Rural pabna girls hope to make it big in football
Farzana once wished to enjoy playing football as she saw her male peers doing so in the school playground. But her utmost desire faded when she asked for permission from her parents to get involved in the sport widely popular in many parts of the world.
Eventually, her dream has come true. She is now a sixth grader at Sinthiya Academy in Pabna's Shampur village and also a juvenile footballer.
Farzana and other teenage girls of different grades practise football in the school playground. They practise hard as they prepare themselves to participate in the national juvenile football tournament.
The other indomitable girls hail from the same village of Bera upazila, which may be described as one of the most isolated Pabna villages as it is located about 70 kilometres from the district centre.
Farzana and her fellow players are not only thrilled about the sport when they are running across the playground to score a goal. They are also working to remove some popular misconceptions about women playing football.
The young footballers comprising students of different grades from 6 to 10 have also promised to build a gender-equal society.
"My favourite game is football. I could do nothing but regret intensely as I watched my male friends playing the game in our school playground," Farzana recalled.
"Now, we girls can also play in school tournaments and we hope to promote ourselves as eligible candidates for the national juvenile football team in the nearest future,'' she told The Business Standard.
The teenager also expressed her confidence that her team might be able to participate in international tournaments one day as they had put their heart and soul into football.
In the remote village of Shampur, only males join football teams. But Farzana and her fellow female players were inspired by Sinthiya Foundation, a local charity, to explore their potential in football.
Sinthiya Academy's sports teacher Mithun Halder trained the teenage footballers but he had to face a number of challenges. In the beginning, some locals were against the idea of girls playing football in the open ground.
"There was also resistance from the families of the girls because the parents are hardly in favour of allowing their daughters to pursue the goal of becoming footballers," he explained.
"However, their sheer determination finally won. They were able to eradicate the superstition that girls are fragile and hence cannot play football," he said.
Mithun told the Business Standard that most of the villagers did not support the participation of girls in football.
"The students convinced their parents that they should not be guided by misbelief and that the world moves forward with equal participation of men and women."
Farzana and other girls were very adamant that they would kick the ball in the field. They also garnered support from local academicians and educated groups.
"It is a matter of pleasure for us that our girls now hope to compete at the national level as their performance was applauded. They are now practising three days a week,'' Mithun said.
Even though the girls have come from marginal families, they are also playing a role in stopping child marriages in their locality.
Sinthiya Foundation Chairman Mahmuda Sabuz told The Business Standard that the girls are performing well both in academic and extra-curricular activities.
"Our girls play football very well. We tell them that they are not too weak to play football just because of their gender. This is a false belief that still dominates the remote villages," she said.
Her foundation is working to educate destitute rural girls and prepare them to work for a gender-equal society.
"Girls are not a burden to their families and our girls should have the spirit to make people realise this truth,'' said Mahmuda.
Abul Kalam Azad, president of Pabna Football Association, said the girls from such a remote village had to conquer many obstacles that prevail in the society.
"They performed really well in the juvenile football tournament held at the district level. They come from an isolated part of the district but have shown undying passion to be accomplished footballers who can represent Bangladesh abroad in the future,'' he added.
Indomitable female hockey players of Jashore, the rising stars of Bangladesh
Mukta Khatun and Lima Khatun, two Bangladeshi female hockey players, returned home after earning a name in hockey at the Asian Games in Singapore.
Hailing from a small village of Jashore, Mukta, 17, and Lima, 19, had brig dreams of performing their best in hockey. They were determined to break the barriers to reach their goals.
They participated in the selection phase of Asian Hockey Federation (AHF) Cup of the Asian Games in Singapore as members of the Bangladesh Women's Hockey team last month.
Bangladesh secured the fifth position while Singapore and Hong Kong became the champion and runner-up respectively in the selection round.
However, the rising stars of Bangladesh are constantly battling with poverty, society and family to continue their career in hockey.
Mukta, daughter of late Nisar Ali, hailing from Keshabpur upazila had passion for games and sports.
"My family fixed my marriage twice under the pressure of local people to quit the game," said Mukta.
She stopped her marriage by the help of her school teachers.
Mukta said they have nothing other than the house they live in. Her mother Kulsum Begum works as a domestic help and brother works at a factory to manage her educational and other expenses.
Mukta dreams of becoming a sports teacher one day.
