“Knowledge is power”
These words are from Ripu Akther, aged 16, in Bangladesh. “I want to spread the light of education everywhere in my village,” she adds. “I dream of becoming a good teacher. My village is off the beaten track, and few people here have an education – most women can’t read. That’s why I want to become a teacher and educate other people.”
The path to this point has been anything but smooth for Ripu. Just like most people in the village, her family is conservative, and opportunities for girls to get an education are minimal.
Ripu’s brother, who is head of the family, planned for Ripu’s wedding when she was just 16. When Ripu protested, her brother decided that the wedding would be held just three days later and kept constant watch over Ripu so that she couldn’t escape.
Revealed her brother's plans
In this difficult situation, Ripu recalled a meeting that the organization Gender Development Forum had held, where she learned that the lowest permissible age for marriage is 18. Fortunately, she had a phone number for the organization’s members that she contacted, and she told them about her brother’s plans for her.
When the family subsequently received a visit from the organization’s members, her brother was initially indignant, but they persisted and eventually managed to convince him to cancel the wedding.
Retained freedom creates ripples
“I’m now continuing my education,” says Ripu. “I dream of a bright future.”
But her story doesn’t just end there. Ripu has now become so committed to the issue that she is spreading information to change attitudes in society towards child marriage and the right of girls to education.
“Child marriage is bad for me, but also for other girls. When a girl gets married, she has to finish school and it destroys her health, increasing the risk of maternal mortality and being afflicted by other physical problems. So I’ve decided to help every single girl avoid being married off.”
Open meetings about gender equality
The need for commitment to this issue is huge – 66 per cent of all girls in Bangladesh are married off before they reach the age of 18. In 2016 Diakonia’s partner organization began to hold open meetings in collaboration with the organization Gender Development Forum, at which they increase the level of knowledge about gender equality, women’s rights, family law and the risks of child marriage.