Bangladeshi Women Empowerment Group Hosts 'Know Your Rights Forum' at Paterson Library


PATERSON, N.J.- Saturday Afternoon, the Bangladeshi American Women’s Development Initiative, or BAWDI, hosted a “Know Your Rights: Community Forum” at the Paterson Free Public Library, aiming to educate the Bangladeshi community. 

S. Nadia Hussain, Tania Chowdhury, Mahbuba Neela, Minowara Begum, and Haledon Councilwoman Tahsina Ahmed were the women behind the community forum. Speakers that attended were Passaic County Freeholder T.J Best, Haledon Council President and Vice Principal of John F. Kennedy High School Mounir Almaita, Paterson Board of Education Commissioner Manuel Martinez, and Attorney Asma Warsi.  

Although originally directed to the parents and children of the community, it was largely attended by the children. About twenty children showed up along with eight parents. Children from the community mainly went to Paterson School 5, 19, 27, and Passaic County Technical Institute. 

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The discussion began with the panel asking, “What are rights?” with the children answering with, “Things you can and cannot do.” The panel elaborated on the topic with emphasizing that everybody has rights and that the Constitution protects the people, no matter the color of your skin, the clothes that you wear, where you or your family come from, etc. 

A topic that was discussed heavily was the issue of students’ rights and bullying. Almaita said that, “Students have a right to a safe environment where they can learn... you are to go to class and school without being bullied or harassed for what you wear, who you are, even if you have an accent.” 

A young girl from PCTI, Mashuda Aly, expressed her concerns regarding bullying and asked, “What if you’re scared to tell someone?” 

The panel responded by saying that you must tell someone- a teacher, parent, and adult. If you don’t, then it’s like the bullying never happened. 

Aly responded saying that it might make matters worse for the person being bullied because the bully will want to bully them more, thus making them stuck in the situation. 

The speakers responded by saying  that is not true and offered solutions and motivational statements where they should not be afraid to tell someone and they are only hurting themselves if they don’t tell. 

“We’re hesitant of snitching and ratting, but if you don’t share the info, then it’s like it never happened,” said Martinez. 

Hussain shared her moments when she was bullied, “I was bullied and I felt very isolated and no one was standing up for me. When I was growing up, there was nothing that I was able to do until everyone matured. Today, laws have expanded your rights where the teachers must help you.” 

A parent spoke about her recent situation where she was harassed by two boys while walking by a school. She had no idea what to do about the situation since it had occurred outside the school. 

Warsi said, “Because of cyber bullying, laws were passed that expanded school's involvement with any type of harassment and bullying that occurs outside of school. No matter who you are, if someone in school is bullying you, contact the school.” 

In closing, the children, panel, and members of BAWDI stressed that as a Bangladeshi community we need to unite and have an open discussion on issues. They also pointed out that many people in the community are possibly missing out on the opportunities, such as the forum, where they can benefit from information if a situation occurred in the future. 

Hussain, who is also the Co-Founder of BAWDI, said, “Today’s event was successful... although many children showed up and not many parents, we recognized that not many parents have the luxury of taking two hours out of their day to events like this.” Hussain also commented that, “We also recognize that a lot of mothers care about their children, and they are their number one priority, and having them come to this event listening, sharing their stories, giving them information ..maybe another way for mothers to connect with us, through their children who attended when they could not.” 

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