In Kushtia, especially in the remote villages, young women are not allowed to do social work, especially work that would require house-to-house visit, because of conservatism, social stigma and religious beliefs. Sathi Kathun, 21 years old and Mukrima Khatun 19 years were not spared from these social norms. Sathi is a member of Dashpara youth organisation while Mukrima is a member of Colpara Youth organisation. These are two of the three youth groups that ALO had organised in Kushtia under the Young Feminist Future Project that Global Platform Bangladesh is implementing.
Sathi and Mukrima received training on Feminism, advocacy and accountability, facilitated by ALO. They regularly attend the monthly ‘Adda’, an informal dialogue that has been organised among the youth groups to discuss current issues and opportunities that affect young people. The project also enables them to organise campaigns and dialogues with government officials, CSOs, communities and their families. Their active engagement in all YFF activities in Kushtia helped them to understand their fundamental rights and their entitlements. It also enables them to get access to information from government and lobby for their Agenda. Their potentials to do social work brought them in an unexpected opportunity. Sathi and Mukrima were selected to do social work supported by D-Net and ICT Ministry of Government of Bangladesh. Their job is to provide health services, bill payment, e-account opening, and information dissemination in their community. At the beginning, it was not easy for them because their families were holding them back and skeptical of what this work would look like since they have to visit different houses and talk to strangers in the community. They were concerned about their safety and reaction from neighbours. Since Sathi and Mukrima are really interested to take this job, thus they can pay for their own school fees and became more financially independent. ALO and D-Net visited parents of Sathi and Mukrima and explained their responsibilities which is nothing wrong. When they successfully convinced their parents, the two women started their jobs as social workers in July 2018. They were provided training and mentoring on how to handle their responsibilities and study at the same time. These significant changes in Sathi and Mukrima bring a new dimension of change in Kushtia and created a large a larger-scale of change in future, especially in breaking the social norms that limit young women’s access to economic opportunities. The birth of a Young Feminist in Rajshahi “I dream that I will eliminate all forms of discrimination in my community regarding gender identities and that we will live in a community that is just and inclusive.” Sheuly Khatun (20) is a first-year graduate level student of Rajshahi Government Women College in Rajshahi. A sophisticated young-woman who finds solace in solitude. Her introverted character surfaced when she first joined the training on Feminism, Advocacy and Accountability organised by Global Platform Bangladesh in Dhaka in October 2017 under the Young Feminist Future project. “I was not comfortable to talk about bullying or harassment when I first joined the training because I did not stand against these. I used to think I did not need to raise my voice. I would rather deal with these tactically. At that time, feminism was not clear to me as well. Therefore, I was not confident to deal with it and to claim my rights.”
We did not imagine that the training would gradually transform Sheuly from an introverted person to a feminist activist. She was overwhelmed with the respect and love that she received from her fellow young people in the training. The training gave her a deeper understanding of feminism and her rights as a human being. Since then, she became motivated to start working on this issue in her Community. “The clear concept of feminism and different approaches to work on it made me confident. After the training, I realised that it’s time to act. It’s time to break the silence. I learned from the training how to form groups and networks to combat patriarchy. Initially, we formed different community youth groups and started dialogues with the community stakeholders. I also started sharing my learning and realisation with my family, especially my father. It was not easy but he is already convinced of my role and activities as a feminist activist.
A person who used to shy away from people is now active in advocating for gender equality and combating child marriage in Rajshahi. She’s also one of those young people who challenges the power structure and community to address the problems that affect women and girls. Shuely is also a member of the Young Feminist Network (YFN) representing SBMSS Sunflower. Since her engagement with YFN, Sheuly attended a Training of Trainers (ToT) and Organisation Development. After acquiring all these skills, Sheuly organised youth groups in Rajshahi, facilitated step-down training on feminism and advocacy, and mobilised youth groups for various campaigns - uthan boithok (community forum), theatre forum on feminism, gender-based violence and community empowerment. These initiatives stirred up the significant changes to Sheuly’s life and to a new level of confidence. In last Young Feminist Fair held in March 2018 in GPB, Sheuly confidently represented Young Feminist Network in one of the key sessions: Social Movements in Bangladesh, where she boldly shared her experience working with youth groups and movements. “The people in community initially thought our work is worthless, but now they’ve started to listen. They also appreciate our work. I dream that I will eliminate one day all forms of discrimination in my community regarding gender identities and that the community will be just and inclusive.” Unstoppable and resolute, Sheuly is now working hard to turn her initiative into a social movement, which will build a society that is sustainably gender-just and inclusive.