How girls are raising their voices

Many girls are now speaking up against discrimination and child marriage, but several challenges remain

A group of female students at Madhukhali Pilot High School in Faridpur district have taken an oath to prevent child marriages and domestic violence in their community.

One of the students is Sumaya Zaman Prakitee, a 10-grader. She said she now prides herself on speaking up whenever she hears of a child marriage, bullying, or other abuse.

“Our friends, including me, faced eve-teasing on the way to school. I informed our class teachers of the matter despite many of us being afraid to discuss the issue with the teachers. The teachers visited the spot and now it is much easier for us to go to school,” she added.

Like Sumaya Zaman Prakitee, the girls who took the oath are playing roles in building their society into a more equal one. However, they often become upset when they fail to prevent child marriages due to societal norms in remote parts of the country.

The girls took the oath to prevent child marriage and gender-based violence at a dialogue organized by Efficient and Accountable Local government (EALG), a project implemented by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

The project has been conducting many activities, including Orange Campaign, in 18 upazilas and 251 union parishads under nine districts of eight divisions across the country, including in two upazilas and 30 union parishads under Faridpur.

More than 180 female students at the secondary and higher secondary levels have taken the oath so far at separate sessions in Madhukhali and Bhanga upazilas in 2019, 2020 and 2021.

“I was inspired by the oath session, and I was able to share my opinions with my parents, telling them that I wanted to continue my studies until I got a job,” said Akashi Akhter, an 11-grader at KM government college at Bhanga.

“I appreciated it that my family supported me, but I was afraid to discuss the marriage issue with them,” she added.

Challenges to speaking up

The students in many cases, faced challenges in raising their voices.

This correspondent recently visited some remote villages in Faridpur. Several girls there said it was not easy to eliminate child marriage and gender-based violence.

On condition of anonymity, they said at least five of their classmates were forced by family members to marry during the Covid restrictions in 2020-2021, even though they were below 18.

“A parent arranged a marriage on Victory Day last year, as the administration was mostly busy celebrating the day. As my classmate was willing, I didn’t report the issue,” said one of the girls.

“I know of another case where the girl was forced into marriage. I couldn’t call 999 or 109 as her parents threatened me,” she added.

109 is a toll free number and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It is accessible from all parts of Bangladesh and all beneficiaries can make calls from both fixed phones and mobile phones.  It is a confidential service that offers legal advice, police assistance, telephone counseling, referrals to other organizations’ services, and information on violence-related issues.

Morsheda Akhter Mina, vice-chairman of Madhukhali Upazila Council, said: “Information of any early marriage or any kind of offence against women anywhere in the upazila is always appreciated and we are always available. No one should fear speaking about her problems related to discrimination.”

“Addressing early marriage is a challenging task which needs serious attention from the relevant stakeholders, including the government,” said Azizul Haque Sarder, capacity development and gender officer of the EALG Project.

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