lyrics: “…I think she’s lost her way, in the morning there’s always hell to pay. Me, I’ve made the darkness my home, I’ve found all its demons and together we roam.”

Along with her traditional Bangla music background, Srabonti also grew up with a lot of hip-hop and R&B which comes out in “Deluded”. Bringing in the likes of Bangladeshi rapper Young Hollywood in singles such as “Deluded”, and the much hyped “Shut Up and Dance”, the album echoes the voices of this ever-changing city.

“I loved working with Arnob because he is very open to my suggestions and tried to incorporate who I am in the music,” said Srabonti when asked about her collaboration with the talented musician. “For example, there is a lot of hip-hop in this album, which he isn’t used to but we were still able to incorporate it. He never made me feel like I didn’t have a say in it.”

Srabonti connected with the audience further by going beyond her album and singing a cover of the Dixie Chicks’ version of “Landslide” within her performance. This was followed by transitioning smoothly to singing Sheryl Crow’s “Strong Enough”, further showcasing her hold on multiple music genres. “Along with hip-hop, I also like contemporary country music, like the Dixie Chicks,” Srabonti said with a laugh when asked about her musical approaches. “I am really happy with my solo album, and excited to share something new.”

“Deluded” has been produced and distributed by Rage Records.

Published yesterday: Recognition of Domestic Workers (Daily Star)

This is a piece I worked on for the past few weeks, in reaction to the International Labor Organization‘s convention for protecting domestic workers what took place over the summer. I was especially interested by the fact that countries like the United Kingdom and Malaysia both abstained from voting on a convention that directly works to protect basic human rights for the millions of house helpers out in the world. The convention is a milestone especially for women, who make up 80% of domestic workers worldwide. With research based on media reactions, the Human Rights Watch, and local sources, I looked at what the conventions means, and also in relation to Bangladesh.

The article was written for the purpose of International Migrants Day for the Daily Star.

Read this month’s Forum magazine found anywhere in Dhaka, or online, or below.

Recognition of Domestic Workers:
Responses to the ILO’s Convention on
Protecting the World’s 100 Million

With International Migrants Day in the offing,
OLINDA HASSAN examines the plight of domestic workers abroad.esh.

Domestic workers who travel abroad for employment are also a form of migrant laborers, currently populating in the millions for Bangladeshis, concentrated in the Middle East, Europe and Southeast Asia. Bangladeshi domestic workers abroad, like migrant laborers, have also been subject to human rights violations over the years, both as an employee and an ethnic minority in the host country. However, while migrant laborers have some loose form of protection laws, domestic workers have largely been ignored in this respect.

Domestic workers from Bangladesh are mostly rural women and even children, many with dependents back home. The difficulty in calculating protective measures for domestic workers lies in the fact that they are severely isolated in the homes of the employers. For example, while many migrant laborers have the ability to live with fellow workers from their industry, domestic workers are far singular and divided. They are subject to double discrimination, first for their gender and then for their immigrant status directly linked to employers whom they are dangerously dependent on for all aspects of their livelihood.

On June 16 of this year, a remarkable breakthrough came when the International Labor Organization (ILO) signed the Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers. It is the first of its kind to establish standards for domestic workers abroad, such as those from Bangladesh. The three years that it took the ILO for the convention’s development included resisting amendments, convincing international participants, and developing crucial legal bindings, such as limited working hours, family visitation rights, fair wages and preventative measures for forced confinement, trafficking and sexual harassment, to name a few. Despite early reservations, Bangladesh later supported the convention.

However, is the ILO convention a real breakthrough, or will it merely serve as recognition of exploited domestic workers worldwide?

During the ILO contentions, the European Union expressed the most concern and advocated lowering provisions for flexibility. This puts a light on the “peculiarity” of domestic work in Europe. Over 90% of domestic workers in Europe are women, and the employers are mainly women themselves. They are the same women who have historically taken pride in their gender equality and advancement, like most other women in advanced societies. However, the employers complicate this notion of gender equality when they employ, and in many cases, abuse the rights of the women hired for their households. It is a complex paradox in which the lines of gender equality are clearly blurred along social classe and ethnicity (Gallotti, Maria, The Gender Dimension of Domestic Work in Western Europe).

