Change Makers - Bangladesh
Azad Singh from Dinajpur is a rickshaw puller and on occasions drives a van. He is very excited to be part of the campaign. “I used to violate my wife’s rights and also demand that she have children without seeking her opinion on the issue. I now realise the value and need to respect a woman’s view and dignity. The communication material of the campaign has helped me understand the issue in its entirety,” he says.
Moniruzzaman Monir says he was a very impatient person before he was sensitised to ‘We Can’. “The poster of the campaign was like Alladin’s lamp to me. It opened my eyes to a new world and ideas. I always used to fight with my wife and speak down to her. I also physically abused her often. My children used to cower in fright, especially when I would scream after a hard day at the fields. My daughter who studies in seventh class would be very scared. After learning about domestic violence from the campaign, I was ashamed of my behaviour.
Elias Mridha works as a radio and television mechanic in Bagerhaat. His wife sews, and together they rear hens and geese in their backyard. Both their boys go to school and come back to a happy and peaceful family. Seeing them now no one would ever imagine that this family had gone through a violent phase in the past.
Margina Begum is the elected vice chair person of the Women’s Union Committee in Gotapara. Her husband Atiar Sheikh is a farmer and fisherman. They have both been instrumental in changing the lives of many families in their community. They have known each other since their youth and used to live across the river from each other. But marriage was a different story for Margina Begum. “My in-laws made my life hell, since ours was a love marriage, they did not like me and as soon as we left the in-laws home I thought my life was better.”
Meet Abdul Sabur, a student of commerce in his third year at P.C Roy University. His passion for theatre got him involved in the movement to stop violence against women.
Ambia Khatun was in the tenth grade (15 years of age) when she was married. Her husband, like several husbands, did not let his young wife continue her education. Her fight for her rights began then. She managed to complete her matriculation in 1973 and by 1982 she had three sons and a daughter. Meanwhile, her husband rarely shared the responsibilities that came with a family.
That sums up all of Subrato Kumar Majumdar interests. His focus has been on campaigns aiming to stop violence against women and gender equality. Majumdar’s motivation for social work is the progress of his country. Majumdar joined a campaign ally in Khanpur as their cultural trainer at workshops that focussed on presenting issues about gender equality and violence against women through theatre.
Leelarani Das lost her husband 14 years ago when her second son was just seven months old. Her husband worked in the Bangladesh army. Leelarani is convinced that he was killed by his colleagues but conspired to make it look like suicide. Besides suffering the loss of her husband she was refused financial support from the government. Unwanted and abused by her husband’s family, too, she was forced to return to her father’s home with her two sons.
“I am a teacher; if I say something to my students, to their parents or anyone …they listen to me.” Amina is not only a teacher but also a ‘drama activist’. She is devoted to using her power to improve the lives of women around her and raise awareness about gender equality and violence against women.
Anita Rai is the executive director of Karapara Nari Kalyan Sangstha. The organisation works for rural development with a focus on education, child trafficking and women’s rights.
“If I can have peace in my family, then why can’t others do the same?” asks Mustafa from Ranipara. His motivation is simply the belief that every family can be a peaceful family. Mustafa began working with a campaign ally last year after he had discovered the ‘We Can’ campaign.
Her colleagues proudly call her the ‘natural Change Maker’. Forty-year-old Sufia Begum, of Jatrapur has been elected every year as member of the Union Parishad for the past five years. She is also the founder and director of Shawnivor Nari Sangathan which teaches rural women livelihood skills such as sewing, embroidery, crafts etc, besides providing the women with low interest credit. The organisation also leases out 12 hand pulled trolleys as an income earning measure and offers a safe haven for the women to express themselves and share their stories.
Pushparani Biswas, her three children and husband were living a happy and healthy life in the village of Dema. Or that is what she felt until she attended a workshop on violence against women and gender.
The potential impact of media on the public is apparent by the kind of calls that Babul Sardar receives. A journalist with Jano Kantha, one of the major and widely read newspapers in Bangladesh, and the general secretary of the Bagerhaat Human Rights Commission, Babul Sardar is a Change Maker to reckon with. Speaking of himself, he says, “I am still to be cured of my patriarchal inclinations myself. But because of my profession, I always come across cases where women were abused. I often receive calls for help when women are abused.
Mohammad Rezwan Adar is 15 years of age and a tenth standard student of the Police Line School. He aspires to be in the Bangladesh army to help his country which is one of the reasons that led him to be an active member of the ‘We Can’ student forum at his school. The student forum is facilitated by a campaign ally. The students join the forum of their own will. They share their personal stories, opinions and ideas about violence against women and gender.
Thirteen year old Husna Hena shares the dream of a better tomorrow with her classmates from the student forum at Police Line School in Chittagong. She attended the first campaign meeting after her teacher mentioned it to the class.
