“Even a few years ago, my parents did not allow me to leave the house. I was not allowed to go anywhere with my friends, and going anywhere alone was out of the question.”
This is how Salma recounts her parents’ past attitude toward her and the circumstances in which she grew up. She adds, “It was unacceptable for girls and women in the family to go out and socialise with others. No one in my family was open-minded when it came to girls having agency.”
Salma is a 16-year-old girl from the port city of Chittagong in Bangladesh. Despite her past recollections, today Salma has risen victorious from her circumstances and changed the trajectory of her life. Salma was once a sponsored child of World Vision Bangladesh but is now a pioneering leader of her community’s child forum.
Salma’s circumstances reflect those of most girls from lower-middle-class families in Bangladesh. Most of these girls go from the four walls of their homes to the altar before they get the chance to enter adolescence. Before long, these underage and unprepared girls become pregnant and take on the responsibility for another life that they do not have the personal strength or resources to care for. Due to poor health and lack of proper maternal care, many do not survive childbirth. This perpetual cycle is commonplace in the lives of generations of girls and women.
Bangladesh still has the horrifying practice of female infanticide or discarding female infants in garbage bins. According to a report by the United Nations, more than 140 million female fetuses were aborted by parents hoping for a male child in 2019 alone. Female infanticide, selective abortion, and child marriage are all ways by which families living in poverty reduce the ‘burden’ of having to feed and clothe girl children.
In Salma’s family, girls and boys were treated very differently. Boys received more food, attention, and encouragement to pursue opportunities in life. Salma says, “When the question of educating the girls came up, my family claimed to be unable to afford it.”
Salma was prevented from leaving the house or doing anything social. But today, she has come a long way and become a leader in advocating for social justice for girls, using her own experiences to bolster her conviction to fight.
“My parents received training on child rights and the rights of the girl child from World Vision. They have learned that girls deserve equal rights with boys,” says Salma.
Parents from all over Salma’s community received the same training as her parents and have aspired to bring change to their thinking and behaviour. As a result, girls and boys are now making progress in education, sports, arts and culture in Salma’s community.
Salma says, “Our parents no longer hold us back. We go to school and participate in many creative and social activities. They see us as equal to boys.”
Salma is currently the general secretary of her community’s child forum committee. She says, “We have very high hopes about the work we will do in this committee. We want to improve our community in every way possible. I want to create opportunities for those deprived of education to go to school. We also want to make parents aware of the importance of education.”
Salma also hopes to stop child marriage and child abuse in her community completely through her activism. She and 15 members of her child forum are working tirelessly to make this dream come true. They also set aside money from their allowance every month, which they donate to causes for those in need at the end of each month.
Salma says, “Last Ramadan, we distributed food among those who could not afford to break their fast. Next, we want to start an initiative of providing educational materials to children from families who cannot afford school supplies.”
Salma wants to become a teacher so that she can ensure a brighter future for the children of her community. She wants to break the myths surrounding the poor treatment of girls and help them grow up educated and capable of fulfilling their dreams.
For more than 50 years, World Vision has empowered millions of girls and helped them reach their dreams all over the world.