Adolescents as a change agent to ensure women’s rights and gender equality in rural Bangladesh
In Bangladesh, 51% of girls are married by the time they turn eighteen (18), and 5 in 10 child brides give birth before age 18 (UNICEF, 2020). This is because the patriarchal culture within the family and society treats girls as a burden rather than as an asset. Thus, adolescent girls in rural areas are normally at substantial risk of early marriage, marginalization, exclusion from education, and vulnerability to violence and sexual abuse. Unaware of the unpleasant facts, these adolescent girls become mothers at an early age, and they are often deprived of legitimate rights.
In the above context, Strømme Foundation in collaboration with the community has developed an education programme called SHONGLAP to empower adolescent girls and help them address these huge challenges. SHONGLAP is a one-year education programme targeted at unmarried school-aged (11-19 years) adolescent girls. Usually, a group of twenty-five adolescent girls from a village participate in the programme. After completion of the initial year, the girls join the SHONGLAP Network and Follow-up Forums.
During the one-year education programme, a SHONGLAP group is facilitated by an Animator who is normally a girl from the same village with good educational background and interest in community work. The Animators receive extensive training before being asked to teach a SHONGLAP group. A SHONGLAP Support Team is organized for each group, consisting of village leaders, guardians, and other external stakeholders who oversee and provide the necessary support to the SHONGLAP group. This is a key approach to involving the community in the programme activities.
Through the SHONGLAP and its network and follow-up activities, the girls are linked with local partners and government services. They also established links with other adolescent forums while they are identifying their common interest, mobilized peers, and made collective decisions and actions for solving social problems. The graduated adolescents are also educating their parents, siblings, communities through organizing different social campaigns, awareness programme, and advocating their issues with the duty bearers making them responsive and accountable toward the right-holders.
In SF working areas in Bangladesh, 129,557 adolescent girls have completed the one-year SHONGLAPcourse. The programme reported impacts such as adolescent girls protecting themselves against
violence and early marriage even after a short period of participation in SHONGLAP. There is some recent convincing evidence of effectively addressing harmful social practices such as child marriage, strengthens adolescent girls’ ability to make decisions for themselves, improves their position within their families, and brings girls back to formal education in 2021 and 2022.
1% of adolescents participated in decision-making at their family level and played an important role in implementing and supporting communities.
- 7% of adolescents are taking roles in conflicts management at the family level, 30.7% are helping to earn family income as well as 49.8% are helping younger siblings to their study, it is a great contribution during COVID 19 situation to continue the education of the younger children of the family.
- It is also found that an average of 42.4% of girls have been receiving an educational allowance in six project-supported districts, during the baseline survey it was only 18.52%.
- 1% of girls received different types of safety-net support and 7.3% of girls received disability allowance.
- Adolescents’ girls stopped 104 early marriages through the involvement of Support group, animators, and local administration.