In a world that can sometimes feel like it was made purely for men, the mother of two's work has earned her the title of a ‘Joyeeta’, the national platform that recognises women from all backgrounds for dedication towards social progress.
“The root of much abuse is child marriage. It has taken a considerable amount of time for people to understand that, and many souls have suffered unimaginably as a result. There is definitely greater awareness now, but it did not happen easily. We must continue to make sure no one allows it to happen.”
The practice of child marriage adversely affects the lives of millions of girls in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. In Uganda, nearly one in every two girls is married before reaching their 18th birthday. The situation is worse in Bangladesh where two out of every three women aged between 20 and 24 marry young.
Two out of three Bangladeshi women are forced to deal with some form of violence during their lifetime. This can be domestic violence, rape, acid attacks, trafficking or sexual harassment, these being the most prominent forms. If you are a woman, chances are you, or someone you know have already faced harassment or some other form of violence.
Every year millions of adolescent girls marry young in South Asia. They are burdened with responsibilities as young wives and teenage mothers. In most cases, girls are coerced into marriage in varying circumstances. Research indicates that child brides face greater physical violence and a number of health risks. However, evidence is also building up on another more serious consequence of early marriage.
17-year-old Tania Akhter was preparing for her final year college exams when life had a pleasant surprise to offer. A member of BRAC’s adolescent club, she was quickly acknowledged for her leadership skills. Tania joined the club when she was in class 6, and since then coordinators have kept an eye on her development. Tania also received training on livelihood skills as part of the club’s activities.
According to a nationwide study conducted in 2013, about 87 per cent of women in Bangladesh are abused by their husband. A recent report by BRAC’s community empowerment programme (CEP) revealed that eight out of 10 violence perpetrators are men. Thus involving men is crucial if we want to eradicate violence against women. In 2013, BRAC for the first time initiated a project to engage men as partners to reduce violence against women by changing their attitudes.
As dusk falls in the small town of Pachargali, Rangpur, dozens of lanterns blink to life, marking a clearing surrounded by corn and paddy fields. A crowd gathers around a makeshift stage. BRAC’s popular theatre is back in town, a much awaited event for this village.
Mitu and Tania are club leaders and cricket coaches from BRAC’s adolescent development programme (ADP) in Bangladesh. The programme creates safe places where adolescent girls can read, socialise, play sport together, take part in cultural activities and have open discussions on personal and social issues with their peers. Each club has 25-35 adolescent members aged 10 to 19 years old. A range of livelihood training courses are offered to the older girls to help them learn new skills for employment.
In the collective effort to realize the “Girl Effect”, it is necessary to ensure that adolescent girls are free to access the resources and education provided to them by their respective national governments or by the NGOs based in their communities.