Eradicating early and forced marriage via a connected Commonwealth

Organised by Rokeya Begum Shafali (2008 Professional Fellow from Bangladesh, Bangladesh Association)

Female students of Madrasha (Islamic Educational Institute) are one of the most vulnerable groups to religious extremism, conservative ideologies, and child marriage. This stems from the area’s conservative mindset which defines women as caretakers of the household and family members. The biggest concern for female students is that they will be subjected to child marriage.

Raising awareness of educational and professional opportunities open to these young female students is vital in empowering them. Rokeya is Executive Director of the Association for the Integrated Development-Comilla (AID-COMILLA), an NGO which promotes the socio-economic status of underprivileged men, women, and children in urban and rural areas. AID-COMILLA has been working with female students of Madrasha for the past year, providing life skills and leadership training, along with exposure to cultural programs and many other extracurricular activities.

In collaboration with AID-COMILLA, Rokeya’s Commonwealth Day activity sought to bridge the gap between these students and their guardians, local residents and Commonwealth Alumni, and the opportunities available to them.

Special guests included:

  • Abdul Mazid, District Education Officer, Cumilla
  • Abul Kalam Azad, Chairman, Uttar Durgapur Union Parishad
  • Fariduddin, President, Managing Committee, Alekharchar DSI Dakhil Madrasha

The event began with a general knowledge quiz on the Commonwealth and Bangladesh, followed by opening remarks from Md. Kazi Nizam Uddin, Superintendent of Alekharchar DSI Dakhil Madrasha. In his speech he acknowledged the opportunity for students to broaden their perspectives, raise their voices, and feel empowered against early and forced marriage.

Rokeya opened discussions with an introduction to the CSC and Commonwealth Day. She spoke about the history of the Commonwealth and the activities of CSC and alumni community in Bangladesh, raising the importance of knowledge in preventing atrocities such as early and forced marriage. Rokeya alsospoke on the importance of staying connected across communities as a means of empowerment.

Abdul Mazid, District Education Officer of Cumilla, discussed the importance of education in raising awareness of individual’s rights. He told attendees that education should not be limited to the academic syllabus and books; it should go beyond this and educate students on a much broader scale.

Monira Rahman, Executive Director of Innovation for Well Being Foundation and Commonwealth Alumnus (2012 Professional Fellow, Acid Survivors Trust International) delivered information on mental health and child marriage through an interactive session. She shed light on the effects of child marriage on the mental and physical health of under-aged girls and why it is important to prevent and early and forced marriage.

The top six scorers in the quiz were presented awards by the special guests at the end of the day. The closing speech was delivered by Md. Fariduddin, President of Managing Committee of Alekharchar DSI Dakhil Madrasha. He concluded that it is imperative to move forward and requested guardians not to think of their daughters as a burden and to give them the opportunity for higher education and not subject them to child marriage.

Photos on flickr

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