Introducing… The Karate Girls of Bangladesh

June 20, 2014

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Meet Sonya –an 18 year-old girl living in Narayanganj, Bangladesh. Sonya lives a typical Bengali lifestyle; she enjoys the park with her friends and helps her parents with chores. But Sonya isn’t typical. At an age when girls are often expected to get married, she is breaking gender stereotypes, instilling confidence, and empowering a new generation of girls… all through her love for karate. Sonya is among a group of girls who are taking part in BRAC’s Adolescent Development Program where they are mentored in life skills, in this case, through the art of karate.

Meet Sonya –an 18 year-old girl living in Narayanganj, Bangladesh. Sonya lives a typical Bengali lifestyle; she enjoys the park with her friends and helps her parents with chores. But Sonya isn’t typical. At an age when girls are often expected to get married, she is breaking gender stereotypes, instilling confidence, and empowering a new generation of girls… all through her love for karate. Sonya is among a group of girls who are taking part in BRAC’s Adolescent Development Program where they are mentored in life skills, in this case, through the art of karate.

At first, the mothers and the community of Narayanganj questioned the need for girls to learn a sport, commenting that it’s inappropriate for girls to wear boy’s clothing. But after watching the girls in their element, their minds were quickly changed.

Karate is not only a physical exercise for these girls –the practice acts as part of a much larger mission to embrace psychological elements like perseverance and fearlessness. Ultimately, the practice is intended to work towards greater mental strength, self empowerment, and self-defense in a country that struggles with violence against women.

As part of the BRAC Adolescent Development Program, more than 300,000 teens in over 10,000 different clubs are being mentored in a wide scale of activities from microfinance to karate. The program targets teenage girls from disadvantaged backgrounds in Bangladesh, Uganda, Tanzania, Afghanistan, South Sudan and, most recently, Sierra Leone. Clubs establish “safe spaces” close to home, where teens can discuss social issues away from the pressures of male-centered society. These discussions raise awareness on gender imbalance, early marriage, family planning and issues often considered taboo in their homes or in other social contexts. Alongside social empowerment, BRAC provides financial mentorship, including business planning, budget management, and the basics of microfinance.

Social and financial empowerment are two of the main ingredients for BRAC’s success stories -much like the case of Sonya, who recently said, “I feel like if I ever face trouble on the street I’ll be able to handle it. I have that belief in myself.”

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