Most would not even consider that there is an issue with domestic workers in Europe, home of some of the strongest global human rights organisations. A majority of migrant domestic workers are undocumented in Europe and have largely been invisible in the media. In most parts of Europe (e.g. Germany, Netherlands), domestic workers do not qualify for immigration as they are categorised under unskilled labour. Many households will bring female workers from Asia as tourists and then keep them undocumented in order to make the position of the workers binding to the household. And since domestic work is unregulated, abuse and human rights violations are rampant. The new ILO convention addresses the complexity of migration statuses and the dangerous dependencies that are created between employers and vulnerable workers. The United Kingdom is one of several countries that abstained from voting on the new convention.

Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand also abstained from voting on the ILO convention. The three members are also among the largest exchangers of international domestic work. Almost 30% of the migrant labour forces in Malaysia are from Bangladesh, and a significant number of women are involved in domestic work. Talat Mahmud Khan, the Labour Counsellor at the Bangladesh High Commission, once described Bangladeshi workers as hardworking, multi dimensional, “obedient”, and undemanding of a high salary. In 2009, when almost 70,000 Bangladeshi workers were brought to Malaysia, women were technically forbidden to work as domestic workers. However, irregular evaluation has continued the employment of Bangladeshi women in Malaysian homes.

Khan had assured that the Bangladeshis, despite their increasing population, would not impact Malaysian society as they were “confined” to their work and never went outside of it. The ILO convention seeks to counter this form of abuse in which migrant domestic workers are purposefully kept aside from society, forbidden to travel away from their work. Khan also added that he did not discount the “possibility of a few Bangladeshi youths getting involved with local girls”, addressing the increased concern of the diversifying culture. While Malaysia’s economy demands cheap, obedient laborers from abroad to do under-paid but hard work that the local population stay away from, the idea of integration into the very society laborers must work for is somehow deemed impractical.

Migrant workers in Malaysia by law are protected with regulations on working hours, medical benefits and holidays under the Malaysian Employment Act of 1955. However, the law does not cover domestic workers, with their terms often left solely to the employer, similar to the case of Europe as discussed earlier. Many of these maids have no holidays and shifted to employer’s relatives’ homes to work on the weekends, and must be able to care for children and the elderly, and in practically every aspect of the household, from cleaning, cooking, laundry, babysitting, to car washing. Verbal abuse, sexual harassment, unreasonable working hours and non-negotiable holiday terms have defined the culture of domestic work in Malaysia, the very elements of which the ILO has addressed in its Convention on Decent Work for Domestic Workers. Seeing as Asian countries account for over 40% of domestic workers worldwide, the abstained support from Malaysia, as well as Singapore and Thailand, places the ILO convention on a weak point, if efforts for creating environments through proficient policies are to ever take place for domestic workers.

Astoundingly, Bahrain, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, voted for the ratification of the convention. The Gulf region has had a notorious reputation in its treatment of migrant laborers, with some of the worst cases of human rights abuses stemming from many of the countries that have shown support for the convention. There are over 3 million migrant laborers from Bangladesh alone in the Middle East. While the official number for female migrant workers in the region is small, if unofficial numbers are accounted for, the numbers from Bangladesh is considerable enough to raise concern.

With stricter migration laws for women, combined with economic desperation at home, a large inflow of illegal migration by women is still widespread from Bangladesh, many of whom turn to domestic work. A comprehensive survey of the actual number of female migrants from Bangladesh to work as domestic laborers have yet to be conducted, even though field surveys from rural regions of the country prove that the numbers are higher than expected. Further, how members of the Gulf region will actually implement some of the key elements of the convention is yet to be determined. The fact that domestic work has become a cultural aspect of Arab households over the years makes it especially difficult to apply the protection of domestic worker’s very basic rights.

