A Bangladeshi woman who escaped from “premature marriage”/ Sheila
On October 11th (Thursday), One Bangladeshi woman mounts the podium at an event of “International Girls’ Day” where they think about the rights of women. Her name is Sheila. When she was 13 years old, she was almost forced to be a victim of “premature marriage” to reduce the burden of her family.
“Premature marriage” narrows the possibilities of women in their future and increases their chance to be exposed to violence.
While attending university, she also currently serves as a volunteer in the Global NGO Plan International to help save women from those kinds of danger.
We at ARTIDA OUD wish that “Girls who face various difficulties in developing countries remain happy.” We held an interview with Sheila who has the same wish as ours. What we got is that her beautiful and strong eyes see the bright future.
When she was 13 years old, she was almost forced to get married.
ーーーHow do you spend your life every day?
I go to the university and study management which I major in. Studying is fun and I’m sometimes busy with that, but I’m satisfied with my current life.
In addition, I serve as a volunteer in a Global NGO, Plan International, which aids in regional development of developing countries. We act so that local children can get necessary support. For example, visiting a home which has a child who dropped out of school and another home which has a child who may face a risk of “premature marriage”.
ーーーWe scarcely hear the words “premature marriage” in Japan. What do they mean?
Sad to say, There are a lot of cases where parents make their daughters get involved in “premature marriage” in Bangladesh. Despite the fact that it is illegal for those who are under 18 years old to get married. Moreover, it robs girls of an education, generates a harmful effect on their health, and increases their risk of being exposed to violence. Pressure of social norms and customs causes a lot of “premature marriages”. When I was 13 years old, I was about to be forced to get married to reduce the burden of our family.
ーーーHow did you feel when you were informed that you were going to get married?
At that time when I was 13 years old, not only was I too young, but I was devastated that no one regarded my opinion despite the fact I didn’t want to get married.
ーーーI’ve heard you escaped from your village just 2 days before the wedding and you cut off the connection with your family. How did you feel at that time?
I’m pleased that I could escape from the marriage. On the other hand, considering how my parents and local people regarded me and how they reacted, I was upset. So, I felt a mix of emotions. Around me, this kind of behavior was regarded as shameful.
After a while, my parents figured out I had been staying in my uncle’s house. However, they didn’t tell me off and they rather rejoiced. They were anxious and feared that I had run away with my boyfriend (things like this often happen). I was really happy that my parents understood me. I could be convinced that it was not wrong to have decided not to get married just 2 days before the wedding and I got to be confident about myself. Besides, my uncle also understood my opinion that “premature marriage” is not a good thing and persuaded those around us.
ーーーI’ve heard you join volunteer activities in Plan International. What did you learn there?
There are a lot of things, but I learned how to face perpetrators with a firm attitude against, for example, sexual harassment. When I arrested some offenders on the spot, I was appreciated by the mother of the victim. Now the whole community supports us and tries to emulate us. That is prestigious and makes me motivated to keep doing activities.
The ideal is a society where everyone can shine, regardless of gender.
ーーーPlease send the world messages you want to tell through volunteer activities.
I want to instill “rights of children” in the society where we live. I want to achieve the equality of gender in order to prevent and eliminate “premature marriage” which is a bad habit of our society, moreover, for the rights of women such as promoting education of girls and eradication of domestic violence. The ideal society is where every child, regardless of gender, can exercise their abilities and do great for their own countries.
ーーーWhat is your dream for the future?
Achieving studying rights for children and so on, I want to be an expert of community development. Making use of my experience that I gained from escaping from “premature marriage” by myself, I want to try to do something, especially for girls. I am glad if I can engage in a job which helps a girl as an individual, her family, and the society. Therefore, the time I spend studying for that is the most enjoyable time for me.
ーーーIt is not easy for women to give birth and get married while also working at the same time even in Japan. Please leave a message for women who struggle in various fields.
Although it happens frequently in my society, women’s activities outside of their houses are sometimes restricted even in developed countries. If their family didn’t disagree, women could go out into the world and work as much as men do. They could earn a living for their family and build their own careers. I want them to stick to their ways.
ーーーThe theme of this brand is “raw beauty= the beauty of no-luxurious, natural women”. In that way, are there any women who you think are beautiful? Which feature of them do you regard as beautiful?
I think those who can be themselves and empathize with others are human and beautiful. For example, Mother Teresa and Malala Yousafzai. I was really impressed that they sacrificed themselves and did their best for the fair society and the rights of girls. I respect them and I feel that they give me power.
ーーーPlease tell us about your enthusiasm to come to Japan for the event of National Girls’ Day”!
It is a prestigious event for myself and my community. I’m glad to have this opportunity and hope that Japanese people become interested in Bangladesh.
She is a 19 year-old university student who joins Plan’s activities in Bangladesh and escaped from “premature marriage” at the age of 13, and continued on her educational path. Having overcome a lot of difficulties, She has started leading her life as an educated and independent woman.