Photos: Nahid Farhan Ridoy
“Allah has given me three daughters. They are ten, six and two years old respectively. In my village daughters are often seen as liability and treated harshly. My neighbours and friends also laugh at me for having no son,” says Abul Kalam, a farmer living in a remote village called Haripur under Gangachora upazila of Rangpur district. "My mother used to rebuke my wife for giving birth to three daughters, one after another. Out of my anxiety about my daughters' future, I also used to act roughly with my wife and daughters. I used to think that I was in deep crisis and I have no other option except for begging or robbing, to feed my family,”
However, Abul has come out of this desperate mental situation thanks to an initiative called Prio Baba Campaign organised by Centre for Men and Masculinities Studies (CMMS) and funded by Promundo US as part of an action research initiative -- conducting awareness campaigns in five districts of Bangladesh. The campaign involves mostly fathers to sensitise them about family planning, rights of the wife and children and bad impacts of domestic violence. Organisers of the campaign arrange workshops and courtyard meetings with fathers to create self-reflection through a very attractive and interactive way.
“I had attended the courtyard meeting just out of curiosity where a baul (folk singer) was singing and explaining how we should treat our wives. I liked the words he said and started to attend every meeting afterwards. Now, I am hopeful about the future of my daughters because I have realised that even though I am not that rich, I can still raise a planned family. It is also possible for me to educate my daughters and ensure a better future,” says a hopeful Abul.
Like Abul, hundreds of fathers in the villages of Gangachara Upazila have been attending the community dialogues and bringing about ground-breaking changes in their families.
Not only in the villages, changes are visible in Rangpur city as well where the Prio Baba activists have been organising sessions in several spots including the Bihari settlements of the city. Md Shaheen, a facilitator of the workshop who is also a member of the Bihari community says, “Among Biharis, beating the wife has always been a regular custom. Even female victims do not think it a crime and tolerate inhuman torture silently. Through our sessions, we are trying to change this brutal custom that has been going on for generations.”
Three days a week, the organisers arrange workshop sessions with pictorial content, folk songs, video presentations and participatory activities to motivate fathers to establish good practices in the family. The organisers also bring in 'role models' who share their inspiring stories with the participants. One of the role models is Habibur Rahman who is the father of eight daughters and all of them are well educated and most of them are working.
Habibur says, “I was a poor farmer but I managed to educate my daughters with my hard earned income. Sometimes I had nothing to eat, sometimes I had no money to repair my house and sometimes I had to take loans but I was determined to provide everything for my daughters' education. Now, my well employed daughters are taking very good care of me and my wife. We do not depend on anyone else, neither do we demand anything more!"
“When I share my story with the workshop participants, I feel very happy and satisfied. I hope they will be inspired to treat their children equally,” shares Habibur.
To date, Prio Baba is being implemented in five districts. The increasing rate of child marriage, domestic violence and gender based injustices in Bangladesh is alarming and suggests that campaigns of this kind should be disseminated all over the country with more resources and capacity.
Dr Sayed Saikh Imtiaz, the executive director (honorary) of CMMS says, “We are trying to develop and test a community dialogue initiative involving fathers to stop violence at the household. The uniqueness of this initiative is to involve fathers as role models who have educated their daughters, did not marry them off at an early age and performed their household responsibilities.”
“We want to see whether their life histories and face-to-face interaction can inspire the young fathers to be different. If this pilot works well we want to replicate it all over the country,” adds Sayed. We hope that his vision will come true and the initiative will continue with more engaging activities for the fathers of our country.