Women-only beach scrapped in Bangladesh after social media outcry

People walk past a signboard reading "Reserved area for women and children as instructed by the district commissioner" along a beach in Cox's Bazar after authorities in Bangladesh's main resort district scrapped a dedicated beach section for women and children after a social media outcry over gender segregation, officials said on December 30, 2021.
A sign saying the beach was reserved for women and children was erected along one stretch on Cox’s Bazar, before the decision was quickly reversed

Authorities in Bangladesh have reversed their decision to open a women-only beach after facing accusations they were pandering to hardline Islamists.

On Thursday officials had opened a 150m (492ft) section of Cox’s Bazar for women and children, but hours later announced they were scrapping the idea.

The decision to segregate the beach was made following requests from some women, officials had said.

Bangladesh is a Muslim-majority country and remains largely conservative.

“(The women) requested a dedicated beach section for themselves, because they felt shy and insecure in a crowded place,” Abu Sufian, a senior official in Cox’s Bazar, told AFP.

The move to section off the beach also came after news of a gang rape of a woman in Cox’s Bazar last week shocked the country, sparking an outcry over women’s safety in the area.

But the decision triggered an uproar on social media. Critics accused the government of acquiescing to hardline Islamists, who have recently held massive rallies demanding gender segregation in workplaces and factories.

One commentator described the beach segregation as “Talibistan,” referring to the Taliban Islamist group which has in recent months curbed women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh is the world’s longest natural sea beach, and a popular tourist destination in the country.

Hundreds of thousands visit the area during festive periods, and the tourism sector has boomed in recent years.

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