May 2014—Most poor families in Bangladesh who marry off their daughters before they turn 18—the legal age of marriage for girls—say that poverty forces them to make the choice. The result, for most girls who marry early, is more poverty, higher rates of maternal and infant mortality, and increased susceptibility to violence and disease.
But what happens when a poor family makes a different choice—to keep its girls in school rather than marry them off?
That’s the story Mahmud Hasan set out to find when he produced “Inner Strength.” The short documentary film profiles a rickshaw puller, Abdul Majid, who struggles to invest in an education for all three of his daughters. Hasan is the Bangladesh country engagement coordinator for Women and Girls Lead Global, a media project partnership between USAID and the Ford Foundation.
The film premiered at the USAID/Bangladesh Gender and Development Fair on April 8 before an audience of 250 students, professors and civil society leaders at Begum Rokeya University in Rangpur in northern Bangladesh. Following the screening, Majid, the film’s central character, took the stage to address the surprised and delighted audience.
“I decided to give my girls an education, but at the same time, my wife had a strong sadness inside that she had not been able to continue her own education as a girl,” he said. “So it was also a priority for her to educate our girls.”
Majid explained what inspired him to make great sacrifices, such as selling his only cow—a valuable asset in Bangladesh—to send his daughter Laily to university. “When Laily moved into grade nine, she became very serious with her studies,” he said. “I saw that if I gave a push to her education, she would be a success. My daughter’s motivation motivated me.”
Majid acknowledged that there are serious barriers to educating girls besides resources, such as long distances between home and school, which poses challenges around safe mobility. But Majid believes that girls themselves are part of the solution.
“Girls have to experience their own success to prevent society’s silent enemies from keeping them down. Girls shouldn’t keep themselves inside, they must open up and move outside. Once they move out, the enemies will diminish. If they stay inside, the enemies will win.”
The “Inner Strength” film is part of a broader Best School for Girls campaign to promote girl-friendly educational environments in communities with high child marriage rates. The campaign challenges schools to become the most girl-friendly school in the country. Schools compete against each other on criteria, developed in consultation with partner NGOs, that indicate whether the school environment is safe and hospitable for girls.
More than 150 schools in rural areas such as Sathkhira, Gangni, Patnitala, Kulaura and Sunamganj are competing for “Best Schools” certification. The campaign, targeting students, parents, educators and government officials, is driven largely by a group of youth activists trained as film facilitators. The young people visit partner schools in their community, screen a series of documentaries that spark conversations about sensitive issues such as child marriage and girls’ education, and introduce the certification campaign.
Badiul Alam Majumdar, president of the National Girl Child Advocacy Forum, highlighted the importance of working with youth to help them create a vision for their future. “Laily could be a role model to other girls from families who struggle,” he said, “showing them that a girl can succeed.”
Women and Girls Lead Global is a three-year, 30-film media project to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment. Through partnerships with local NGOs, the films are being used to engage audiences in conversations about the challenges they face and to brainstorm their own solutions. In addition to Bangladesh, the project is being implemented by Independent Television Service in Colombia, El Salvador, India, Jordan, Kenya, Malawi and Peru. In each of these countries, films and country-specific engagement campaigns are changing minds, attitudes and behavior for women’s equality.
Last updated: May 13, 2014