What do you see in your future?
“I want the chance to fulfill my dreams, without any differentiation between me and my brother.”
How to remove the obstacles in the way?
“By importance being giving to my opinion.”
These answers to the questions came easily, without hesitation at the ‘Candidly Speaking’ CARE dialogue. The girls spoke freely about their hopes to fulfill their wishes, expectations and dreams. They spoke of how they were treated differently in the family and in society because they were girls.
These girls joined the virtual dialogue from various villages in Pirgachha upazila of Rangpur. The dialogue, taking place on Tuesday afternoon, was organised by CARE Bangladesh’s Tipping Point Initiative and the Kendeda Fund. Prothom Alo was the media partner of the event.
The girls called upon their families, the society and the state not to obstruct their dreams of a beautiful future by child marriage. Speakers at the dialogue said that girls must be seen as assets, not burdens.
Participating as mentors for the girls, were Unicef Bangladesh’s programme officer (gender) Tahmina Haque, UNFPA programme analyst Humaira Farhanaz, Naripokkho member Kamrun Nahar and acting head and senior technical coordinator of CARE Bangladesh’s Tipping Point Initiative, Rounaq Jahan. The event was moderated by Prothom Alo Trust’s coordinator Mahbuba Sultana.
The girl discussants were Arpita Basunia, Monira Akhter, Rima Akhter and Hanufa Ritu. The Tipping Point Initiative has Fun Centres in 34 villages of its work area in Pirgachha upazila of Rangpur. The four girls participated from the Deuti, Sharifshundar, Mirapara and Anandadhaniram fun centres.
Arpita Basunia said that just because their daughter’s friend gets married, parents shouldn’t feel they must get their daughter married too. Rather than child marriage, she felt the parents must put their trust in them. “We have the right to fulfill our dreams,” she said, “Don’t block our way to fulfill our aspirations. Give out opinions importance before taking decisions about us.”
Hanufa said. “The future I visualize before me is to have no differentiation between girls and boys, both having equal rights and my views being taken into consideration. But in most cases we are deprived.”
Rima’s school is one and a half kilometers from home. Her cousin, a boy the same age as her, goes to school by bicycle. Rima asked her father to buy her a cycle too. But her father cut her off by saying, “You are a girl. You won’t be able.”
Rima said she wanted equal opportunities. She said that despite many obstacles, she managed to make her parents understand the demerits of child marriage. She wants to raise this consciousness among others in the area.
Tahmina Haque of Unicef said, girls are learning about the demerits of child marriage and about their rights. They are protesting. A family must realise that a girl is not a burden but an asset. They must invest in their girl’s education. If this awareness grows in the government, the family and the society, girls will be properly valued. All must come forward, taking the marginalized girls ahead to fulfill their dreams.
UNFPA official Humaira Farhanaz said, a girl has the right to education, health and equality. After child marriage, the family pressurises the girl to have a child. This is a health risk. If she is not healthy, it is difficult for a girl to do anything. She said, while there are policies at various levels for women’s empowerment in the country, the problem lies in implementation. If the requirements for girls’ empowerment could be ensured, the girls could enjoy the benefits of this.
Naripokkho’s Kamrun Nahar called for a precedent to be established for girls’ rights, saying that the incidents of violence against women stemmed from the propensity to not consider women as humans and to keep them in submission.
The incidents of sexual abuse also instigated parents towards child marriage. She said there were many limitations, but these had to be overcome so the girls could be role models for others. They would have to learn the mantra to speak out boldly.
CARE Bangladesh official Rounaq Jahan said many guardians understood the matter of gender sensitivity, but this was not reflected in their actions. Unless this is changed, child marriage would not halt. They apprehend untoward incidents may take place unless they hurriedly give their daughter in marriage. Then the young girl has to give birth to her first child in the first year of her marriage to prove she is reproductively able. Addressing the girls, she said, “Go ahead with your dreams. Be active in fulfilling these dreams.”