In Bangladesh, many people live in extreme poverty which has great impact on the social, economic and environmental aspects of the country. While this marginalized group of people has the capacity to contribute to the society in diverse ways, but in most cases their efforts go unnoticed. Often, their issues and voices get lost in dialogues for development. It is integral to change this context to ensure lasting and justice-based change in the society.
Sadia Akter is a 17-year old living in Belgacha Union in the Northern district of Rangpur. She just completed her education in Secondary School Certificate (SSC) exam and was preparing to go to college for Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC); but life had different plans for her. Her father married for the second time leading to lack of financial support from him. This ultimately affected Sadia’s education and she began to feel at loss.
Around this time, in 2018, CARE Bangladesh’s IMAGINE* project launched its activities in Belgacha and Punchgachi union. Fighting with poverty and discriminated socially as her father got married for the second time, Sadia desperately wanted to be part of something that gave her support and validation. Girls’ collective club seemed like the right place for her, but her father was against it. “My father told me directly, a marriage offer had come and he wanted to marry me off soon. He clearly stated that he will not support my education expenses anymore and will not let me go out without his permission. He wouldn’t even let me be a part of girls collective club under IMAGINE project. ”, shared Sadia.
To get Sadia out of this situation, staff under IMAGINE project spoke to Sadia’s father and informed him that the girls’ collective club is only for girls, no boys and men are allowed there and he doesn’t have to pay anything for her to join this. After a long conversation, her father was convinced and permitted Sadia to join the club.
But Sadia’s ordeals were far from over. While the project has programs to teach girls income generating skills, yet again Sadia’s father was against her learning to be a mobile phone technician. For this, Sadia would have had to stay at a residential training center for a month. Around the same time, Sadia’s father had made arrangements for her marriage. “I couldn’t believe myself that I said ‘No’ to my father and despite our financial constraint, my mother and IMAGINE project supported me to stick to my own decision for a better future. But unfortunately, I couldn’t take part into mobile servicing course but later on I got selected for handicraft training and currently I’m continuing my training along with education.”, said Sadia. She was able to take this bold decision because she had learned about the disadvantages of early marriage as well as about her social, legal, sexual and reproductive health rights by being a part of the regular session in girls’ collective club.
Now, Sadia dreams to continue her education and complete the handcraft training course successfully. After that, she wants to receive a formal course on nursing and build her career as a nurse while also teach handicraft lessons to the other girls in her community. She hopes to buy a land of her own expense and give it as a gift it to her mother. “It is true that, my family is still in the line of poverty but today I’m a changed girl with lots of inspiration, knowledge, courage and set future goal which I attained from IMAGINE and my mother. Few days back life was very meaningless but right now I have a goal and a purpose, and the society is now hearing our voices.” Explained Sadia.
Sadia is just one of the thousands more with a life of struggle just to ensure their education and well-being. CARE Bangladesh is empowering women all over the country to change the narrative and take control of their own lives in an achievable and sustainable manner.
*IMAGINE stands for Inspiring Married Adolescent Girls to Imagine New Empowered Futures. The goal of this project is to identify, design, and test interventions that hold promise for delaying the timing of first birth among married adolescents and importantly, document and share learning from this initiative with the wider development community to inform others working to address the issue of adolescent childbearing.