This post is the first 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 second part here.
Sabina, 14 years old, lives in a rural area of the Rangamati district of Bangladesh and is a brilliant and attentive student; and yet, despite this, she has very little knowledge about menstruation hygiene management. Whenever her period came, Sabina would always use a piece of rag cloth which she hid away, and she did not see buying sanitary pads from her local medicine shop as an option, for fear of teasing and verbal harassments from the salesman or male persons. Sabina, for all intents and purposes, used whatever her mother gave her to use during her menstruation.
One day Sabina felt an abnormal change in her abdomen. It was swelling up, day by day, and she felt in pain and very uncomfortable. Her family members suspected that she was pregnant, and it quickly became an embarrassing and lonely situation for Sabina, as no one would talk to her. Shortly after, Sabina fell severely ill, the unbearable pain of which resulted in her consultation with an unqualified doctor who gave her medicine which just made her feel even worse. Sabina’s family wasn’t ready to go to hospital as they were afraid to consult a male doctor about Sabina’s abdominal pain.
As the days went by, Sabina got sicker and sicker. Within one week she was so seriously sick that Sabina was finally admitted to a hospital. After a thorough diagnosis, the doctor found that she was suffering from a urinary infection, caused by her use of unhygienic dirty pieces of cloth which were not dried in the sun to kill bacteria. While Sabina survived, she and her family had to pay a great cost for the treatment – especially considering the fact that Sabina’s father was a farmer. It took them 7 months to return all the money that was borrowed by her father.
In Sabina’s society, a girl’s menstruation – whether the girl is married or unmarried – is a subject matter that is encumbered with stigma, taboo, shame, and concepts of women’s dignity. While there is a school curriculum on comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) that covers a range of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) issues, the content remains stigmatising and fails to address the actual SRH needs of adolescents and young people; chapters on menstruation and puberty, for example, connotates them with purity and perpetuates the concept of menstrual blood being dirty and something that women and girls should be ashamed of. This is problematic for obvious reasons, but chiefly – as in the case of Sabina – it discourages girls from learning and asking questions about menstrual hygiene, and even from buying sanitary pads, amongst other things.
Recommendations for Bangladesh’s 3rd UPR
Governing bodies and policy makers in Bangladesh, especially the Ministry of Education, will need to understand that CSE should start from the primary level, grounded on evidence-based, scientific and non-judgmental information, and it needs to be synchronised irrespective of different systems. The National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB) must also ensure that home science and physical education content should be rights-based rather than perpetuating gender stereotypes and stigmatisation, with a focus on life skills, informed decisions and choices.
As for Sabina, she now feels strongly that diverse Youth Friendly Services (YFS) should be provided to young people like her in every community so that they don’t feel afraid to say anything about their bodies and sexual health in front of adults.
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!