Not just a girl, a female rights activist - Khadiza, 24, from Bangladesh | Plan International Skip to main content

Not just a girl, a female rights activist - Khadiza, 24, from Bangladesh

As part of Plan International’s 2021 Asia-Pacific Girls Report: Voice, Choice, and Power, the research looked into the individual stories of young female activists across the region empowering themselves in the fight for gender equality. Here, we take a look at one of these fearless leaders, 24 year-old Khadiza in Bangladesh, who has been working with children and young people to change pre-existing gender perceptions and notions of consent.

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“These children do not even know that they’re being harassed; they need to know this, and they need to be aware of what they can do about it.”

 

 

Sexual harassment, intimate partner violence and dowry-related violence are grave concerns in Bangladesh. A 2015 survey found that over 70% of married women and girls in Bangladesh had faced some form of partner abuse, and over 70% of these survivors had never told anyone. Only 3% had taken legal action.

 

Khadiza is well aware of those issues: “There is a lot of rape and sexual harassment in Bangladesh that girls face every day. You could go ask around anyone, and at least 70-80% would say that yes, they have been at least harassed once in their life.”

 

In 2018 she felt she had to take a stand. “So, what came into my mind was that I want to work with the cause, I want to work with children so that we can protect the future generations.”

 

 

WeMen View

 

This protection came in the form of WeMen View, a social welfare organisation aimed at teaching young people about gender roles, personal space, consent, good touch and bad touch, and intervention techniques when witnessing someone getting harassed.

 

Crucially, their work hones in on children in primary schools, who may not have access to educational opportunities on gender. Through educating young boys and girls, they hope to combat the sexism, rape culture, and toxic masculinity that contribute to gender-based violence.


In 2020, WeMen View had reached more than 1,000 students and teachers all over the greater Dhaka area, trained over 50 social welfare volunteers, and collaborated with more than 10 NGOs.

 

 

Addressing taboo issues in a conservative society

 

However, working on gender-based violence issues in Bangladesh is not an easy task for Khadiza and her team.

 

“There are religious issues and conservativeness in our society,” explained Khadiza. “They might even take their children out of school. So, it’s very risky.”

 

Those risks can include threats to her organisation and volunteers, even their family members, creating hesitancy for anyone wanting to join the movement.

 

Yet Khadiza’s fearless attitude persists: “Whenever we start working in the field of gender, we know that we could get killed, but it’s fine. What we actually fear is the danger to your family members and friends.”

 

 

The workshops

 

WeMen’s workshops provide Khadiza with the desire to continue. Although they hold countless tales of sorrow and heartache, she feels motivated when witnessing the impact of her team’s work.

 

“There were moments where [WeMen View] taught good and bad touch, and a girl stood up and said, ‘Does that mean that what was happening to me all these days was actually wrong but I did not know anything?’ The child was being harassed almost every day, and she did not understand that.”

 

One of many similar stories, it is clear to Khadiza: children need this education.

“These children do not even know that they’re being harassed; they need to know this, and they need to be aware of what they can do about it.”

 

 

Online activity amidst the COVID-19 pandemic

 

As the pandemic hit Bangladesh, Khadiza and her team moved to online platforms, working more closely with youth and relief projects to support children and communities in dealing with the pandemic. However, due to a controversial digital security act in Bangladesh, there are restrictions in getting messages across and providing safe online spaces for those involved.

 

 

Calls for change

 

Khadiza and her team’s work is far from done and their desire for change grows stronger and stronger each day. They call for a greater voice in decision-making and safe environments to do so, in both online and civic spaces.

 

Plan International’s 2021 Asia-Pacific Girls’ Report listened and learned from many stories like Khadiza’s. Findings from the report emphasise how the rise of youth activism in the Asia-Pacific is critical for progressing gender equality, leadership, and promoting advocacy messages. Yet it also urges governments and civil society to work harder to support girls and young women.

 

 

The future

 

Khadiza and her team will not slow down, they are working tirelessly to expand their network and attract more support and dialogue from governments and other stakeholders.

 

“I expect the adults, or the older generation, to not stop us in voicing our opinion, not bully us and not harass us. Instead, in the future, they will come with us to support these [gender equality] causes.”

 

She wants to see youth activists bring about change, and she wants them to keep talking about consent and harassment. With girls and young female activists like Khadiza, change could be just around the corner.