Making A Difference
A Village Learns from its
Performing a Gambhira on dowry
A small thatched-roof hut at Chillapara village in Rajshahi district. From the outside, it appears as one of the many ordinary huts in rural Bangladesh. Inside are about 50 teenaged girls and a few boys bubbling with enthusiasm. They are all members of the Kishori Abhijan club, united to raise their voice about the important decisions that shape their lives, to end child marriage and to empower themselves with knowledge and life skills.
Musammat Tahera Khatun Runa, a member of Kishori Abhijan speaks proudly about how she and her friends helped prevent a child marriage in her village. “We learned at the club that early marriage causes many types of health complications for young girls. So when we heard that our friend was going to be married at this early age we approached her family. But our voice did not make any difference at first as we were just kids and there were only a few of us. Her parents said breaking a marriage engagement is a bad omen”, she adds.
Runa describes how the member of the Kishori Abhijan then approached the community heads and reasoned with them. The family finally took the point and the marriage was postponed.
Run by Brac, CMES and Save the Children supported by UNICEF, European Union and the Bangladesh Government the club is part of the project 'Kishori Abhijan- Empowerment of Adolescent Girls'. Over the last five years the project was implemented in 28 districts engaging about 100, 000 girls and boys in its programme.
The members of the club sit twice a week. With the help of the project staff they discuss subjects like child marriage, dowry, reproductive health, HIV. The members later convey the messages to family members, relatives and neighbours, thus making the whole community aware about these issues. Shed light on the objective of the project.
“Girls are treated differently since birth in our society, which affects their confidence and ability" says Rashida Parveen, Project Manager of Kishori Abhijan, Brac. "Adolescent girls are especially vulnerable. Many important decisions about their life are taken by others without their consent."
The project Kishori Abhijan aims at improving the quality of life of vulnerable adolescents, especially girls. The project motivates them to participate meaningfully in decisions that affect their life including education, livelihood, most importantly early marriage, she explains.
In Bangladesh, about 28 million adolescents, between the ages of 10 to 19 constitute 22 percent of total population. Among this number, about 13. 8 millions are girls.
Although the legal age for marriage in Bangladesh is 18 for girls and 21 for boys. In reality about half of all girls are married by the age of 15 and 60 per cent become mothers by the age of 19.
Early pregnancy and childbirth often leads to health complications. An estimated 50 per cent of adolescent girls are malnourished and suffer from anaemia. Most are not properly educated about reproductive health, contraception and are often vulnerable to dowry-related violence.
The project also works to develop leadership quality and livelihood skills that will help them survive financially. It works to sensitise the families and communities. Another Kishori Abhijan member Mosammat Salma Khatun also from Chillapara adds, “Early marriage makes us even more vulnerable. Young girls suffer because of dowry related violence. They cannot approach anyone for help, as they are not aware. Besides they become physically weak for early pregnancy related illness”
Apart from being enlightened with important knowledge, Salma also shows her skills in traditional hand-fan making. Salma has sold about 50 hand fans this summer and plans to carry on. She also has a small poultry farm. “My parents did not want me to join at first. After my success they understood why it is important for women to know these things”, she says.
While some parents still need time to be convinced of the benefits of the programme, many are quite happy that their daughters are a part of Kishori Abhijan.
“It is better to spend the time in learning something than wasting time in gossiping. And besides, it is totally free”, comments Mosammat Bilqis Banu a mother of two teenaged girls at Chillapara.
(R) thedailystar.net 2009