Because over 80% of migrating domestic workers are women, they are discriminated in a multi-fold sense. Not only are many the key breadwinners for their families back home, they are a key element of the enormous influx of remittance that many of the home countries are dependent on. Furthermore, they must also perform the role of a minority woman which in itself is a cause for discrimination in many of the host countries. Finally, while facing the challenges that come by virtue of their gender, female domestic workers must also fulfill cultural roles of a mother and daughter. It is common to see Bangladeshi women traveling abroad for work, leaving behind several children at home whom they must still support fiscally and socially as culturally expected.

The ILO convention is interesting because it seeks to specifically protect domestic workers with guidelines that have already been placed for other laborers. Thus, it becomes widely acknowledged that domestic workers, whether legal or illegally living in a host country, are still deserving of basic rights. While Bangladesh in many ways prohibits sending women abroad to work as domestic help, it has not stopped middle men from hiring rural women under false pretenses. It has also not terminated Bangladeshi women from seeking to work as domestic help once they are abroad out of desperation.

With Bangladesh’s vote of the ILO convention in June 2011, perhaps policy transformations will start to take place both at home and abroad. However, with several key nations showing a lack of support for the convention (e.g. Malaysia, one of the largest intakes of domestic help, to the United Kingdom, which has always advocated global human rights), it is still difficult to conclude how the new protocols will actually take effect. While data on domestic workers are difficult to come across due to the individualised and irregular nature of their services, the abuse that they face as a woman and a worker are irreconcilable. It is an international problem, and thus international support is crucial.

With a history of scarce work opportunities in Bangladesh, women migrating to become domestic workers represent a significant fraction of the national workforce abroad. They also remain the most marginalised. Bangladesh’s economy has the ability to continue to depend on remittances while at the same time, ensuring a safe environment for the workers themselves with practical policies. Instead of waiting to see what neighbouring countries or the most industrial will accept the ILO conventions, policy makers in Bangladesh need to advocate training programmes and screening processes to guide domestic workers. For the thousands of Bangladeshi domestic workers that exist worldwide, the country will need to actually implement ILO policies, and seek the guidance of existing human rights organisations to amply start creating a more sustainable migrant-labour environment.

Olinda Hassan studied Political Science at Wellesley College, USA, and is currently a Fulbright Fellow in Bangladesh.

©, 2011. All Rights Reserved

Published today: “Experiencing the ‘Student Visa Syndrome'” on the Daily Star

An outreach program on U.S. student visas that was hosted by the Consular section of the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka last week was covered by me for the Daily Star, and it has been published today. The program took place in Floor 6 lounge in Banani and included interactions between students, embassy members, comedians, and Bangladeshi students who had gone through the visa process and succeeded already. To read, check it out online, or buy a copy of the Daily Star today for the Star Campus magazine, found in practically every corner of Dhaka, of course.

Or, read below.

Experiencing the ‘Student Visa Syndrome’

Olinda Hassan
Photos : IMS

Getting a US student visa is like asking a hot girl out on a date. As local students gathered around the stage, comedy duo Naveed Mahbub and Muhammad Solaiman performed with a simple message- anyone can study in the US if you follow some easy steps- you do not need to go through one of the many visa- agencies around Dhaka. The performance was part of an outreach programme held by the Consular section of the US Embassy, designed and executed by Integrated Marketing Services Limited. Not just this act, the programme also comprised of an information session with consular members and a discussion with local students who have successfully obtained the go-to signal on their passports.

Naveed Mahbub and Muhammad Solaiman.
The question and answer session.

Bangladesh has a history of sending a good number of its brightest minds to further their education in the US, but even then, a stigma is still attached with the process of getting the actual student visa. The fear of rejection can sometimes deter students away from even trying. “Getting a visa to study in the United States is something that each one of you in the room is able to do by yourself,” said Vice Consul, Brigid Ryan from the US Embassy.

But why do students from Bangladesh still get rejected from obtaining a US student visa?

