'Malala of Bangla' blazes the trail
She was dubbed the 'Malala of Bangla' by Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg at an international conference, and rightly so. Hailing from a village in Gazipur, what she has achieved does invite a comparison with the world's youngest Noble laureate.
Born to humble parents, Shahida Akhter Shorna, 20, felt the societal pressure for early marriage like all the other girls in her village. Her elder sisters, all four of them, had given in without a protest when their time came. But Shorna did not: she made it crystal clear that completing her education was her first priority.
Her resistance, all too predictably, came with a mountain of obstacles: the jeers from her neighbours and the disapproving looks of her father who had abandoned her mother because she had failed to give birth to a male child.
Overcoming all odds, she's now a first year honours student at Bhawal Bodre Alam Government University College in Gazipur.
"I twice resisted my parents' attempts to marry me off early, and this came with so many snide comments from my relatives and neighbours," Shorna told The Daily Star.
However, it was her wholehearted campaign for girls' education in her village that put her on a par with Malala Yousafzai. Although there were no gun-toting Taliban insurgents patrolling her village, hers was no less challenging a task than Malala's.
"I realised that female children from deprived families like mine are often married off against their will. I felt at one with them and decided to inject in them a sense of their rights to education," said Shorna.
President of Gazipur's Mawna Union Shishu Forum of Plan Bangladesh, where she had joined back in 2006, Shorna is now a marriage-buster in her community and also an icon. She has stopped six child marriages in her union so far.
She tries to stop child marriage by persuading at first the parents of any under-aged girl, and then by seeking support from teachers, members of Union Parishad, Upazila and police administration.
Humayun Kabir, assistant headmaster of Bartopa High School where Shorna had studied her SSC, said whenever the school organised any sports or cultural event, Shorna would come forward of her own volition.
"Shorna always took it upon herself to organise students for different events. She evinced her leadership quality during those programmes," Kabir said.
Shorna recently went to Norway to participate in the Annual Conference on “Because I Am A Girl”, a global campaign of Plan International. It was at this conference that she was compared with Malala by the Norwegian PM.
Her speech as the special guest speaker in a session on child marriage and her performance in a demonstrative act on the issue were heartily appreciated by the Oslo audience. She also participated in Oslo Freedom Forum Meeting and was interviewed by Norwegian electronic and print media.
Shorna's fight is not over yet. Besides studying honours, she works as a tutor. Her younger sister Rumana also works part-time to provide for the family.
Side by side with this constant fight with poverty, Shorna manages to find time for her social work with Plan Bangladesh. She is an advisor of Shishu Forum of Mawna Union Council under Sreepur Upazila in Gazipur and also a member of the Child Protection Group in the same union.
In 2013 Shorna was honoured as Joyeeta by the Ministry of Woman and Children Affairs from Sreepur Upazila for her outstanding contribution towards ensuring girl children's rights.
Shorna who once wanted to be a doctor now wants to serve the society by becoming a university or college teacher. Her dream is to work for the neglected children and women of the country.