She started playing football while she was in primary school and Mukta's team of Garbhanga Secondary Girls' School brought several champion trophies at district level.
Mukta started her hockey journey when she was at Keshabpur Government College. She is now playing in the national team on behalf of the institution.
Lima, daughter of Shahidul Islam of the same upazila, had a keen for various games since her childhood. She was good at jumping, football, cricket, kabaddi and volleyball.
"Getting a chance to play in Singapore was a turning point of my life. I tried to bring the best for my country from that platform," Lima said.
"My family is still putting pressure on me to quit the game," she added.
Lima is a second-year student of Jashore Government City College.
Despite coming from a remote area, Lima has been chasing her passion for hockey.
"Despite pressure, I want to continue playing to achieve my goal," said determined Lima.
When she got the chance to go to Singapore, some people of her locality also discouraged her family members.
Though Lima does not have any financial obstacles, losing her father at early age gives her pain all the time.
"Shahidul Islam, a sports teacher at Garbhanga Secondary Girls' School, had encouraged us to play and he is still with us," said Mukta and Lima.
"Jashore Hockey Coach Hassan Roney also plays an important role for keep us going with the game," added the duo.
Girls team up with police to take on harassment in Bogura
Sabiha (pseudonym), a young girl, was traumatised by the online harassment and stalking by her ex-boyfriend.
He kept on sending pictures of their private intimate moments in her inbox. He threatened to send the pictures to her parents too, if she did not patch up with him.
In fear of social stigma, she did not tell her family what was going on.
At one stage, she wanted to commit suicide. But then she thought she should take legal action.
Later she went to Bogura police station to file a case. Ali Ashraf Bhuiyan, superintendent of police (SP) of the police station, assisted her and sent her to Tamima Nasrin, Bogura representative of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) for psychological support.
The SP Ali Ashraf and UNFPA's Bogura representative Tamima Nasrin helped her get justice and settled the issue without making it public.
After she got justice, she decided to help other victims of harassment in the district, who never dare to raise their voice against such crimes.
She became member of a team of 105 female students who were all victims of different forms of harassment and took up an awareness-building programme against such crimes. These students get direct assistance from UNFPA and the police.
The team motivates the victims to take legal action. They also raise awareness about punishment for such crimes among men and young boys.
They also try to settle issues between the victims and perpetrators through legal action.
The programme was officially inaugurated in a youth procession at Bogura Police Line on September 13.
The law enforcers, meanwhile, have opened "Women and Children Help Centre" in all 12 thanas in the district with a female police officer as in-charge, to provide the victims of sexual harassment and child marriage with legal support.
The officer-in-charge gives all kinds of government and non-government support to female or child victims, keeping their identities secret.
UNFPA has been assisting the police in this regard.
"After introducing the help desk, the number of cases of 12 types of crimes - including cyber-crime, abduction, mental and physical torture, dowry and gang rapes - has declined," said SP Ali Ashraf Bhuiyan.
From July 2018 to July 2019, a total of 1,665 complaints of different kinds of harassments had been filed in 12 upazilas of the district.
Of these, 304 complaints were registered as cases, considering their significance and 1,419 complaints were settled, as per the data of the help desks.
"I fled from my in-laws as they threatened to kill me and dump my body in the septic tank. Later I came to the police station and lodged a complaint with the Women and Children Help Centre. My problem has been solved by the police when they arranged for a conciliatory meeting between my husband and me. The issue has been settled and now I am happy," said Shapla Begum, a housewife in the district.
"Earlier women and child victims of torture would not go to the police. They felt stigmatised and hesitant to openly discuss their issues with male police members."
"After introduction of the help desks, they got the opportunity to openly discuss their issues with female police officers," said Tamima Nasrin, Bogura representative of UNFPA.
Besides her study, Mitu Khatun, a second-year student of Gabtoli Girls' College, raises awareness in different educational institutions.
She makes the students aware of the punishment and consequences of sexual harassment, gang rape, family feud, eloping with lover, getting involved in extra-marital affairs, cyber-crime etc.
"We provide the students with information about the centres and organisations where they will get aid through meetings. A few days back, the community of Joybhoga village of Gabtoli upazila stopped child marriage of a student of class nine named Yasmin," said Mitu.
11-year-old girl stops her own marriage
Everything was set for the wedding ceremony of Monika Akter, a second grader student of a government primary school in Amtali upazila of Barguna.
