Dismantling social injustices through storytelling | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, November 27, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:04 AM, November 27, 2020

Dismantling social injustices through storytelling

Founded by Swatil Mahmud, Swayong is an inclusive platform that addresses women's issues through myth-busting and storytelling. It intends to provide women with a safe space to express themselves, while inspiring others. "Swayong means individuality, and every person's story is important to us," Swatil asserted. The platform was created in June this year, while the idea was conceived as Swatil came across people from different walks of life during her undergraduate education at Sunway University, Malaysia. She realised that regardless of country and society, everyone faces harassment and injustice.

Swatil saw the pandemic and the subsequent months of isolation as the ideal opportunity to launch Swayong, as people were spending plenty of time on the internet. "We were tired of waiting for others to do things and decided to initiate the changes that we wanted to see. We felt that there was a dire need for meaningful content and conversations," said Swatil's sister, Kazi Mitul Mahmud, Co-founder, Swayong.

The organisation was declared as runners up in Digital Khichuri Challenge 2020's Ideation Competition. Through their work, they addressed gender-based issues faced by female frontline warriors, including healthcare workers, hospital staff and journalists.

As a survivor of child abuse, Swatil appreciates the power of storytelling.  "Stories connect with more people and encourage them to share their personal experiences," she said. She opened up about the abuse to her sister, realising that acceptance and tolerance are important pillars of familial relationships. "Elders need to provide children with the space to share their experiences and appreciate their courage," Swatil added. She also emphasised on the role of school authorities in shaping the minds of children. "They must ensure safe spaces in the campus and teach young boys how to behave, thereby busting patriarchal standards," she further said. "Making sex education compulsory in all educational curriculums will also mitigate the problem."

Swayong's activities are currently virtual, due to the ongoing pandemic. Their first campaign, entitled 'ShorirJarShiddhantoTar | Your Body, Your Choice: Breasts & Bra Series', intended to celebrate all features of the female body, and called for an end to sexualisation and objectification. They collaborated with WeMen View for another online campaign, shedding light on the alarming rise in cases of sexual harassment in public places. They also participated in Rise of Youth Community Global's 'Silent the Silence' campaign, featuring stories of transgender individuals. "The main challenge was gathering the stories for this series as these people felt afraid and ashamed to share their tales of injustice," she said.

They also collaborated with Wander Woman, a social platform for female travellers of Bangladesh, to conduct a campaign called 'Horrors of Travel'. "The number of solo female travelers has increased immensely in the past few years, but amidst the 'Instagram-worthy' pictures, there are tales of violence and horror, raising questions on how the world treats women who travel alone," Swatil added. This campaign was fueled by an incident of harassment faced by both the founders during a trip to Sunamganj.

Swayong's members were also active participants of the 'Rage against Rape' protests, organised by Feminists Across Generations. Swatil gave a heartfelt speech at the protests in front of the Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban. After her speech, a girl came up to her with teary eyes and hugged her, as a gesture of solidarity. "It was a powerful experience, and I will never forget the warmth of that hug," Swatil said. Swayong also introduced a campaign, featuring stories from the protests to connect with more people.

The organisation is currently supported by a group of young volunteers called, 'Swayong's Warriors' and the founders have arranged online capacity building sessions to train them. Their other initiative includes live sessions under the banner 'AngurFolTok'. They will use this platform to address issues such as problematic song lyrics and workplace challenges for female frontline workers. "It is a model that deviates from the typical jargon-heavy webinars and encourages guests and participants to be candid," Swatil added.

Moving forward, Swayong will organise an awareness week on the transgender community, and they will work with Bangladesh Development Project, an organisation based in the USA, to share first-hand accounts of garment factory workers' experiences in the industry during the pandemic. The stories have been collected and are scheduled to be shared from Swayong's online profiles this month.

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