Reducing violence against women and girls helps society in the long run
The data -- with its sexism and its gaps -- shows us that many of the barriers girls experience are determined merely by their gender. This inequality, present in all societies, is by far the most widespread bias. For Educo and many children’s organizations, we are determined, like the women and girls we work with, to put a stop to this injustice.
During the next decade, 14.2 million girls under the age of 18 will be married each year -- that’s 39,000 girls every single day. In Mali, a country in Africa, 52% of girls are married before they turn 18. Meanwhile, of the 57 million primary-school-age children out of education, 31 million are girls.
In the case of Bangladesh, despite various preventive measures by government and non-government organizations, violence against women shows little sign of decreasing. According to ASK, the extent of harassment and other acts of violence, including rape, murder, and domestic abuse, have forced many girls to stop pursuing education.
Many such cases are well recorded but the actual figures could be much higher as many go unreported. As an example, about 2,000 complaints of violence against women and children are reported every day through a hotline number (109) set up by the government.
According to UNICEF, while the incidence of child marriage has decreased worldwide, it has increased in Bangladesh. Bangladesh stands fourth in child marriage prevalence. UNICEF says that at present, one out of every five girls is married before 18 years of age. A decade ago this was one in every four.
The most progress has been made in South Asian countries where the percentage of a girl’s marriage before 18 has fallen from 50% to 30%. However, the fight is far from over.
Bangladesh is pledge-bound to eliminate violence against women as it ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). As part of the pledge, the government is implementing a project called Multi-Sectoral Program on Violence against Women, building a legal framework that addresses, prevents, and eliminates violence against women and children, and creates public awareness for changing the negative attitudes, beliefs, and values towards women and children.
The story of Asma Akhter, now 25 years old, proves us that children who are most vulnerable can thrive with solid support from schools and communities. Asma started her education in 2001 at Intervida Pathshala Korail TnT, a school being run by Educo Bangladesh. Asma received commendable results in SSC exam which inspired her to continue her studies. Her parents also showed support for her education.
Asma was determined to finish school and make her dreams come true. But things took a different turn for her (she was only 16 years old at that time). Just before her HSC exam, Asma’s parents arranged her marriage with a boy who belonged to a decent family.
The future groom’s family had no demands for dowry. Getting such a match for Asma was astonishing for her parents. They were so overwhelmed with the proposal that they failed to mention to Asma the only condition of the future groom’s family: She would have to stay at home and leave school after marriage.
It was only after the marriage date was set that Asma came to know the situation and requested her parents to call it off. But all her efforts were in vain. She then requested her college teachers and a woman called Ferdousi, Asma’s primary school teacher. After several meetings with Asma’s parents, the teachers were able to help call the marriage off.
Asma told us: “Without the help of my former teachers, I would not have been able to pursue my dream in any way possible. My teachers had always kept in touch even after my school and that’s why I had the courage to approach them and ask for help.”
Currently, Asma is working as a teacher at Educo Pathshala Shahjadpur and continuing her education. She is now a student pursuing a degree in Bachelor of Social Science at Government Titumir College. Asma is dreaming of pursuing further education in order to serve the young generation of Bangladesh and to be independent and self-sufficient.
Receiving an education is critical for girls but is often overlooked due to deep patriarchal structures. Promoting gender equity and the rights of women and girls is not only a question of social justice but an inherent principle of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and an essential requisite for achieving the SDGs.
It is, therefore, important for communities, schools, the government, and the civil society to help improve children’s overall well-being and performance in school by reducing violence against women and girls.
The UN theme for this International Women’s Day is: “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change.” Through collective action, we know that women and girls can and do think equal, build smart and innovate for change if they are given the opportunity.
Just like Asma.
Md Emamul Hoque is the Director of Resource Mobilization and Visibility at Educo Bangladesh. Some names have been changed to protect their identities.