“Actually most student visa applicants are issued visas. Generally, Bangladeshi students are going to good schools to get a good education and they have the funding or personal finances to pay their way. The requirements for obtaining a student visa are posted on the State Department website and consular officers adjudicate accordingly,” explained Ryan.

The three things to bear in mind for a US student visa application are: 1. Intend: showing that the sole purpose of your trip is to be a student, 2. Qualify: exam records, I-20 forms, academic marks, and proof of admission, and finally, 3. Fund: proving you can actually afford to study in the US, whether through scholarships or personal support.

Often, prospective students may miss out on one of the sections, or use a middleman to go through the entire process which will guarantee a rejection.

“I found the session really helpful, especially on factors like CGPA, GMAT and TOEFL scores,” explained BBA major Synthia Afreen from North South University who would like to pursue her MBA from the US.

Sometimes funds are not easy to come by for you, despite being accepted by a top tier American university. In that case, the US embassy will try to assist you in going abroad. This is when high results on standardised exams such as the SATs, GMATs, and GREs become especially crucial for the US student visa.

As for intend, not only do you have to prove that you will only be a student when you go to the US, but that you also plan to return to Bangladesh after completing your desired degree. “I was a bit worried about the intention to return. In case this question arises, it will be easier for me to prove because I am a faculty member at BUET,” explained PhD bound Mukhlesur Rahman, who will be entering Northeastern University in Boston this fall, while sharing his experience with the visa procedure with the audience.
Acquiring an American education is still highly popular among Bangladeshi students, many of whom cater their academics around the prospect from an early age. Not only for the Ivy League academic rigor, but many students aspire to study in the US to experience the American cultural lifestyle. To get more information about the US student visa process, find information on facebook under “US Embassy-Dhaka”: bangladesh.usembassy.

Published: “Street Harassment is Still Serious: The violation of women in Dhaka’s public realm”

I wrote this piece for the Forum magazine regarding the issue of street harassment in Dhaka, and why we must still pay attention to this issue, which many may not consider a form of “violence”, but rather a soft approach to sexual harassment. To read, pick up a copy of the Daily Star today. Or follow this link for an online version:

Or, read below:

Street Harassment is Still Serious:
The violation of women in
Dhaka’s public realm

Sexual harassment on the streets is also a form of violence, argues OLINDA HASSAN.

Zahedul I Khan

The laws governing violence against women have made their presence in Bangladesh. From Acid Crime Control Act (2002), to legally declaring eve teasing as a form of serious sexual harassment early this year, crimes that violate a woman — verbally, physically, emotionally — have been, and continue to be addressed by politicians, advocacy groups and NGOs. Violence against women has a history in Bangladesh.

Street harassment against women has also been addressed in some form or the other, usually categorised in the eve teasing form. Defined as being violated — usually verbally — in the streets, this form of harassment is not just limited to the common traits of female victims, or those of a lower social standing, poor and uneducated. Unwanted or solicited attention is given to women of all backgrounds in the streets, in all parts of the city, by all “types” of men. In most of the cases however, commonly, the woman is the subject, the man the predator. It is also something that women face worldwide; The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights reported that 83% of their women faced street harassment at least once in their life, and similar statistics were found for South Africa, Mexico and France, to name a few.

With urbanisation and the rapid population growth in Dhaka, women inevitably become more prominent in the streets. Women from all social backgrounds are joining the work force or institutions for higher education in large numbers in the capital, as opportunities for female participation increases. This trend is certainly a triumph in the modern women’s movement of Bangladesh.

But with participation comes the notion that sheltering these very women is absolutely necessary. Families with vehicles — another increasingtrend in the capital — will go out of their way to make sure that the women in the family have the priority in transportation. Women are being told to be careful every time they leave their homes, or being told to not go out at all. Working, educated women from the middle to upper middle class are deterred from taking public transportation and being out late at night, both for safety and for preserving certain societal reputations. It is very evident therefore, that the ratio of the two genders in the streets of Dhaka is still overwhelmingly in favour of men. The fear of violence and harassment has led to a series of rules and regulations (often implied than said) imposed on women and their mobility.

