Dr Sakia Haque is the human equivalent of a ray of sunshine. She is incredibly cheerful and energetic which is usually the result of having been through many of life’s challenges. In her talk, she enlightens us with her experience of growing up in Bangladesh and how she had wanted to see the world from when she was a teenager.
It wasn’t something she could convince her parents to agree on overnight. In fact, it took years. A woman leaving the house without a man is looked down upon, it’s something that’s thought to be promiscuous – so imagine what the response would have been if she said she was simply travelling alone. Her mum’s advice was to get married and to travel with her husband. A long-term honeymoon, if you will. But that didn’t sit well with Dr Sakia Haque, she wanted her own independence.
After her father passed away, she needed an outlet to express how she felt and the only thing that came to mind was to hike up a hill. Some of us cry and eat our feelings, some of us want to exercise and breathe fresh air. Still trying to keep the peace between her and her mum, she asked a few men who were going on the same route to escort her but they turned her down because they were worried, she’d be too slow for them.
That was the beginning of her journey to freedom, independent travelling, and her career.
She created a community called Travelettes of Bangladesh, a space that encourages women to travel, explore, and see the world with like-minded women. It garnered 500 sign-ups the next day, and by their first anniversary, they had reached 10,000 members. The popularity was overwhelming and incredibly motivating for Sakia and the team, and they wanted to do more.
It started out being a space just for women but Sakia reflected on their progress and realised that “society can’t step forward with only male, or only women, it has to be done together” and so she opened it up for everyone to join and now have over 30,000 members to date.
Being aware of the impact Travelettes of Bangladesh has on the online community in Bangladesh, Dr Sakia wanted to reach a different audience, ones that weren’t connected to social media which meant travelling to more rural areas. And they did exactly that. Dr Sakia and her friend rode on a bike, without knowing how to prior to this task, and rode to every district in Bangladesh. There are 64 in total, so far, they’ve covered 33. They set out to meet with mostly primary school students as Dr Sakia believes that “you can’t fill a cup that’s already full” so speaking to young minds is the most productive way to move forward.
The team continues to empower young girls to reclaim their independence, as well as discussing other ‘taboo’ topics such as periods, self-defence, and health at the same time. Their efforts have not gone unrecognized, the government and various media outlets have given the community the recognition its work deserves.
Watch Dr Sakia Haque’s talk at ZafigoX 2019 entitled Breaking Gender Stereotypes and Discrimination Through Travel below:
ZafigoX returns on 21 and 22 September 2019. Tickets are being sold from RM350 for a single standard 2-day all-access pass. Buy them today at Zafigo.
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