Female bodybuilder smashes taboos, gender stereotypes in Bangladesh

By Azad Majumder

Dhaka, Mar 18 (efe-epa).- Awhona Rahman, the first winner of the maiden female bodybuilding contest in Bangladesh, has triggered a fitness frenzy among women even as they battle taboos to shatter gender stereotypes in the Muslim-majority country.

In 2019, Awhona beat 29 other competitors who flexed their muscles dressed in body-hugging attires, attracting media attention as the first such contest in the deeply conservative society.

Awhona’s win helped generate interest in fitness among other women, and the young bodybuilder now works as a trainer in a gym that her brother Rayhanur Rahman owns.

The fitness center, near the Dhakeshwari Hindu temple in Dhaka, saw an increase in memberships, especially among females, in early 2020 after images of Awhona flooded the Bangladeshi media.

Currently, about 20 women regularly sweat it out on treadmills, stationary bikes, and weights between 12-4 in the afternoon, when the gym is closed for men.

Beyond caring for their appearance, the gym has provided a space for women to improve their quality of life.

Misti Akter, a mother of two, struggled with a thyroid problem as she was overweight and got tired now and then.

In 2020, on the advice of her doctor, Akter, 24, visited the fitness center in the old part of Bangladesh’s busy capital, to train for two hours every day.

“I am feeling better. My weight came down from 74 to 57 kg and my thyroid level is also normal,” said Akter, clad in a burqa at the reception of the gymnasium.

When Drawin Nodi, a personal trainer, started working in the gym, there were barely a few female members. Most of them loitered around without knowing what to do.

“The few members that we had here initially were all overweight. Some came at the advice of a doctor because they could not conceive. After working out here, we celebrated their pregnancy,” Nodi said.

The competition that put Awhona and the women’s bodybuilding in the public eye had to be adapted to the canons of the society.

The organizers opted for tights and body-hugging clothes instead of bikinis for the competition, to avoid drawing the ire of the conservative sections.

The idea of conducting a female bodybuilding contest arose from an effort to raise awareness about health and fitness.

Awhona believes that the event has slowly begun to bear fruit as more and more girls become interested in bodybuilding and encourage others to visit gyms for better health.

“Nowadays, fitness is an industry. We have hundreds of gymnasiums in our country but women have few places to go,” she said.

“If we had enough female fitness instructors and influencers it would encourage many women to come to gymnasiums, and get a healthy life,” she added.

Ryhanur, a former national bodybuilding champion, believes the conservative society is responsible for discouraging women from physical exercise.

He feels there are small spaces of freedom they can utilize.

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