Why our women footballers’ victory is so significant
We have more tragedies than successes in our national life. We continue to see sheer polarisation of politics – something that has spread beyond political spheres and affected professional bodies. Such division is never a good sign for a nation, because the opportunists take advantage of the cracks, while people in general get frustrated. And we grow weak as a nation, even though our country has made notable progress when it comes to economic and social development. There are valid questions about whether our development has been distributive – something that is deeply linked to governance. It is a fact that the rich get even more rich and the poor get even more poor in the absence of good governance. And democracy without good governance is not effective in its true sense.
On the other hand, we face natural calamities – floods, cyclones, etc – as well as man-made disasters like road crashes that rip thousands of families away from their closed ones. Traffic jams are a major reason behind our day-to-day frustration, especially for those living in major cities such as Dhaka and Chattogram. I heard people saying that they left for green pastures abroad to avoid the unending traffic jams that made their lives horrible. We often hear stories of our men taking the riskiest journeys to reach the shores of Europe through the Mediterranean Sea.
Our national men's cricket team could, however, bring joy and pride to our national life. Then again, when they win, we are extremely happy, but sad in a similar fashion when they lose. Possibly, such extreme emotions come out of our deep urge to win, but also reflect that, somehow, somewhere within us, we lack the level of satisfaction that we should have.
Our national women's football team's victory is extraordinary. Surely, it gives us all, especially the women, an extraordinary level of confidence to dream about breaking barriers just the way our footballers have. How and why?
These are the women who come from humble backgrounds, the remotest areas – not from families that could provide nutritious food, high-quality housing, gym or playground. What they had were determination, hard work, discipline, and patriotism. Above all, they had the zeal to liberate themselves out of all kinds of stigmas.
This team's composition is quite interesting. They cover all sections of Bangladeshi society. A significant number of the players come from ethnic communities. This shows the true beauty of a nation – unity in diversity. Once I had a chance to speak to a player of our under-18 national women's football team. She spoke of how mingling with players from ethnic communities at a boot camp changed her misconceptions about ethnic communities in the country. "I found them very friendly, loving and caring… we became very good friends," the footballer said.
This goes with the fundamental spirit of Bangladesh, a secular country where people of all beliefs, races, ethnicities are supposed to live together with no discrimination – the ideal based on which this country was liberated from a communal, repressive and discriminatory regime in 1971. We can witness how ethnic and religious conflicts in our neighbouring countries brought perils to their lives. Bangladesh, despite some challenges, can still manage to hold on to this unity. Any attempt at breaking this unity must be prevented with full strength, if we are to prosper.
Unfortunately, our women's football team do not have the history of receiving equal dignity, salary or any other privileges that our men's teams do. This is reflective of the sheer gender discrimination that still persists in our society. In general, social and economic inequalities are still quite high. This does not go in line with the foundational values of our country. We have been deprived of equal political, economic, cultural and social rights since our independence. Women, ethnic groups and the working class here are still deprived of equal rights.
Our women's football team has shown how, despite minimum state support, a combination of determination, hard work, confidence, unity and patriotism can lead to huge success. We need to internalise these qualities, taking a cue from this team of champions. We need more such success to be more confident – not only in sports but in every aspect of life.
Porimol Palma is diplomatic correspondent of The Daily Star.