Two years ago, when she was just 17, Farzana’s parents arranged for her to get married to a man she had never met. Still at school, and with hopes of becoming a banker, Farzana pleaded with her parents not to marry her, but they wouldn’t listen.
“I felt helpless. I was afraid that I would have no future after marriage,” Farzana said.
But Farzana wasn’t about to give up. She had been learning about the impact of child marriage at the girls’ club she attends after school, and she was determined not to become a child bride herself.
“At our girls’ club we learned about child marriage and why it is bad for us. I knew that if I got married I would have to stop my education and I wouldn’t be able to make a better future for myself.”
The first rule of girls’ club is… Break taboos
Girls Not Brides member BRAC runs over 9000 adolescent girls’ clubs like Farzana’s across Bangladesh. Led by adolescent girls, for adolescent girls, the clubs are safe centres where girls can read, socialise, play games and have open discussions on personal and social issues with their peers.
The clubs also aim to raise awareness about important but taboo issues that affect girls’ lives. Girls learn about social and health-related issues such as child marriage, dowry, reproductive health and rights, gender, sexual harassment and family planning.
Tanjila, 16, attends her local girls’ club twice a week after school.
“When I come here I can learn about things which I don’t learn about at home, like child marriage and eve-teasing [a regional term for sexual harassment] and what we can do to stop it. We learned that girls have the same rights as boys, and we should be able to do the same things,” she said.
The second rule of girls’ club is… Empower girls
Many girls from BRAC’s clubs say that gender inequality is a key factor that holds them back.
“In our village boys and girls are not equal,” said Sumi, 15, who attends the girls’ club with Farzana. “Boys are allowed to get an education, but girls are taught to focus on household work and learning how to cook, clean and do the laundry. Parents think investing in girls’ education is a waste of money … It’s not right – girls should have equal rights with boys.”
Girls’ clubs play an important role in teaching girls about their rights so they can protect themselves against harmful practices like child marriage.
“We have to show parents what girls can do” said Sumi. “Girls can do the same things that boys can do, and Bangladesh will be more developed if girls can contribute. We just need to give them the opportunity.”
A brighter future for girls
When Farzana told her friends at the girls’ club about her marriage, they went to speak to her parents themselves. Eventually her parents agreed to stop the wedding, but they made it clear that, from now on, Farzana was on her own.
“They stopped paying for my education, so I had to start tutoring younger students to cover the cost of my studies. But I’m so happy I was able stop my marriage,” said Farzana, who will soon complete 12th grade. “I wish that all girls could stop their marriages like I did, so that they can get an education and have a better future.”
In the time it has taken to read this article 34 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 2 seconds