Organizing youth against violence: Sanjida Akhter, Bangladesh

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17.	Sanjida Akhter stands in a schoolyard with her hands folded in front of her body, smiling at a group of classmates who stand around her in a circle.
 Credit: S M Mahfuzul Islam Rahat

As featured in our 2019 Annual Report Mobilizing for Change

Gender-based violence in Bangladesh is pervasive, transcending class, religion and age. Religious fundamentalists assert that women must not leave the home, girls should marry young, and gender-based violence should be tolerated. Alarmingly, violence starts at a young age and girls frequently experience sexual harassment in schools.

Ten years ago, in reaction to severe incidents of sexual harassment, the Supreme Court ordered all schools to form sexual harassment committees. Almost all schools ignored the order. In response, Nijera Kori, Inter Pares’ long-term counterpart, mobilized landless group members, adults and youth, to pressure schools to comply. Incredibly, in 2019 they succeeded in getting sexual harassment committees formed in 324 schools.

Some youth have gone further, and Sanjida Akhter is one of them. Sanjida, a grade 10 student, formed a committee to stop child marriages, denounce harassment of girls, and educate local youth on these issues. Her committee successfully prevented the marriage of a 15-year old girl and received coverage in the local newspaper. While working to stop child marriage in her village, Sanjida herself rejected a proposed marriage.

Nijera Kori youth are determined to make a change and organize activities to educate their communities about sexual violence. In 2019, over 200 girls and boys held a run to raise awareness of and denounce sexual violence. A bike rally highlighted the harassment of girl students and challenged the stereotype that girls should not ride bikes.

Challenging gender norms and patriarchal practices is not easy, especially for young people who are often ignored. But Nijera Kori youth are passionate in their struggle for gender justice and we are proud to support them.

I want to continue my studies and join the police so I can stop harassment and child marriages. Sanjida Akhter

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