“Now I go from door to door, I talk to everybody. I tell them it is okay for a boy and a girl to talk to each other. I tell them boys and girls can be friends.”
Mamun grew up in a village in Bangladesh, living the life that millions of young boys live: going to school, hanging out with his friends; teasing the girls in his village.
Mamun never had girls for friends; like everybody else, he didn’t mix with the opposite gender. It was unthinkable to be friends with a girl. Teasing was the only form of contact that he figured was possible.
Several girls in his school were getting married off. One day he found out that one of those girls got married because the pressure of the teasing boys in the village had become too much. The family of the girl figured that as a married woman she would be safe from the harassment and the teasing.
“I was devastated. It was awful. The girl dropped out of school because of harassment and teasing in the street. I did this all the time, and it never occurred to me that I was the reason she stopped going to school.”
“I have three sisters. I would have been so miserable if they had to leave school because of harassment and teasing. It could have been my sisters too. I realized we ruin the lives of our sisters and our own lives at the same time.”
In Bangladesh, the fear of sexual harassment is a reason for parents to marry their daughters off before they have completed their education, according to UNICEF.
Mamun felt so bad when he realized that his teasing could have such an impact, that he wanted to change. He wanted to do something good, something that would also help the village he lived in. It was around this time that he met the staff from the Hello, I Am programme.
Mamun and his friends joined programme meetings, building their awareness and changing their perceptions of girls, opening up the option of being a friend and having friendship with girls. The programme taught the boys about the causes of school drop out for girls, early pregnancy and child marriage. They attended training on the prevention of child marriage in the village.
“Child marriage is not legal. I know that now, thanks to Hello, I Am. I also understand how difficult marriage is for young girls, that they should not be married, but go to school.”
“I have observed how the project works. They organized sessions for the parents in the village. The meetings were to build awareness, discuss and change attitude towards their daughters lives and perspectives, change their thinking about marrying off their young daughters. I wanted to work with them from the start. I was lucky my wish came true.’”
“My life changed after I joined the training with Hello, I Am. Now I go from door to door, I talk to everybody. I tell them it is okay for a boy and a girl to talk to each other. I tell them boys and girls can be friends. They shouldn’t stigmatize friendship. Of course I also talk about girls going to school, and I explain that child marriage is not a good thing.”
Mamun not only changed his own attitude towards girls. He now works towards changing the community he lives in.
“I feel grateful. The Hello, I Am programme changed me. I have become a totally different person compared to one I used to be. I have done such horrible things, teasing so many girls. I am sure that we can reach many boys, and when they realize what I realized, they will also change their attitudes. We will work together for a better society.”
Hello, I Am was a four-year programme working toward a supportive social environment in which young people in Bangladesh, especially adolescent girls and young women, can make informed choices about and enjoy their sexual and reproductive health and rights. It aims to realize a society in which girls and boys are equal, where girls and women have the same rights and chances as boys and men. The programme is led by Rutgers and implemented in collaboration with PSTC, RHSTEP, DSK and BBC Media Action Bangladesh.
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