By Rafiqul Alam Khan
In the early 70s’ birth per women constituted above 7 percent in Bangladesh, but according to World Bank the rate in 2017 is just 2.2 percent. This is almost analogous to a miracle. Something happened between these periods that caused birth rate to a sharp decline. Thanks to decade old family planning initiatives led by the government, NGOs and thousands of community workers who helped to advance this cause. To celebrate this miracle, Peacempire initiated first ever Family Planning Carnival (FPC) in Bangladesh. Youth Club of Bangladesh was the event partner. The event managed to attract participants from diverse groups including university students, members of civil society, social workers, young researchers and political representatives. The room was brimming with people. Topics of the discussion were taboos related to child marriage and gender violence in rural areas of the country, use of contraceptives and menstrual health.
First session was dedicated to round table discussion. Initially, participants were given some brief about the current situation of Family Planning in the country. The first topic that was brought up in the table was regarding Child Marriage and Gender Violence. The main victim of child marriage is adolescent girls in marginal part of the country.
Participants identified some major factors that instigated parents to give their daughters hand in marriage under the age of 18. They said, deeply rooted social and religious belief, financial insecurity and fear of harassment against women are the responsible factors of early forced marriage. Girls who are married younger stay home earlier, drop out of school sooner, and end up losing their dreams to the manacles of illiteracy, poverty, illness, and, ultimately, powerlessness. The discussion heated up when one participant, a lawyer, brought up the issue of newly introduced marital law that has been passed by the Bangladeshi parliament. This law has a particular provision that reads girls can be married off before 18 under special circumstances. Thus the minimum age has been tricked into a loophole. Everyone agreed that, this law should be reformed and chanted a slogan saying – “For Girls and Boys: Marriage is not before 18 and 21 respectively.”
One of the instructors, Rafiqul Alam Khan, happens to be a nominee of “120under40- a platform to select next generation 120 family planning leaders aged under 40”. A political representative, who raised question how he can use 120under40 platform to collaborate with government led initiative. He replied that, his project “Peacempire” is aligned with the goals of the Bangladesh government that to reduce the rate of marriage under age 18 to drop to one-third by 2021. So, they’re implicitly collaborating with government led policies by incorporating it into their long term goals.
Sanzida Zaman, General Secretary of Youth Club of Bangladesh, discussed the topics of menstruation health rights. She elaborated: “Men in Bangladesh are disgusted about the idea of menstruation — a natural process every female goes through in her reproductive years. Prevalent misogyny forced girls to stay inside home during their menstrual period makes the term a taboo. So, we have very little scope to talk about it openly. Even, the chapters in our secondary school textbooks regarding menstruation are deliberately skipped by the teachers. But I have no shame in recognizing the fact and I feel proud of it. Because this is the reason that men are born.”
Most interesting part of Family Planning Carnival started right after the round table discussion. Participants were invited to an open house interview. Where the floor is open and anybody can talk about any particular aspect of Family Planning for 40 seconds. The open house ran for 15 minutes, and interesting ideas came up. One of the participants said that men should bear the burden of vasectomy equally as there is evidence that usually more women go through tubectomy than man. Another participant stated that new methods of contraceptives should be introduced in Bangladeshi society but he didn’t clarified what he meant. One of them also argued on the effectiveness of contraceptive pills and criticized about risk associated with it. Participants also expressed that the activities of Family Planning should be broadened and inclusive to marginalized society.
[Rafiqul Alam Khan is a 2017 nominee for the 120Under40 award and President of Peacempire. He can be reached at [email protected]]