But, the 11-year-old girl was not ready for marriage. She was pondering over how to stop her parents from marrying her off to a 14-year-old boy – Suman.
Finding no other way, Monika rushed to the local court the very morning of her wedding day, along with two of her school friends.
Unfortunately, it was Friday and the court was closed.
Yet she did not give up. Monika and her friends then went to Amtali police station and sought help from the police.
The officer-in-charge (OC) of the police station sent a team of law enforcers to her home. Police detained the would-be bridegroom Suman's mother and Monika's mother.
OC Abul Bashar said, "When I learnt about the child marriage attempt from the three girls, I sent a police team to Monika's house to stop her marriage."
Later, the detainees were handed over to the mobile court of Kamalesh Majumder, land officer of Amtali upazila.
The court fined Monika's mother Tk1,000 and Suman's mother Tk2,000 for arranging the child marriage.
Monika said, "I have learnt about the bad effects of child marriage in my school. I did not want to get married at this age."
Reazul Islam Russel, an assistant teacher of the school, said, "We are very happy. Monika's bold step will remain as an example in society in preventing child marriage."
Monika's friends Farzana and Konika, who went to the police station with her, said they felt happy that they could help Monika in foiling her early marriage.
"If we hear about any child marriage anywhere, we will inform our teachers of the matter," they added.
Monika's mother Shahinur Begum said she did not know that child marriage was a crime.
"We wanted to marry off Monika with a local cleaner at an early age as it was very difficult for us to bear her educational expenses, after meeting all the family expenditures," she added.
Monika's father Jewel is a rickshaw-puller in Amtali. He has been struggling to make ends meet. He arranged his only daughter's marriage with Suman on August 23 night.
However, by foiling the marriage, the girl has opened their eyes.
"Now, no matter whatever hardships we may have to face, we will not stop her studies," said the mother.
Monira Parvin, the upazila nirbahi officer of Amtali, said they would extend assistance to Monika for her continuing studies.
Monika wants to become a physician in future.
Brahmanbaria man stands up against child marriage, sexual harassment
Making a breakaway, Nayamat Ullah, an honours final-year student, has come forward with a great initiative to fight child marriage and eve-teasing.
Nayamat set up an organisation named Save the Sisters in 2017, which helped prevent 15 child marriages in Brahmanbaria's Nabinagar upazila.
The organisation, which started with 11 members, now has more than 300 members.
All the members are school- or college-going girls. As soon as the members come to know about any child marriage, they inform Nayamat Ullah about it. Nayamat Ullah then stops the child marriage attempt by informing the police and the administration.
Besides, the organization hold awareness meetings to stop violence against the girl child. The members of the organization visit various houses and distribute leaflets among people.
"A boy used to harass me and threatened me to publish my obscene photo on Facebook," said Mohia Begum, a college student.
"Save the Sisters helped me in resolving the issue," said Mohia, also a member of the organisation.
"I have taken the initiative to help girls as I have seen many child marriages and the disparity between boys and girls since my childhood," said Nayamat, founder of the organisation.
"At the beginning, we went to various schools in the upazila to hold awareness-raising meetings to prevent child marriage," he said.
The organisation initially introduced a monthly prize-giving ceremony on its funding to increase the attendance of female students at Kalghara Hafizullah High School, added Nayamat.
Due to financial limitations, they could not expand the initiative to other schools, he said.
"Earlier, we received information about child marriage through different organisations. Later, the upazila administration and police started providing information," said Nayamat.
Every Friday, Save the Sisters arranges free computer training programmes for girls at Rasullabad Dakhil Madrasa and Rasullabad UA Khan High School.
Despite the success stories, the organisation has faced negative criticism for working for only girls, said Namayat.
He said the headmaster of UA Khan High School Ainul Haque allegedly tried to stop the works of the organisation.
However, Upazila Secondary Education Officer Mukarram Hossain helped the organisation go forward, Nayamat added.
Some villagers also took the initiative negatively.
"Yet we are not discouraged and will go ahead," Nayamat said.
Every member of the organisation wants the spontaneous participation of other members of the society in preventing eve-teasing and child marriage, he said.
Neyamatullah now has teamed up local girls to collection information of the child marriage attempts and sexual harassments.
