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Govt, non-govt steps help raise women awareness

Published : 25 May 2024 10:59 PM

Saima Akhter, aged about 18, was once withdrawn from school while studying in the fourth grade as her family planned to marry her with an elderly person thinking about her "safety".

But, child Saima protested and foiled the plan. Now, she is studying in college and wants to be self-reliant after completing her studies.

Not only Saima, the girls in the northern part of the country are becoming aware of their rights day by day. Now, they do protest if any unfair decision is given by their family. Some voluntary organizations are helping the girls in this regard due to the public welfare measures of the current government.

An organization named "Kishore Abhijan", funded by UNICEF, has launched an education program for teenagers in Rangpur and the northern region on gender inequality, gender, child marriage, 

reproductive health and child labor along with some other issues.

So, teenagers like Saima in that area now know about their rights.

Kishore Abhijan, who is working to make women aware of their rights through the "Interactive Popular Theatre" method, wants to change the conventional mindset of society about gender.

Besides, various social issues of local level are being presented to the people through folk media such as popular folk tales, traditional songs, dances and dramas where society's policy makers and administrative officials are used to present.

Center for Mass Education in Science of Rangpur carries out campaigns against the dowry system in front of common people through acting. They also highlight the necessity of women's engagement in work.

According to Bangladesh Mahila Parishad (BMP), some 330 women were killed in Bangladesh in 2011 due to dowry-related violence, while 137 were killed in the previous year and 439 such incidents happened in 2013.

Mohammad Rashed of the Center for Mass Education in Science said in the interview that this campaign in the traditional way with everyone's participation has become very useful and many sad incidents have been possible to avoid through this. Awareness has increased among the public about the health of women and children alongside prevention of violence against them, he added.

UNICEF says that the positive results of these activities are already available. The country's six lakh youths, of which 60 percent are teenagers, have now learned first-hand about the appropriate age for marriage, the importance of education and family planning. It has also improved reproductive health.

Non-government organization, Unnayan Onneshan conducted an interview based survey and it found in their report that since 2010, the practice of dowry has been decreasing in Bangladesh. The percentage of girls going to school has also risen because of the policies and strategies to increase the rate of female education.

However, there is still a disparity in women's education in urban and rural areas. Over 97 percent of girls now attend primary school, which is the highest in the developing world.

State Minister for Women and Children Affairs Simin Hossain Rimi said Bangladesh is a model country in the world for women's empowerment, but child marriage is shameful in this country and "by all means we must prevent child marriage".

"The government has taken a detailed action plan to prevent child marriage," she said, adding, "Two objectives are being worked on. One is to rehabilitate street children, while the other is to prevent child marriage."

Meanwhile, the country's progress in the field of reproductive health education is noticeable. Now, 23 percent of mothers in villages give birth in the presence of trained midwives. In the nineties, this rate was only 5 percent.

After 1975, only 8 percent of women used the birth control method, but this rate rose to 65 percent in 2024.

Public health expert Dr. Nazneen Akhter noted that Bangladesh's success in the health sector has increased significantly.

Mentioning that now the maternal mortality rate along with infant mortality rate has declined significantly, she said "And this has become possible due to the multifaceted steps taken by the present government."

However, despite this development, women in Bangladesh are still lagging behind men on a larger scale, she observed.

In this regard, Dr. Nazneen Akhter stressed the need for mind changing both the government and common people.

Meanwhile, Fariha Hasin, Professor of Public Health Department at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, laid emphasis on starting a health awareness campaign of teenagers from home first.

She said, "Awareness has increased. But, I think this work should be started more vigorously from home."

"We also need to see who is influencing the decision making of teenagers," she said, adding that it is an important aspect whether they can take these decisions by themselves regarding to go to their educational institutions, to go for health care or to get married.

Mentioning that their parents and other guardians have a role here, Fariha Hasin said it is also very important that parents feel positive informing teenagers about sexual and reproductive health.

She said that good research has been done on teenagers in Bangladesh, and it is very important to spread the results of these studies among the youth.

Highlighting that adolescents need direct participation in all areas including sexual and reproductive health care, nutrition, she said "Our teenagers are much more creative now. They want to make positive decisions themselves."

She opined that teenagers usually don't want to know about their bodies from parents, teachers and other guardians rather they depend more on friends. "But it is also a matter of concern whether their friend knows the correct information."

Fariha Hasin advocated for preparing a guideline that how parents, doctors, counselors, teachers, guardians or who will inform teenagers about their sexual and reproductive health.

According to statistics, the death rate of girls is still higher than boys in the country. Unnayan Onneshan's calculation in 2010 estimated that 20 female children died out of 1,000 newborns while the number was for 16 boys. However, this rate has declined compared to the past.

Health Minister Dr. Samanta Lal Sen, recently at a programme, said that the government is working to bring healthcare to people's doorsteps as effort is continued to improve access to healthcare for the marginal people.

"If the health care can be improved at the peripheral level, the patient pressure will be reduced in the city. Quality treatment will be ensured at all levels of the country," he said.

However, public health expert Dr. Nazneen Akter said awareness is important in every field as it can save many lives and provide better solutions.

"Although there are some family and social barriers in our country regarding reproductive health; these traditional barriers can be removed by undertaking mass awareness activities," she opined.

She added, "Not only the government, but we as conscious people also need to talk about this issue."

There is no doubt that it will play a huge role in building a happy and prosperous Bangladesh and in implementation of SDGs, including women and children's health, reproductive health and reproductive health care.