Fifteen years of age and in the ninth standard of Police Line School in Dam Para, Chittagong, Mahawmudur Rahman is known as Shaun. He is a very active and enthusiastic member of the student forum at his school. Hustling around the class room of 30 students, Shaun has organised this particular student forum. The posters and materials have been put up with great care and it is apparent that the campaign had a profound significance for these students.
Emran-ul-Haq is the president of Kathalganj Samaj Kalyan Parishad, a human rights’ based organisation established in 1985 in Chittagong. It has played a significant role in making the Sholukgahar area a ‘healthy city area’ and a model of development for the city of Chittagong.
For eleven years worked Shamsun Nahar worked in the garments industry. She earned about 4,000 takkas per month, 3,500 of which went directly to her husband. She saved 500 takkas every month to eventually invest in her own land. Surprisingly, her husband was completely supportive, but his family was sorely agitated.
“One of my friends who is a part of We Can took me to this meeting about domestic violence. I was concerned and wanted to do something about this issue…
I learned a lot from the comics workshops organised by the We Can campaign. This method helps us to reach people in different parts of Sri Lanka with different issues, in a way that they can understand. In most of the remote areas of Sri Lanka, people cannot read and write …this is why comics as a medium are so useful.
An angry group of about 1,000 women and men from Chirirbonder upzila, Dinajpur district in Bangladesh demanded action and change in the way people and officials treat women. In an unprecedented show of solidarity, the villagers organised a rally and gathered at the police station in April this year to protest against inaction and indifference of the people and officials in the case of rape of the eleven-year-old daughter of a volunteer of the ‘We Can’ campaign.
When Mohammed Mostaque Ahmad Ronju was asked to be a member of the Sobujpara Volunteer Committee to fight atrocities against women in that area he was just 23 and still a student living in the northern district of Gaibandha. But his dynamism and efforts to establish a forum to help unemployed youth of his area were well recognised. Called Amader Somit, this co-operative society extends young persons a small loan for self-employment projects. It has greatly aided to keep the youth away from anti-social activities.
In the words of Shamim Ara, director of Polli Sree (Rural Beauty)
‘In the beginning when we went to the villages to talk about dowry, the villagers wouldn’t let us inside their houses. We had to stand outside and talk to people through the windows. But their views have changed in a span of a few years. Today, they let us come inside.
Mohammad Naushir Alam, a 42-year-old social entrepreneur in Gaibandha, admits to having been impatient and arrogant at home in his previous avtar. “My attitude has changed dramatically ever since I have become associated with the campaign. I am no longer impatient with my wife. I do not demand everything at home as a right. Instead, I help myself to water and food if my wife is not at home; I have never ever done this before and all I did was scold her for not serving me on time or in a way that I wanted it to be.
Forty-year-old Selina Aktar Banu, the elected ward member of Gaibandha Parisabha, heard about the campaign from Gana Unnayan Kendra, a campaign ally: “I was convinced that the campaign was raising an issue that needed urgent and effective redress. It is certainly an issue in need of governance and I was determined to become a Change Maker and help in my own way, particularly in my capacity as an administrator.
Mirza Hasan the Chairman of the Ram Chandrapur Union Parishad says, “My skills to tackle the issue of domestic violence were rather limited before I became acquainted with the campaign. Now I feel confident about speaking to people on this issue even though my constituency is very conservative and people feel awkward to talk of subjects like this in public. My team members from nine wards help me in my efforts. They talk to people and help them resolve problems at home so that they do not have to depend on shaileeshs as much.
Rahima Begum, Chairperson of the Purbo Kumornai Samiti in Gaibandha, says, “If it had not been for the campaign, I would never have got the opportunity to step out of my home or village and visit Dhaka. This campaign has helped me find my voice and my identity. I used to be confined to my home earlier. After I became involved with the campaign, I have begun stepping out of the house to earn and help out my family and share financial responsibility at home. I have started a small business with livestock. My husband truly appreciates this gesture of mine.
Thirty six-old Ruleka Begum of Govindpur village in Gaibandha feels that sexual violence that married women face is an everyday occurrence but remains an issue shrouded in silence and shame. “Women seldom talk about it and feel embarrassed to discuss it even among other women. They have come to accept being coerced into sex as something they need to tolerate and believe that being non-reciprocal is their fault. But I think this issue needs to be forced into the open so that women realise that they need not and should not carry this burden.
Tarek Zaman, a business man in the Gaibandha supermarket, is keen to be part of the campaign as he feels the problem of domestic violence is being accentuated by social customs and mounting urbanization. “I have seen my own mother being ill treated by my father. This campaign has given me an opportunity to raise the issue with my father; something I would have hesitated to do in the past. As a Change Maker, I now also talk to my neighbours. One of my friends threw his wife out of his home over a trivial issue and this upset me greatly.
