These seed grants were funded by Johnson & Johnson and WomanCare Global via the Women Deliver C Exchange Youth Initiative.
By: SM Shaikat, SERAC-Bangladesh
Early marriage and dowry-related violence are harmful practices, but they are common in Bangladesh. When girls marry, they often drop out of school and have limited social interaction. Currently, just 45% of adolescent girls are enrolled in secondary school, and even fewer attend regularly. Domestic violence occurs all too often and with impunity. From January to September 2013, 265 cases of violence against women occurred; 128 women died from physical torture, but just 111 cases were filed against the perpetrators.
Most cases of marriage-related violence are never reported and some are intentionally covered up. Until recently, no group existed in Bangladesh that could track and prevent these types of gender violence. To address this situation, I developed a project called Jagoroni, a Bengali word that means “rising.” I’m creating a youth-led watchdog system to eliminate dowry- and child marriage-related violence against girls and women in Mymensingh district, which has the highest rates of violence in the country.
I became inspired to end dowry-related violence against women when I was a law student in 2006. Every day, I would read reports in the news of women and girls killed by their partners, torched and maliciously tortured by husbands and in-laws. At first, I didn’t have any economic resources to change the situation – I had to pay my tuition, and I quickly spent my leftover money posting fliers that called for an end to dowries.
Eventually, I opened an email account and began spending hours at an internet café emailing NGOs and stakeholders asking them to speak out against dowries. I received a few phone calls and negative responses, but I also received some appreciation.
During that time, I wrote a short article on dowry which was published in the Daily Star, a leading Bangladeshi newspaper. I felt more encouraged, and began to mobilize young people in my community through my organization, SERAC-Bangladesh. However, we didn’t know how to raise funds to support the campaign.
Now, with a grant from Women Deliver’s C-Exchange, I am feeling more hopeful about Jagoroni’s ability to organize young people in their communities to become watchdogs against dowry and early marriage. We held a huge rally on the Bengali New Year in 2013. My Facebook group, “Anti Dowry Awareness Program,” now has over 1,000 members across the country, and we’ve staged a number of online campaigns.
With the support of the mayor of Mymensingh, Mr. Ekramul Haque Titu, we are currently forming 13 Jagori (“wakeful”) groups in different communities to trace each case of marriage-related violence. Each group will be given cell phones and a local hotline number so that anyone can call and make a report. A parallel social media campaign will pressure the government to take action.
Today, the problems of dowry-related violence and early marriage in Bangladesh, once hidden and ignored, are finally being given the attention they deserve. When we can educate members of our communities and give them the tools to take action, we are not just addressing individual instances of violence. These types of community-based approaches chip away at the cultural norms that permit violence against women and girls to continue. Together, the young people involved with Jagoroni are creating a better world for our daughters.