Because of these imposed rules by society regarding the movement of women, when they are in the streets on their own, especially during the evening, they are suddenly subject to the high possibility of harassment. This could happen in many ways — it could be a cat call from street vendors, stares from rickshawallahs, sexual innuendos from passersby, being purposefully touched by the young boys in the crowd — all usually men who are the dominating gender in the streets. As one male student in his third year at Dhaka University (anonymous) explained after asking him about street harassment, “these women are not supposed to be in the streets, so of course they are going to get harassed. If they didn’t want that attention, they should have stayed home, and not dressed inappropriately which is going to get them the attention they claim they don’t want.”

Women have also been long taught to ignore such harassment, especially in the streets. Since childhood, women, whether educated or not or wealthy or in poverty, have been told to avert their eyes, look away, and keep walking, and not say anything when they are verbally violated in public. This comes from the fear of being further endangered, but more to do with being humiliated in public. The concern is the disgrace of the victim in public, not of the aggressor whose action goes unnoticed and in turn, avoids his humiliation as he is not confronted but ignored. This then gives him the false idea that he can continue his behaviour in public.

Bryony Beynon from London of HollaBack, a worldwide technology-driven anti-harassment movement that first began in New York explained to The Guardian (March 8, 2011) how “people need to understand that street harassment has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with power.” Aisha Zakira, the founder of HollaBack in Mumbai in their press release explained how street harassment incidents “are rarely reported, and are culturally accepted as ‘the price you pay’ for being a woman and living in a city like Mumbai.” She further went on to explain how this type of violence is a “gateway crime” which creates a “cultural environment which makes gender-based violence okay,” and how while a legal method exists in countries like India and Bangladesh to tackle abuse at work or home, “when it comes to the streets — all bets are off.”

Women are also being told to ignore by other women, as commonly observed by mothers and other older female family members. These members from a young age are giving the impression that they are powerless and must thus simply ignore, that being harassed in the streets is inevitable but avoidable via ignorance. The long standing ideological belief in the “modest” Bengali woman of this culture often promotes such ignorance. Poor urban women for example are often stereotyped as having lower sexual morals, further making them not speak out in public for the consequence of being even more marginalised for their gender. Women, especially those who do not have an access to a private car must change their lifestyle, such as in the way that they dress as a social protection and in order to fit into this ideology and avoid street harassment instead of waiting for the act itself to terminate in society. The violators in turn quickly realise that they will not be held responsible, and gain further confidence to continue harassing in the streets.

Are women supposed to follow the social norms of staying home after sunset and dressing “appropriately” in order to avert such attention? What would happen if more women were to act out and confront the violators, in public? Would it really be that threatening to their modesty as a “good” Bengali woman? Let us assume that public transportation has suddenly become much safer in Bangladesh, for men and women: the rate of hijacking, robbery and threat has significantly decreased, if any at all still occur. Would the roles of women in the streets then change? This question must be asked because, along with violence against women being part of the country’s history, oppressing women by forcing preventative measures (such as ignoring violators) have also become rooted in the historical culture of Bangladesh. And cultures are difficult to change.

Women are increasingly sharing the household income and participating in higher education in Dhaka, a city that is also urbanising at a rapid rate and in a suffocating way. Modern politics encourage such female participation. And for those that are able, women are often being sheltered away in their activities, being told not to be in the streets too much and be in their private shells. Thus, the streets are still overwhelmingly dominated by men. However, what if more women did make their presence known? What if more women had the courage to be independent in their travels? Would the streets still continue to be a boy’s club? We all know of a woman, if not ourselves, who have had at least one form of a story to tell about being harassed in the street. The consequence of ignorance is the continuation of a type of crime that while it may not be considered violent, is as cruel as any other form of violence against women in Dhaka today.

Olinda Hassan studied Political Science at Wellesley College, USA, and is currently a Fulbright Fellow in Bangladesh.