This post is the fourth in a series of eight stories by young Bangladeshis that illustrates the barriers to young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights in the youth-led CSO report for Bangladesh’s Universal Periodic Review. These stories were collected by ARROW and Dance4Life. Photo is used for representation only. Read the first part here, second part here, third part here, and fourth part here.
My name is Popy, and I am now thirteen years old.
After the death of my father, my mother married another man, and we moved to my new stepfather’s house, where my stepbrother – five years older than me – also lived. Unfortunately, within a few months, I noticed that my stepbrother started to show sexual interests toward me, which I found was very embarrassing and uncomfortable. It didn’t matter how afraid and uncomfortable I became of my step brother at home, as I – nor my mother – couldn’t do anything, seeing as how my mother and I were fully dependent on my stepfather and we knew that he would not tolerate us saying anything against his only son.
One day, a trainer visited our school for group discussions on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) issues. I met this trainer, and I was included in a group where I started getting lessons from the “Me and My World” curriculum. It was while I was going through the lessons on relationships, social values, human sexualities, Sexuality and Gender Based Violence, vulnerability of girls and life skills to deal with day-to-day sexual and reproductive issues, that I finally found a simple solution to my problem.
During these sessions, I made some good friends whom I trusted and with whom I shared my issues with my stepbrother. After a lengthy discussion, we came up with an easy and simple solution; I just had to wait for a suitable moment to execute it. After a few days, when my stepbrother tried to make his advances to me again, I shouted very loudly, “How dare you propose and force me to have a physical relationship with you?!”. My brother was very scared with this sudden challenge, and he moved out of the place instantly. He never tried to make advances on me again.
Implementation of the existing comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) curriculum in Bangladesh is limited by the delivery mechanism. The curriculum is implemented for grade 6 and above, and hence important opportunity is lost in terms of reaching out to adolescents before their ideas and perceptions around these issues are formed. The curriculum is also not uniform and consistent. For example, the curricula being taught in Madrassa is different from the curriculum of Bangla and English medium public schools. Teachers do not use a rights-based approach and often stigmatise issues around sexuality and reproductive health, thus depriving girls of the social skills they need in navigating their way around potentially abrasive and problematic situations – like Popy.
Recommendations for Bangladesh’s 3rd UPR
CSE should start from the primary level and it should be age appropriate to meet the needs of the adolescents. Evidence-based, scientific and non-judgmental information needs to be incorporated into the National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) by the Ministry of Education, and it needs to be synchronised irrespective of different systems including general education, Bangla medium schools, English medium schools, and religious schools, including Madrasas. The government should also ensure provision of comprehensive SRHR information and life skills to out-of-school youth, young married girls, sexually- and gender-diverse persons, and disabled young people.
Popy thinks that the things she learnt during the SRHR group discussions at school have been a great boon to her not only for the general information on her body, but also for her to know her rights, and for the courage and the negotiation skills to solve her own problem. Popy now has a strong sense of agency.
ARROW collaborated with the Right Here Right Now Bangladesh Platform (RHRN-BD) and the Sexual Rights Initiative (SRI) to submit a youth-led CSO report in October 2017 for Bangladesh’s 3rd UPR. The report focused on the barriers to young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in Bangladesh. For the first time in the country’s UPR process, a CSO report has been developed through engagement of young Bangladeshis through a collective process. Read the report here!