Letters Leading to Evolution

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Thousands of young girls wrote passionate letters declaring their right to stay in school and out of child marriage to commemorate National Girl Child Day in Bangladesh this year.  The Youth Summit and Letter Festival – organized by Women and Girls Lead Global, National Girl Child Advocacy Forum and Youth Ending Hunger-Naogaon – called on girls to write open letters to their parents, telling them why they didn’t want to marry young.  Over 3,000 girls from 53 different schools in Bangladesh participated, sharing their desire for freedom and their disappointment that the law banning child marriage for girls under 16 is not being consistently upheld.

1908437_556346757831807_942182742305748554_n The letters were displayed on colorful banners at the festival, held in the Patnitala district in northwest Bangladesh. Thousands of people from surrounding communities flocked to the festival to read them, and to select 20 winning letters. The day also included a rally, a film screening and discussion, and cultural performances by the students. The entire day gave girls a rare opportunity to express themselves freely.

Read a few of the inspiring, award-winning letters

“Father, I always wanted to do something special for my family, relatives and of course for my country. To do so, I have to continue my education and earn a good result. I want to work hard to be an independent woman. Baba, you know if I fail to complete my education, I will never be able to fulfill my dream. Please let me complete my education first and then make the decision of marrying me off. I want to prove to myself that I am capable of getting a respectable job and serve my country as a good citizen. I need your blessings.”                         -Aasia Khatun, 10th grade, Patnitala high school

“In our country many girls die prematurely as a result of child marriage. And it is also responsible for family quarrels and fights. Unable to bear this, many girls commit suicide.”  – Nice Parvin, 9th grade Nazipur high school

1908437_556346751165141_7786221573802865235_n“Baba, You arrange my marriage, I am only thirteen! How could you forget about Ritu Apa, who died of giving birth a child at 16! It was you who concurred with other villages that nothing but immature age was the cause of her untimely demise. Please Baba, don’t make the same mistake like Ritu Apa’s parents.” – Sonia Khatun, 8th grade Khirsheen high school

“I will suffer both physically and mentally if you wed me off in this immature age. Please do not make me dependent on someone else. Let me finish my studies so I can be independent.” – Tomy Rani, 10th grade Paddapukur KMH high school

Signs of Change at Schools in Bangladesh

facilitating better schools

Schools are gradually becoming more girl-friendly in northwestern Bangladesh, thanks to the interventions of the Best Schools for Girls campaign. Last month, 18 Women and Girls Lead Global film facilitators in Naogaon province gathered for a two-day retreat  to share stories about the changes that schools in their area have implemented since the campaign officially launched in October 2013. Continue reading

Rickshaw Puller Becomes Role Model to Parents across Bangladesh

 

Most poor families in Bangladesh who marry off their daughters before they turn 18 – the legal age of marriage for girls – say that poverty forces them to make the choice. They can’t afford to keep their girls in school or otherwise provide for them, so they withdraw them from school and find a man who can care for them.  The result, for most girls who marry early, is more poverty, as well as higher rates of maternal and infant mortality, and increased susceptibility to violence and disease.

But what happens when a poor family makes a different choice – to keep its girls in school rather than marry them off? Continue reading

Partners in Dhaka Prepared to “Use Film to Inspire Change”

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A length of pink and white striped yarn wrapped around each of our wrists to form a web – connecting trainer to trainee, office staff to field staff, woman to man. Each of us declared our commitment to promoting girls’ education and ending child marriage across Bangladesh and around the world. Some promised to share what they had learned with their colleagues and communities. Some took a more personal oath to educate and nurture their own daughters, or to refuse wedding invitations when the bride was too young. The sense of community grew stronger as we each articulated our promise – our connections stretching not only across the room – but across Bangladesh, across borders, across the globe. Continue reading

Screening Inspires Commitment to End Child Marriage

In July, Country Engagement Coordinator Mahmud Hasan launched Women and Girls Lead Global in the district of Gagni in southern Bangladesh by convening 76 youth activists and a host of local leaders – including journalists, government officials, and police officers – for a screening of Revolutionary Optimists. A rural farming area where many families struggle with poverty, Gagni has a notoriously high child marriage rate. Revolutionary Optimists, which tells the story of a youth group striving to improve their community in the slums of Calcutta, India  – features an adolescent girl who drops out of school and leaves the group to marry her boyfriend. Continue reading

The Lengths Girls Go to Get to School

BANGLADESH_schoolgirls_3For girls in the village of Patnitala in northern Bangladesh, the route to school is fraught with challenges. More than half of the population lives below the poverty line. Most of their families are subsistence farmers without the means to pay for transportation or proper school shoes for their children.  So the girls walk the two miles to get to class barefoot each day, cutting across rice fields, crossing rivers, and splashing through mud puddles. Continue reading

She Matters: Women, Girls and Progress

Across the globe oppression is being confronted, and real, meaningful solutions are being fashioned through health care, education, and economic empowerment for women and girls. In She Matters, director Maro Chermayeff tells stories from India, Kenya, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, and Vietnam about women and girls who have become change-agents in their communities. Continue reading

Invoking Justice

In Southern India, family disputes are settled by Jamaats – all-male community councils who rule according to Islamic Sharia law. Women are forbidden to be present, even to defend themselves. Frustrated by this fundamental inequity, Sharifa, a long-time feminist, and a group of Muslim women established a Women’s Jamaat in 2003  an extraordinary act of courage, since traditionally Jamaats can only be founded and run by men. Continue reading