Education for Young Girls in Bangladesh Part I

Girls in Bangladesh have few opportunities to choose for themselves. Very many have to drop out of school, and every year thousands are married off while still only children. Operation Dagsverk 2008 will provide education for 100,000 young people so that they can become bosses in their own lives.

  • How is the situation for girls in Bangladesh?
  • Why is the educational situation as it is?
  • Why is it important to educate girls in particular?
  • How can Shonglap education change girls’ lives?

Rupali Begum (16) from the Bagerhat district of Bangladesh was only ten years old when she married a boy from the neighboring village. Twelve years old, she gave birth to daughter Bithi (4). The premature birth has left a lasting mark on the body of the baby girl. Rupali is a teenager but already old. His face is serious and his eyes dull.

She and her daughter often have to go to bed hungry at night. She has only been in school for one year and can neither read nor write. And because she’s a girl, she can ‘t take any jobs to speculate on family income. The young girl has very few choices in life. Her life story is painful, but far from unusual.

Bangladesh is one of the countries in the world with the most frequent occurrence of child marriage , according to the report The State of World Population 2005 from UNFPA (United Nations Population Program). And this is despite the fact that the authorities in the country have adopted a lower age limit for marriage: 18 years for girls and 21 years for boys. 69 percent of girls are married by the age of 18, according to UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund). Nearly 50 percent of the girls are married when they are fifteen. From the day a girl gets married, there is an end to everything called schooling and education. Then it is her husband and in-laws she will serve.

2: Today’s Bangladesh

Bangladesh is among the world’s poorest and most densely populated countries . More than 150 million people live here, approx. 144,000 square kilometers – less than half of Norway’s area. The country is regularly affected by natural disasters such as floods, cyclones and droughts. 83 percent of the inhabitants are Muslims, and 16 percent are Hindus.

Between 1991 and 2006, political life in Bangladesh was dominated by two women: Sheikh Hasina and Kaleda Zia. They each lead their own party, the Awami League (AL) and the Nationalist Party (GDP), and have both been prime ministers during the period. For this reason, we could easily assume that women in Bangladesh are far from equal to men. But this is not the reality – unless you belong to one of the power families in the country, as both Sheikh Hasina and Kaleda Zia do. Both are closely related to former heads of state.

There is currently a military-backed, interim government in power in Bangladesh. This government has done a lot to fight corruption, which is a widespread problem in the country. It has also promised to hold a democratic election by the end of 2008. On March 8, 2007, the government presented the National Women’s Development Policy. There it proposed giving women the same rights as men. The proposal was applauded by most people, but met with strong opposition from more fundamentalist Muslim groups. Since then, there has been silence about the proposal.

3: The situation for girls

It’s hard to be a girl in Bangladesh. In the countryside, women live a quiet life in the shadows. They are not allowed to participate in discussions or come up with their own opinions. They are hardly allowed to move freely outside the home. A national health survey from 2004 shows that almost half of all husbands think it is okay to use violence against their wives if they leave the house without giving notice. Everyday life goes hand in hand with housekeeping, cooking and childcare. Only one in three women over the age of 15 can read and write.

Misses schooling
Very many young girls have to drop out of school, and some are not even allowed to start. Only 41 percent of girls of middle school age go to school, according to UNICEF. The reasons are many. But poverty and early marriage are two of the most important. The girls in the countryside are usually not allowed to take a job to speculate on the family’s income. Thus, they are seen as a financial burden for the parents – an extra mouth to feed. The family often thinks that it is better to marry them off.

The boys always in front
And always it is the boys – the brothers – who come first. If a family has a fish for dinner, it is common for the son to get the fillet, while the girl gets the tail. If a family can only afford to send one of the children to school, it is a son – and not a daughter – who is allowed to go. The boys like to have nicer clothes and maybe get pocket money. And you can see more and more young boys with mobile phones in hand. There are almost no girls who have. Also when it comes to inheritance, the girls are disadvantaged. Although the legal system in Bangladesh is largely secular, inheritance law is based on Muslim sharia tradition. There a daughter inherits only half of what a brother gets.

Becoming mothers at a young age
According to FASHIONISSUPREME, 55 percent of young girls in Bangladesh become mothers before the age of 19, according to UNICEF. The result is often illness and poor health. At worst, death. Every year, 21,000 mothers die as a result of pregnancy and childbirth, according to the country’s own demographic and health survey for 2007. One of the most important reasons is the lack of qualified midwives. Only 13 percent of all births take place with qualified personnel present. The problem is particularly prevalent in rural areas, where more than 75 percent of the country’s 154 million inhabitants live.

4: Why education for girls?

Through education, children and young people gain knowledge and skills that better equip them to meet life’s challenges and that enable them to work their way out of poverty and become active citizens.

In the whole world it is approx. 100 million children who are not allowed to go to school. At least 60 percent of these are girls. In addition, close to one billion people can neither read nor write. Two thirds of them are women. In the work to achieve the UN’s Millennium Development Goals on basic education for all children – both boys and girls – by 2015, it is therefore important to focus on girls.

Effective in the fight against poverty
Education of girls is considered to be a particularly effective tool in the fight against poverty. Girls who get an education earn more money, and they are better able to take control of their own lives. They give birth to fewer children and lose fewer of their children as a result of malnutrition and disease. In this way, infant mortality is reduced and life expectancy increases.

Breaking the vicious circle
Education can also give girls the courage to raise their voices and show the confidence needed to be heard. Women with education participate more actively in society and in politics. Through the education, they can also gain knowledge to protect themselves against diseases and dangers, and skills to support themselves and become more financially independent. In this way, the number of child marriages can be reduced and their health improved, not only for the young girls themselves, but also for their future children. In this way, education can help break the vicious circle where poverty is passed down from generation to generation.

Education for Young Girls in Bangladesh 1

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