This post is the sevent 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, fourth part here, fifth part here, and the sixth part here.
Nodi is 24-year-old woman born in Rangpur, Bangladesh who identifies as a lesbian. She belongs to a middle income Muslim family and is the youngest of three siblings. Nodi first realised she was attracted to girls when she was 14 years old. Back then, she did not know any terms that could define her or her sexuality, but she understood that whatever she felt was outside the mainstream. Growing up, Nodi and other young adults like herself were exposed to a strong heteronormative culture fueled by media, be it on TV, in books, or newspapers. At an age when girls used to discuss which male celebrity they would want to see their future self with, Nodi could only imagine being with a female.
At first Nodi tried to date boys in college as she thought that this would “change” her and make her “normal.” She even had consensual unprotected sex with her boyfriend. But throughout this period, her feelings for girls stayed the same. Nodi was increasingly frustrated about her love life but thought she was mentally unstable for feeling this way about girls. She thought of talking about it to her parents and siblings, but sex was a completely taboo topic in her family. Even talking about sex was almost impossible for her.
Nodi spoke about it with two of her female friends at college, but they started to keep a safe distance from her after learning about her sexuality. Eventually, Nodi felt that the whole class got to know about it. For this reason and for fear of being mocked and teased, she began to stop socialising with her classmates. She began to have episodes of depression to the point where she used to get suicidal thoughts. She could not seek any support from anyone for these episodes, not even her family, in the fear of being “outed” in the process. Fortunately, Nodi was strong enough to overcome this period and completed her undergraduate BSc in Economics from the university. During all this time, she never came across a woman who was like her.
Now her parents are pressuring her to get married, like the other girls of her age. Nodi does now want to get married to a man, but she doesn’t know how long she can hold off her parents’ insistence.
Female sexuality, as a concept, has been ignored in a conservative country like Bangladesh for so long that today it is almost non-existent in the minds of the general public. While the country has achieved a lot in terms of women’s empowerment, in recent times there has been a dangerous rise in sexual violence against women and children with a lot left to be done to address this. Talks of female sexuality has been suppressed to the point that even women themselves feel ashamed to talk about sex or to express their sexuality the way they wish to.
It comes as no surprise then that in Bangladesh, there is no legal or social recognition of the rights of persons of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities in Bangladesh. This presents a major barrier in their access to basic health services, including sexual and reproductive health and care.
Recommendations for Bangladesh’s 3rd UPR
We urge the government to reform Section 377 of the Penal Code 1860 to decriminalize non-normative consensual sexual acts, to put an end to stigma, discrimination, harassment and violence against persons with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.
The government must also ensure SRH services for everyone, irrespective of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, and widen the ambit of national health policies and the National AIDS/STD Programme (NASP) and other healthy policies and programmes to include all gender diverse and sexually diverse groups, to ensure their equitable access to sexual and reproductive health services.
Nodi belives that if female sexuality, or sexuality as a topic, would have been highlighted in the education system, she would not have been mistreated in her college by her classmates. The lack of sex education today is causing mental trauma and depression among many youths belonging to diverse SOGIE groups like Nodi herself.
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!