Authorities in Bangladesh’s main tourist resort scrapped a dedicated beach section for women and children after a social media outcry over gender segregation, officials said on December 30.
On the afternoon of December 29, officials in Cox’s Bazar district inaugurated a section of the shoreline on the world’s longest natural sea beach as an exclusive zone for women and children.
But hours later, the administration issued a press release saying that it had “withdrawn its decision” after “negative comments”.
Abu Sufian, a senior official in Cox’s Bazar, told AFP the section had been created following requests from conservative women in the Muslim-majority country.
“They requested a dedicated beach section for themselves, because they felt shy and insecure in a crowded place,” he said.
Earlier this month the gang rape of a woman in Cox’s Bazar sparked an outcry over women’s safety in the city.
But the move to cordon off a section of the beach caused uproar on social media, with critics saying it was pandering to hardline Islamists who still wield considerable influence in the country.
“This is Talebistan,” veteran journalist and commentator Syed Ishtiaque Reza wrote on Facebook, referring to the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Another commentator compared it to “Mollahtantra”, which translates as hardline Islamist ideology.
Parts of Bangladesh society remain very conservative, and in recent years, a hardline Islamist group has held massive rallies demanding segregation of the sexes in workplaces and factories.
Hundreds of thousands visit Cox’s Bazar during festive periods, and the tourism sector has boomed in recent years.
To provide security to the growing number of tourists, authorities have set up a tourism police unit to patrol beach towns.