These seed grants were funded by Johnson & Johnson and WomanCare Global via the Women Deliver C Exchange Youth Initiative.
By: SM Shaikat, SERAC-Bangladesh
It’s still a nightmare for many girls and women from poor families in Bangladesh to get married without a dowry. Many women whose families fail to comply with dowry demands experience mental and physical abuse – and even death – at the hands of their husbands or in-laws. It is my dream to stop these atrocities and transform Bangladesh into a dowry- and early marriage-free nation.
During my legal studies, I learned that dowries and child marriage are root causes of violence against women – and I immediately realized that I had to do something to put an end to these harmful practices. Armed with little more than determination, I launched awareness campaigns aimed at young people in Bangladesh. Before I knew it, a good number of young people joined the effort. Together we pressured law enforcement agencies, worked with media and advocated with stakeholders to generate attention around our cause.
With the support of Women Deliver’s C-Exchange Youth Initiative, I’ve launched a training program for 650 young and motivated volunteers in the 13 sub-districts of Mymensingh. During trainings we educate our young volunteers about the laws and policies in place to prevent dowries and child marriage. We also identify system-wide gaps that our volunteers can help fill, such as holding authorities accountable for enforcing dowry and early marriage laws. The groups act as community “watchdogs” and help identify and report dowry and early marriage cases to local law enforcing authorities.
Our program is called Jagoroni, a Bengali word that means “rising” and represents the rise of the youth movement against dowry and early marriage. Jagoroni is not only about raising awareness to stop dowries and early marriage in Bangaldesh – it's also about providing a unique platform for youth leadership on girls’ and women’s rights. Among the volunteers, we refer to each sub-district as a “jagori”, and each “jagori” has one elected leader nominated by its peers.
As members of the community, each “jagori” has a unique ability to put pressure on authorities and garner attention around dowry and early marriage prevention locally. In fact, we’ll see the “jagoris” at work in coming months as they launch their own advocacy campaigns to mobilize new community members and encourage them to join the fight to end dowries and child marriage. I have no doubt that this youth-run program will help make dowry and early marriage history for Mymensingh. And, if we are successful, there is no reason why we can’t make this dream a reality in all 64 districts of Bangladesh.