Meena Media Awards: Tiny footsteps to a grand destination
By Raffat Binte Rashisd
DHAKA, 26 September, 2013: Five little girls dressed in candy floss pink tops, red skirts and hair braided at the sides, took to the stage.
“We are all Meena,” they said.
Meena is an iconic nine-year-old animated character and the soul mate of these girls who are themselves from an underprivileged background.
Meena was created 21 years ago as a young girl in rural South Asia of a humble and lower-middle class background. The animated character went on to become the icon for advocating the education of young girls and its benefits.
The five little girls performed a heart-wrenching play depicting the state of female children and their rights in Bangladesh and how far they have come in the last 21 years, a period over which Meena has been an agent of change in her community, her stories and adventures championing the rights of children across South Asia.
The girls in their five-minute drama brought to the forefront the bitter truth about their lives and how things are gradually changing for the better. The play enthralled the audience and set the tone for the 9th Meena Media Awards which was held on 24 September 2013 at a Dhaka hotel.
Sky is our limit
The five girls on stage took turns to narrate the story of one girl and her misfortunes in a patriarchal society. Their monologues touched the hearts of all present.
“I love going to school, to play and dance just like any other girl of my age. But the boys in my locality tease me, taunt me and their antics have led my father to stop my schooling. Instead, he sent me away to the city to work as a house help. Uprooted from my parents and forced into work, my dream of going to school and being someone was buried.”
“The workload was unbearable – ‘fetch this’, ‘do that’, ‘polish this’, ‘clean that’ -- the chores were never-ending and the abuse was agonising.”
“I wanted to go back to my village and lay on my mother’s lap and listen to her stories. One day, I did run away to my home. But home was not mine to enjoy anymore; instead of parental love and returning to school, I was married off.”
“I don’t know what marriage is, I don’t know the ways of family life. I am just a little girl. I want to run in the fields, swim in the ponds. But alas, look at my fate. I am a Meena giving birth to another Meena.”
“The story of the Meenas of our country cannot always end in such a harrowing manner; they cannot be nipped at the bud generations after generations.”
“The Meenas of our society have come a long way in the last 21 years. We are going to school; we are aware of our rights and availing those. Today the sky is our limit,” they all said in unison.
Meena’s comrade: The media
The performance of the young drama artistes who are members of Pidim theatre, a group theatre in the slums, touched a chord with the audience. It was hard to believe that these are indeed underprivileged children living in appalling conditions in the city’s slums.
With this play, the Meena Media Awards, an endeavour dedicated to reporting and presenting the issues that plague the children in our society in the print and electronic media, commenced.
UNICEF conferred the Meena Media Award 2013 on 33 professionals from print and broadcast media for their outstanding work in promoting child rights over the last year. The Meena Media Award was introduced by UNICEF in 2005 to celebrate excellence in creative media and journalism in both print and electronic streams.
Information Minister Mr. Hasanul Haq Inu, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors Arifa Zaman Moushumi and Jewel Aich and UNICEF Bangladesh Representative Pascal Villeneuve presented crests, award money and certificates to the winners at a colourful awards ceremony in the presence of media representatives, children and other guests.
Congratulating the participants and the award winners, Pascal Villeneuve said, “We admire your efforts and continuous support to make children’s voices heard through your journalistic works and programmes which is the main sprit of the Meena Media Award -- advancing child rights in media.”
Recognising the crucial role played by the media he urged media professionals to combat all evils, social prejudices and norms such as child marriage, child labour and inappropriate infant and child feeding practices.
Judges make a plea
An eight-member expert panel of judges from literary, academia, print and broadcast fields included Selina Hossain, Farid Hossain, Robaet Ferdous, Fahmidul Haque, Zakir Hossain Razu, Samia Zaman, Ratan Paul and Qadir Kollol.
The judges all echoed similar thoughts and laid emphasis on practising professionalism and maintaining journalistic ethics. They asked the local media -- both print and electronic -- to be more vigilant about practising proper ethics when it comes to reporting on children’s issues, especially if the child has become involved in a crime or is in trauma.
Citing a few examples of recent carelessness of the media while dealing with juvenile delinquency or children witnesses, the judges urged the media to report not for the sake of exclusivity and scoops, but for the sake of truth.
Leaving with professional laurels
And remaining true to their commitment, the judges very aptly honoured Sumona Siddique of Desh TV for her programme on children who are victims of trafficking and end up in the sex trade themselves, and on the lives of children of commercial sex workers. In her TV reporting, the faces of the children were blurred, which only served to drive home the terrible state of their lives and the erosion of their identity. The untold hardships of these faceless children, portrayed deftly and touchingly by Sumona, brought many in the audience to tears.
Shahnaz Sharmeen of ABC radio won the first prize in the broadcast category for the second consecutive year. Her programme on how the working children spend agonising hours at factories to bring home the joys of festivals grabbed everyone’s attention. These adolescent children working in the readymade garments sector spend their festival bonuses to buy gifts for their younger siblings.
A lively awards ceremony, with the presence of the beats of the traditional drums and vivacious children, was made more so because the iconic Meena was announcing the nominees while her pet parrot Mithu was only too eager to help by mimicking her words.
Children in their shiny, colourful best sang songs and danced enthusiastically at regular intervals. It was hard to believe that these children – mostly orphaned -- are all inhabitants of NGO-run drop-in centres.
In his speech, Information Minister Hasanul Huq Inu stressed on the fact that for 21 years Meena has been voicing the female children’s rights and the time now is to take the challenge forward. “Children in a developing nation are vulnerable, particularly girls. It is the responsibility of the media to uphold and bring to the forefront issues that plague the lives of children; be it a street child, a house help or a sex worker’s child,” he said.
“All girl children must go to schools as it is against the religion and constitution to say no to women’s education and emancipation. We must learn to respect our women; an enlightened woman can enlighten the society,” he reiterated.
21 years and counting
This year Meena is celebrating its 21st year of production and the theme is ‘Quality Education Protects Children from Child Marriage and Child Labour’. Meena was primarily born to address two issues: Education for All (EFA) and to popularise the SAARC Decade of the Girl Child from 1991 to 2000.
Meena showed that girls’ education helps to improve quality of life. Today, Meena has transcended her initial boundaries and addresses issues like eve teasing, safe motherhood, and human development. Into her third decade now, this icon of child rights seems only to be picking up pace towards her goal to firmly establish children’s rights and thus bring about a better society.