Bangladeshi girl Priota is changing the game for Muslim world

News Hour:

Priota Farelin Iftekhar,  the way to do it is to spread the beauty of freedom, bringing her country’s teachings really close. According to Priota, being Muslim is no impediment to being free.

“Getting out of house was very small a struggle compared to how hard it is for world to expect me. I face many restrictions because of my nationality and religion, Did you know that Bangladesh holds the 189th ranked passport? That means serious trouble for travel.”

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Her journey began with secretly seeing out of her house. “I slowly started to sneak out from coaching and came back alone, to show that I am responsible enough to move about on my own. After series of scolding at home, I finally proved that I don’t need a car or driver or guard to drop me to places.”

“Back in 2012 I had a great opportunity to apply for an Exchange Program to USA, but within a second,  my passport and my national ID was taken from me. I opposed to it so bad, my house was a war zone. I was told  I could only travel once I’m married. After that, my husband would safely guide me to places.”

Slowly but surely, she proved to her family that she was more than capable enough to take care of herself, and wander around on her own. She started off as a local traveller in Bangladesh, going to places like Cox Bazar, Srimangal, Gazipur…. She joined travelling groups and started meeting fellow travellers and got the REAL taste for travel! Also, I enrolled to  ‘Travellers of Bangladesh’ and that’s when I got the actual taste of adventure. 8 out of 9 people who travelled with me were complete strangers but major travel enthusiasts and I loved it.

In 2014 she took her first step towards international travel: Sri Lanka. The visa process is on arrival, but she never knew it would be such a hassle for a muslim girl travelling alone.

 “I packed my bags, took some cash and headed to the airport. My new passport was completely empty and I was traveling alone. I was taken to another room for the inspection.  After a long and not pleasant conversation with five officers asking detailed questions about my trip, I finally managed to head outside Bangladesh.”

A few years later, she has managed to travel outside of Bangladesh 29 times and her passport was out of pages.

The more I travel, the more I learn to break out of stereotypical thoughts. The reality is, no woman should ever be told she can’t. YES SHE CAN. The truth is, the problem starts and ends with education. Men are taught to treat women as little children, who need to be told what to do and how to do it. And women are taught that they have a “role” to fulfill in society, that does not include them going out after their dreams. And it has nothing to do with religion. So many people believe it’s because I’m muslim that I have even more restrictions. But now that I have traveled to all sorts of countries, I realize that it’s in every society that women are regarded as less valuable. It’s incredible. We can see it even today in European parliaments. Women now are being attacked for attempting to have too much power.

Us women DO really need to change the game, and gain the power that we have been denied all these years. The first time I stepped out of Bangladesh alone, I felt like I was doing my part. And every time I talk to other girls, give a class to small children or do a show on radio or TV, I try to put that message across: Breaking barriers starts with the mind. And adventure does not know of gender.

An ideal Muslim woman in Bangladesh loves her family. She will do everything that it takes to make them happy. I am very thankful to Almighty Allah for such a lovely family, yes they were afraid of me traveling alone… I think even a girl from the west gets the same warnings when she wants to visit South Asia. Parents warn because they love us the most. Luckily my mother is my biggest supporter. And my ideal for every woman, not just for Muslim women, is that they are free. 

We may never get rid of traditions, clothing and mindset that non-Muslim countries do not understand. But we can be free, educated, and a harmonious society.

I am still on a mission of raising my flag in 50 countries and the 64 districts of Bangladesh. It is a goal that I have set for myself to prove that regardless of my passport,  my religion or my gender, I too can travel. There is discrimination and racism that I face on a regular basis. There are many hostels  I cannot book, tour guides that are rude and overly displeasing,  I get scammed… The sad reality for every traveler, but it makes it worse when people know I am Muslim. They start overreacting because of the perception that they have about Muslims in their head. It’s so saddening to be set aside for what I believe in.

Traveling has been the best teacher of my life. I have made amazing friends, experienced beautiful cultures, got rid of all my fears and started valuing money more often. I know how hard it is to earn it!  In sum, I love the changes traveling has created in me. I get to see how other people live and then bring the good back into Bangladesh. With this, I hope I get to make my country a better place for girls, little by little.


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