“Change in the mindset of leaders can bring change in the whole community.””
Meet Selim, changemaker by choice. He works for the local government in one of the many villages of Bangladesh. Selim takes his job very serious. He even goes door to door to speak to people.
After Selim got elected as a community leader, his first action was to meet people. He went out to talk to the men and women, to understand their lives, their circumstances, and their thoughts and views.
While getting acquainted with the villagers, he realized that most of the girls in the village were married off young, before completing secondary school.
In Bangladesh many people believe getting a good husband for their daughter, from a good family, is the parents’ main responsibility towards their daughter. It will secure her future. And marrying off a daughter will also ease the financial pressure that many village households face.
Before he arrived in the village, traditional gender stereotypes had a firm grip on people’s minds. Girls get married and dedicate their lives to running the family household; that is the general thought.
Selim started to discuss the tradition of child marriage. He talked about the negative impacts of child marriage on girls’ health, education and on society.
The village is not the only one in Bangladesh with a high rate of child marriage. About half of all women in the country up to the age of 25 was married before the age of 18, according to research by UNICEF.
“Change in the mindset of leaders can bring change in the whole community."”
He went from door to door. It was not easy. People weren’t convinced he was right. Selim had to put a lot of time and effort into changing their minds.
Selim put a lot of effort into raising awareness and understanding. He wanted people to understand the value of educating girls, for both the girls and the community. He communicated with the people in every possible way.
Some people would seek permission for their daughter’s marriages with false birth certificate, the falsified date of birth to prove that she was of legal age to marry.
“They tried to outsmart me. But realized it wouldn’t work. Now they don’t try it anymore."”
Selim started to monitor the activities of the marriage registrar as well. With this, he would also limit opportunities for people to get a girl married before the legal age of 18.
When the Hello, I Am programme was running activities in the village, Selim met the programme staff. He was excited to see the programme was aligned with his own views, and decided they should team up. Selim is proud about the changes in his community. Child marriage is less prevalent in the village. Most parents don’t rush to marry their daughters so young anymore.
“‘I dream of the day the harmful practice of child marriage is completely banned from my community."”
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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