Ghas Foring, the warrior girls
Nadira Akter Panna just stepped in class nine. She was getting closer to have her Secondary School Certificate. Suddenly, she stopped attending school.
Her classmates got anxious. They finally came to know that Nadira was about to be married off to a pick-up driver.
Three of her classmates and four other girls from class eight decided to save Nadira's life from being ruined. With help of the local administration, the seven girls stopped the marriage.
It was towards the beginning of 2017. After the incident, the seven girls, all students of Nandail Pilot Girls High School in Nandail upazila of Mymensingh, vowed to prevent child marriage. They formed an informal organisation with the cooperation of their school teachers and some locals.
Sneha Barman, a member of the group, narrated the story of how Ghas Foring appeared as a saviour of the under-aged girls of the locality.
The founding members of Ghas Foring were Tuli Debnath, Sanjida Islam Chhowa, Sneha Barman, Jebunnesa Khanam Shyama, Jannatul Islam Pranti, Rizwana Tabassum and Jerina Sultana Shammi.
Tuli, Sanjida and Sneha are now studying at college while others are in class 10.
Local media worker Alam Farazi proposed the name Ghas Foring for the group of the brave girls.
He has been involved with the group since the beginning.
Ghas Foring had also been working for creating awareness among people about child repression and sexual harassment, said Alam.
"Since 2017, we have stopped more than 50 child marriages," said Tuli.
Sneha said, "Our moral courage was strengthened after we succeeded in stopping the marriage of Nadira. With the inspiration and assistance of the guardians, teachers and the upazila administration, we rush from one village to another to prevent child marriage."
In the first three months of the organisation, it stopped 10 child marriages. Within a short time, the name of Ghas Foring spread in the whole upazila, Sneha continued.
Wherever a child marriage was arranged, Ghas Foring got the information.
First, they go to the girl's house and try to convince her parents about the bad effects of early marriage.
"If that does not work, with the cooperation of the upazila administration we stop the marriage," she said.
Tuli shared another success story of their organisation with The Business Standard.
Early this year, they got information that a student of their school was getting married at Panchpara village in the upazila. They were able to stop the marriage. But, after a few days, the parents of the girl again arranged her marriage at night in the house of the bridegroom. Then, the girls of Ghas Foring went to his house with a team of local police and took the girl, the man and their guardians to the police station. Later, they were released upon the conditions that they would not arrange marriage of the girl before she became 18 years old.
Sharmin Sultana, whose child marriage was stopped by Ghas Foring, said when she was in class nine her parents arranged her marriage against her will. She informed her class mates of the matter and was able to escape the marriage with the help of Ghas Foring. She has passed the SSC examinations this year and is now studying in a college. She wants to become a teacher.
Nandail Upazila Nirbahi Officer Muhammad Abdur Rahim Sujan said every school should have a group of such courageous girls who would work to stop child marriage.
Rajshahi students combating sexual violence
When the prevalence of violence against women and children in the society continued to shock Nawrin Pallabi, she felt the utmost need to do something about it.
A third-year student of physical education and sports sciences at the University of Rajshahi, she talked to her friends about her plan to form an organisation that would combat violence, including rape.
Her friends extended their support to her, and that is how Shoshtho Indriyo (Sixth Sense) was born.
It started its journey on February 14. Undergraduate students of the university run the voluntary organisation.
Nawrin, president of Shoshtho Indriyo, said her organisation is working to raise awareness of sexual harassment of women and children.
"We are also working to provide legal aid to the victims. In addition, we are arranging workshops on self-defence, child marriage and women's health," she told The Business Standard.
At present, two Shoshtho Indriyo units are in operation at the Noakhali Science and Technology University, and Maulana Bhashani Science and Technology University in Tangail.
Apart from sexual violence, the organisation is working to prevent other forms of violence and harassment, such as family violence.
It has conducted workshops in 26 schools across the country to create awareness on sexual violence against children.
It has also formed human chains to stop child marriage and protest against sexual harassment, and distributed leaflets to launch women-friendly public transports.
Welcoming Nawrin's effort, Laila Arjuman Banu, student adviser at the University of Rajshahi, said Shoshtho Indriyo is doing a good job to make people aware of violence against women and children.
"Sexual harassment has become a social disease. In order to tackle this, families have to be conscious first. Discussing the matter with children is also important," she added.