Unite for Body Rights (UBR) is a platform which works for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) of Young People. As a youth, I started to work with RHSTEP in the UBR Savar Office as a Youth Organizer from 2016. The RHSTEP UBR Youth Friendly Services Center at Savar is helping young people of our locality and is inspiring them. I feel glad to visit the UBR Youth Friendly Services (YFS) Center and I feel joyous to work with young people. I am glad to see that, nowadays young people are more creative, cooperative, and well-mannered and patience. I believe that Young people are the future of the country. That is why their Physical and Mental well-being is very important.
Puberty is a universal truth, and an obvious event in a human life. During the puberty many physical and mental changes take place and this is very normal. The hormonal changes in the puberty trigger the physical and mental changes. Sometimes these are positive and sometimes these are negative. Sometimes young people face fear, emotion, and curiosity. Much superstition plays around them, which also can trigger many negative aspects. Information regarding Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) during puberty is very rarely available in communities. While I started to visit RHSTEP UBR Youth Friendly Services Center, I felt that the right information regarding SRHR is very essential and our youth center is very capable to provide that information in an effective and efficient way. From our youth center, we not only provide SRHR information, we also teach about our values, human rights, policies and ethics. Along with these, we also provide many trainings, organize many workshops/meetings – so that we could offer exercises in leadership to contribute to a well-organized society. By this way, currently I am performing my role as President of Alor Dhara UBR Youth Forum of Savar, by which I am getting the opportunity to lead the young generation of Savar. I got plenty of opportunities to develop myself and I found the learning environment very suitable. I am very much grateful to RHSTEP, which supported me in various ways. And I am thankful to UBR, for bringing the light to young people of Bangladesh.
-Al Amin, Savar
In the twentieth century, we have seen that Bangladesh has made extraordinary progress in achieving Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and has already started to work on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Though MDG 3 (Promote gender equality and empower women), SDG 5 (Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls), and SDG 10 (Reduce inequality within and among countries) has mentioned gender equality and women empowerment, after the MDG era, our learning was that we have to emphasize more on women's empowerment. To a broader sense, as Unite for Body Rights (UBR) program are working for adolescent people, it is our priority concern to sensitize girls for empowering them.
In Kawkhali Upazilla, it is really an abstract scene to find an empowered girl, because Kawkhali is a quietly remote area, and most of the people are of minorities. So, in this situation, it is a quite common social scene for girls that they are dependent, defenseless, trapped in the early marriage, less educated, lower income family member, and so on.
UBR program has a platform for adolescent people named UBR Youth Forum where they are nourished to make them as a leader with Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) sensitization. UBR youth forum has stipulated that the forum president will be a female person. In khawkhali, though adolescent boys & girls are involved in youth forum, nobody, especially girls, is interested to become president. So, authority selected a girl as president by encouraging her. Her name is Jannatul Mawa and she is 17 years old.
During Mawas' time, UBR program at Khawkhali organized an event named “Youth fair”. In this program, all higher official persons of Bangladesh Government, like- Magistrate officer, Police Super, and Upazilla Chairman, and Councilors were invited. As this was a day for the youth, the Youth Forum President should be selected as the chairperson. But, as Mawa was very new, shy, and reserved, it was quite difficult to make her chairperson. However, she agreed to do this as just to speak at the opening and at the closing speech. Before the program, she got much tensed, nervous, and felt pressure. At the same time, she took preparation for the presentation and rehearsed as a presenter. At the time of the program, though she felt some nervousness, she spoke frankly with boldness. After that, the higher person has admired Mawa so much by saying that, “Whatever we stage person are saying today is nothing in front of this adolescent girl who was frank, and bold, and nicely presented her speech”. That time, Mawa felt so encouraged and spirited that it turned into empowerment and she felt that, “yes, I can do it”.
After that, she became the soul of youth forum, who is very motivated, spontaneous, and frank person leading the group effectively. Not only that, after the death of Mawas’ father, she took the responsibility of the family, and she bear her own education cost as well as siblings’ education cost by doing tuition.
This is how the journey of Mawas’ life changed by the effect of UBR program. She is still involved with UBR program and working to make her followers empowered that will sustain in next generation.
Reproductive Health Services Training and Education Program (RHSTEP), a non-governmental development organization, has been working in Rangamati hill district since last 20 years. The organization has been working in Kawkhali upazilla of this district since 2012, focusing on adolescents’ biological, physical and psychological health. This organization is working with different school students, teachers, parents, and religious leaders of the different religious institution. In 2012, some of the staffs of RHSTEP had come to me, and they discussed about their program with me and proposed me to involve with their activities.
At first, I refused them because inhabitants in the hill area do not openly discuss Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) issues with their children. These are kind of taboo here. As a headmaster of a girls’ school, I was not also prepared to discuss SRHR issues with adolescent school girls and with their parents. However, after their several visits, I agreed to be involved with their activities through their advocacy. I have seen that at the very beginning stage of RHSTEP’s work in Kawkhali Upazilla, people were not cooperative. But, the situation has changed now through the strategy of working with the young people and the adolescent girls and boys about their physical and psychological health.
As like as any other development organization, RHSTEP has also its own goal, mission, and vision. The process of achieving these goals, mission, and vision of this organization was/is not easy at all, rather it’s more challenging as they work on SRHR issues which are sensitive to the cultural context of our country. In this prejudiced and religiously fanatic society, it is challenging to work on changing the physical and psychological health of school going adolescent girls and boys. Simultaneously, they were facing the challenge to work for changing the existing social prejudice, norms, beliefs, behavior, and attitude of the community people.
I have seen the difficulties that the RHSTEP staffs, counselor, and youth organizers were facing when they started to work at school level. Even parents/guardian of the students supposed to hit them. I have seen the discomfort of parents in a combined meeting of school students and their parents. I also witnessed that many students and parents had abandoned the seminar hall during the discussion about menstruation and wet-dream.
However, we all (RHSTEP staffs and school teachers) have been able to overcome this kind of embarrassing situation through the strategic implementation of our plan. Now, students and parents both participate in the same question-answer session about SRHR; girls are more open-up to discuss about their physical and psychological change, selection of friends, and engaging with romantic relationship. It can be said that we (RHSTEP and School Teachers) are successful in many cases. In this context, I can share some of my observation from several cases:
Case-1: “Sir! She needs to leave, because her menstrual period has been started”.
Case-2: “Mother (Maa)! I must need that 500 Taka”.
In this level, if I holistically evaluate the overall success of the organization, I will remark with 80% marks out of 100% marks. RHSTEP staffs target and execute their activities only with the students of class seven, which I think limits the work scope/circumference of the organization. Students of class seven receive the lessons of ‘Me and My World’, and by the lessons they become more aware of their physical and psychological health. However, from class eight they get out of touch from those lessons and do not get any chance to receive this type of psycho-social lessons. This detachment compresses their learning process and behavioral scope. For making the students more mature and completely aware, the rules, techniques, and strategies of psycho-social lessons can be started to execute even after class seven. For this, the School Managing Committee can be involved, as well as the involvement and participation of school teachers can be increased.