Seventeen-year-old Shahana of Jummapara village in Gaibandha, says,” My family was terribly opposed to the idea of my joining the campaign but they have overcome their reservations after I have convinced them of its relevance to me and to other girls like me. We girls still live under the shadow of fear and we need to move away to a less fearful world. After I became a Change Maker, neighbours often approach me for advice on sick children and when they need help to write letters. I use this opportunity to raise issues of domestic violence.
Twenty-two-year-old Sheikh Masoom of Jummapara village in Gaibanda works in a chicken farm and is an enthusiastic Change Maker of the campaign. He says, “When I talk of domestic violence, people in my village question my credentials. ‘What do you know of such issues?’ ‘Who gives you the authority to speak on such issues?’ they ask. My own brother is upset with me. ‘Why are you drawing attention to our family with your activities,” he asks. But I think I have something to say and I will be heard.
Thirty-three-old Lakshim works in a bakery in Jummapara village in Gaibanda. He is an active human rights’ volunteer, a member of the local club Jummapara Krida Sanstha, and enjoys being part of its theatre group. He says, “I see violence in my own home. My brother has no job and wastes his day on useless activities. It upsets my sister-in-law and there is constant friction at home. He beats her regularly. Earlier, I used to be a mute witness to his abuse. Now I intervene when he attempts to beat her.
Sixteen-year-old Tithi Sadia Jafin who is a student of class ten at Rebeka Habib Girls High School at Tulsighat in Gaibandha, says, “My mobility is severely restricted. My parents fear to send me alone anywhere and I have to always let them know where I am. They were livid when they heard I had joined the ‘We Can’ campaign. They strictly forbade me to participate. One day, I found my father in a good mood and I gathered courage to speak to him. I told them him how important it was to empower women in our society and help them stand on their own feet.
She was the only woman among 300 men studying to be a lawyer but that did not deter her. She went for her bar examination wearing a burqua, much to the consternation of her examiners. They posed tough questions hoping to disqualify her but she answered them all with amazing confidence. It silenced all their disquiet. Today at 43, she is an advocate in the Gaibandha District Judge Court with 17 years of practice behind her.
Jim Akhtar, a class nine student of Rebeka Habib Girls High School at Tulsighat in Gaibandha, says, “I see domestic violence in my own home. My father and brother do not let my mother or me to speak up; we are firmly reprimanded if we raise another point of view. We are completely dependent on them for all our needs. But after I joined the campaign, I have started to find my voice. I do not allow them to bully me into submission. I do not get aggressive but I gently but firmly tell them that they cannot behave like this.
Asha Firdausi Aktar, a fourteen-year-old girl who studies in class nine at the Rebeka Habib Girls High School at Tulsighat in Gaibandha, says, “I am not allowed to go anywhere other than come to school. I have to wear a burqha even to get to school. But there are no such restrictions on my brother’s movements. Ever since I have become part of the campaign, I have been allowed a little more liberty. My parents actually allowed me to go to Dhaka. After being sensitised about domestic violence, I tried to stop my own uncle from beating my aunt.
Laboni Burman, a ninth class student of the Rebeka Habib Girls High School at Tulsighat in Gaibandha, says, she dreams of becoming a singer and is very keen to be trained at a school in Gaibandha district. “After joining up the campaign, I have summoned courage to speak to my parents about my dreams; earlier I would have just kept quiet. My parents are opposed to my going so far. I hope one day I can manage to persuade them. They are now at least willing to listen. But I fear that even if they agree there will be stiff opposition from my uncle.
Abdul Manna Mondof, head master, Rebeka Habib Girls High School at Tulsighat in Gaibandha, says, “I am convinced that as an educator, I must sensitise my students to issues like gender equity and nurture gender-equal practices in my school. Our managing committee has agreed to take forward the ‘We Can’ campaign and I have also chosen to play an active part. With their help, I have initiated a campaign to end eve-teasing and have organised several debate competitions and cultural programmes revolving around the issue.
Anjali Rani Devi, teacher at the Rebeka Habib Girls High School at Tulsighat in Gaibandha says, “Our school has 20 teachers; five of us have already become Change Makers and more teachers are keen to do so. In my class, I noticed one of my students to be withdrawn and sad. She often looked extremely distressed. I took her aside one day and gently questioned her. She broke down and told me she was unable to focus on her studies as her parents were squabbling all the time. I spoke to her about the campaign and in turn asked her to speak to her parents.
Sakina Begum, Chokmusha village, Dinajpur, says, “Before I joined Polli Sree, an ally of the campaign, and the ‘We Can’ campaign, I was confined to my home. My husband did not allow me to step out of the house. When I began working for the NGO, I began to gradually move out. But my husband, at first, did not like it. When my male colleagues came home he was very sharp with them and would lash out at them unfairly.
