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

Town of Runners

Long-distance running is a way of life in the Arsi region of Ethiopia. In a country well acquainted with poverty, famine and war, world-beating athletes are a source of intense pride. Many of the world’s greatest runners hail from Bekoji, a small remote town in the Southern Highlands. In the Beijing Olympics, runners from the town won all four golds in the long distance track events–more medals than most industrialised countries.

Town of Runners follows three children from Bekoji keen to follow in their heroes’ footsteps, as they move from school track to national competition and from childhood to adulthood. Set against the background of the seasonal rhythms of this farming region, and the impact of increased urbanization and globalization on agriculture the film shows rural young Africans striving to make their own future.

Packed Slum Screening Provokes Reflection

The screening was scheduled for 7:30pm, but by 6:00 around 50 young girls and boys had gathered before the big white projector screen that had been set up on an expanse of dirt in the Delhi slum of Madanpur Khadar. As the start time neared, more people crowded into the space – mothers cradling infants, gangs of teenage boys, girls in pink and red and aqua-colored saris – until nearly 200 people were pressed tightly together.  Organized by Women and Girls Lead Global and Magic Bus, a non-profit organization that mentors young people in the slums of Delhi, the event featured a screening of Revolutionary Optimists. The film profiles a group of adolescents in the slums of Calcutta who are being groomed as community organizers by a lawyer-turned-activist named Amlan Ganguly. Because the WGLG India campaign focuses on challenging harmful gender stereotypes as a way of addressing gender-based violence at the roots, one of the key messages that was highlighted at the screening is the mutual respect of the boys and girls in the film, and the exemplary way that they share power and leadership roles. 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

Pink and Blue: Signs of Danger?

BhanwarSingh2  Rajni Magic Bus2

To deepen my understanding of young people’s perception of gender in urban India, I recently ventured to the Bhanwar Singh camp in Delhi with Magic Bus, a WGLG partner organization that mentors youth in the slums across India. Bhanwar Singh is a labyrinth of narrow lanes, open drains, community water taps, and pastel-colored mud and brick houses. Many of the poor families there have migrated from their ancestral villages in hope of work and better educational facilities. Locals strive to make an honest living by driving auto rickshaws or taxis, cleaning houses, selling vegetables or as daily wage labors working on the booming city’s many construction sites. Continue reading