Samun Nahar of Chokmusha village, Dinajpur, says, “I was abused at home not by my husband but by my brother and sister-in-law. Seeing this, my husband broke away from the family and took me away to live separately. We bought land and my husband registered half of it in my name. I decided to join the leading NGO in her region that works for the rights of women.
Ayub Ali of Chokmusha village, Dinajpur, says, “I must admit to the fact that I was abusive to my wife for many, many years. I have been so infuriated that I even asked her to leave home; I forced her back into her father’s home two times. I came to realise how harsh my behaviour was towards her only when she joined an NGO that works for the welfare of women. When my wife volunteered her services to the local NGO, I was very unhappy. I felt uneasy about her straying out of the house and attending rallies and visiting police stations.
M A Hannan, teacher at Amartali High School in Phulbani thana (Dinajpur) says, “I was motivated to join the campaign as I see this as a bold effort; it has raised an issue that people prefer not to discuss. As a teacher I think this campaign has taught me many valuable lessons that I would like to pass on to others.
Akbar (Sub Inspector), Shajed (Sub Inspector), Jamir Uddin Ahmad (Second Officer) of the Dinajpur Kotwali thanna or the Sadar thanna as it is more popularly known, say, “Women rarely come to us with complaints on domestic violence. They prefer to keep quiet. They fear public shame and the issue becoming public knowledge. Police are their last resort because of this. There is also an inherent fear of the police as the institution of the police has been associated with brutality and indifference for far too long.
Sharmin Sattar, a nursing instructor at the Dinajpur Nursing Institute, says, “My parents passed away when I was very young. After I finished school, I helped support my sibilings. I then got married and found a job as a nursing instructor. During the course of my job, I came across several cases where women were assaulted and battered by their husbands. I found that women were vulnerable to violence irrespective of their social background or age. The doctors and nurses have, over the years, become insensitive to the plight of the women and are rude to them.
Twenty eight year old Tauhin Nahar Seema, says, “I was married at the age of 15. I have a nine-year-old daughter. I am 28 now. My husband has been abusing me since the early years of our marriage. I did not talk of the abuse to anyone as I felt I would be disloyal to the family if I did. I felt it was my shame to bear. And, bear alone.
Monowara Haque of East Goran in Dhaka joined the ‘We Can’ campaign after an orientation. She began distributing booklets and leaflets and holding one-to-one discussions with six neighbourhood families to dialogue on domestic violence. She found that women in almost all the families in her neighbourhood were victims of abuse. But none of them protested as they were conditioned to accept it as a part of their lives. Most women shouldered huge responsibilities at home and had to also take care of their children.
Dr. A R M Farooque worked as a medical officer in a reproductive health project of Nari Maitree, an NGO. He recently became a Change Maker in the “We Can’ campaign. Each Friday he provides free service to his clients in his village Kapasia in the Gazipur district. He has also actively begun to counsel his women patients on the health hazards they face due to discriminatory practices at home.
Thirty-five-year-old Noorjahan Akhter Munni lives in Dhibi Para, Balubari, Dinajpur. Breaking away from stereotypes in her community, Munni, a mother of three children, has emerged as person with an identity of her own and has helped many other women steer the course of their lives.
Born in April 1935, Pushpo Rani Guho is the eldest of the seven children of Niharkona and Nepal Chandra Som. In an era where women seldom went to school, she completed her primary education in the only school that her village Mehediganj has. Seeing her extraordinary interest in studies, her father took the initiative to boldly rent a house in the town so that she could continue to study. She got admitted to the Jagadish Sarashwati Girls’ School. The school offered her a wonderful opportunity to participate in cultural programmes.
Lailee Begum is the youngest daughter of her parents. Her father is a prosperous member of the community in Khamar Boyali village. Keen to educate his daughters, he tried to defy social norms. But local leaders mounted pressure on him and Lailee was prohibited from going to school after she completed her class six.
Shorif Zakir Hossain Hira volunteers his time to help women in distress. He has quit his job with the government to become a full time social worker even though he has two sons to support. He is a member of the Madhya Balubari Welfare Society in Dinajpur and has been actively involved in campaigns to prevent family violence. He is also involved with various awareness-raising activities in the municipality as a member of the Community Resource Management Committee (CRMC) formed under the aegis of the UNICEF Slum Development Project.
"This is household work, not a gender issue," argued Jaanu. He was aiming to convince a guest that helping his daughter cut vegetables did not make him less of a man. The guest insisted that the job should have been done by Monwara (Jaanu’s wife) and that by doing such a job he was lowering his prestige. Jaanu did not buy his argument that day. He does not till date. He firmly believes that men and women are equal partners and if both work outside the home then they should share the household work between them.