ARSHI addressing gender, sexuality and VAGW (violence against girls and women): As it may be seen below to address the very adverse realities in which ARSHI is operating and considering the core nature of the project, gender and sexuality is kept in the centre of overall operations while focusing men and boys‟ actions towards ending violence and injustices against girls and women. Understanding of all critical issues around sexuality and gender along with related skill (esp. life skills) building have been kept as one of basic activities of the project from the very beginning. Initially, through in-depth „situation analysis‟ and on-going „community
diagnosis‟ realities that the girls and women faced were explored. It is found that social position
and enabling environment for women and girls are the areas for priority actions. So, empowerment of girls and women was decided to be the approach. Side by side as the public and private service provisions were very rudimentary and the project did not have any service delivery mechanism extensive community mobilization and capacity building activities were conducted which included mass sensitization on gender inequality, poor sexual and reproductive health, rights and well-being (SRHRW) and violence against girls and women.
Our key learning are:
1. Addressing gender and sexuality in areas where poverty and illiteracy is wide-spread
participation of target group from beginning to end of an initiative is a must to avoid any
sensitivity or conflict with local conservative (often religiously) stakeholders/gate
2. In terms of staff capacity building repeated refreshers training and on-going mentoring
and coaching is important.
3. Facilitation of changing community attitudes and norms can be expedited through
collection and utilization of true stories of victims (e.g. of sexual abuse and exploitation).
4. Exercises or tools like body and risks mapping, root cause analysis, role or value
clarifications, etc. are essential for exploration and sensitization around issues.
5. Wrong beliefs, practices and culture of silence around sexuality is the root cause of
failures in controlling fertilities, continuation of contraceptives and other health/well-
being measures among couples. To address this affecting service providers‟ knowledge,
attitudes and practices are very critical.
6. Working with stakeholders like teachers and parents is essential to make sex education
efforts successful in institutions
7. Building of life skills, especially on assessing and handling risks, communication,
negotiation, relationship, etc. are very essential and critical especially for youth in
achieving a healthy sexual life
8. Peer to peer learning is very effective in on-going enhancement of adolescents‟ and
women‟s understanding on issues related to sexuality and associated risks
9. Utilization of popular and indigenous cultural forms and sports (especially women‟s
sports and games) in enhancing learning through entertainment and creativity in
promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights is very effective. This not only
expedites the community capacity building process but also helps enormously boosting
self-esteem and leadership.
10. To achieve scaled outcomes and impacts working with diverse partners, both individuals
and institutions, is a must and for this mass level of sensitization and capacity building is
necessary on gender and sexuality focusing issues like patriarchy, masculinity, violence
against girls and women.
11. Strategic and creative documentation and dissemination of learning helps increase
program acceptance in the community
Future interests and needs/priorities (these can be highlighted in the said SRH Team meeting along with other learning from the past):
Through intervention related to sexuality and gender addressing very sensitive and complex issues like:
; Unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortion
; Teen love and sexual activities/relations
; Teen/out of marriage pregnancies
; Vulnerability of poor and marginalized girls during pubertal changes (when tenderness
make them subjects of lure)
; Sexual abuse and exploitation of working girls (especially those working as house hold
helps and factory workers)
; Working with victims of sexual, trafficking and other violence
; Sexual coercion and violence among couples
; Working with divorced and distressed women: Issue of poor health due to early marriage
and multiple pregnancies, husbands‟ polygamy, etc.
; LGBT - in a conservative community settings: issues of diverse sexual behavior and
; Social movements towards ending discriminations and violence against women‟s and
; Improving/aligning impact monitoring and learning system (DM&E) and financial
planning and management of gender and sexuality/rights based activities like these.
; Advocacy for greater political commitment in and outside CARE towards putting
more/due emphasis and increased resource allocation/contribution (e.g. necessary
documentation and dissemination/sharing)
Brief description how ARSHI addressed gender and sexuality:
Bangladesh is one of the poorest nations in the world and Sunamganj (Fame land) is located in ndthe north-east, ranking 62 out of total 64 districts in terms of all human development indexes, not only consists of extremely poor and underprivileged population groups but also a very adverse and complex socio-geographic realities of majority lands remaining submerged in water almost 8-9 months every year. ARSHI (word meaning Mirror and programmatically:
Adolescents‟ and Women‟s Reproductive and Sexual Health Initiative) is an unconventional project operating since 2006 in this special region and working primarily with very marginalized girls and women (300,000) to improve their sexual and reproductive health, rights and wellbeing have to face constant struggles with intense socio-religious norms and practices around sexuality leaving girls and women more vulnerable to numerous and persistent sexual violence and exploitations.
Some of the very common realities the girls and women were facing:
; Over 80% of girls were left or thrown out of even primary schools for poverty and poor
communication reasons and more than 90% of them are forced to marriages in their
average ages of 15-17 years.
; Most of these girls become pregnant within the first year of their marriage and then often
have repeated pregnancies which are commonly unintended or unwanted in subsequent
years as they highly lacked any negotiation skills in this regard.
; Other than this they lived in unexplainably poor nutrition and hygiene conditions and
faced all forms of discriminations and exploitations both inside and outside their
; 100% of them reported very common incidences of worst forms of „eve teasing‟ and
sexual harassments by boys and men which many cases led to sexual violence like rapes
or gang rapes.
; Most of the girls reported that during puberty the newly growing tenderness and beauty
make them very vulnerable to sexual exploitations and violence.
; In case of extra-marital sex and pregnancy the girls face unbound miseries like unsafe
abortions or if the embryo reaches maturity then often they commit suicides, escapes
from home, they never have normal marriages, get involved in sex work or becomes
victims of trafficking.
; Very poor working girls faced highest forms of sexual exploitation and violence, and
often this is by their employers or their allies
; If occasionally justice is sought by the victims the male perpetrators are often blessed
with nearly impunity and rather the girls were accused or being extrovert or attracting
males travelling outside residences.
Realities of specifically for older girls or women (often they are just married young girls):
; Within marriages majority (two-third) they faced forced sex and almost no control over
their body, wishes, fertility or any other choices of their life.
; Any form of expressions of girls of their sexual needs or preferences was treated as
„crimes‟ in the household or society.
; And on the other hand from the very fragile state-level health infrastructure one of the
very few things they receive are non-consented or against/extra-choice (often forced or
speculated) contraceptive methods: temporary, long-term and permanent
With services-provision or supply sides the issues are:
; Very high contraceptive drop out and discontinuation rates
; Wide spread wrong or mis-use along
; Moderate and severe complications
The project, amidst extreme absence of state, private or NGO service provisions, worked very closely to empower girls and women and simultaneously involved men and boys to explore and analyse risk behaviours as well as „unfair and harmful‟ social norms allowing these injustices
prevail for decades. A key feature of the project was to utilize popular indigenous cultural forms, like music and arts/crafts, and as set of proven participatory tools for expressions, explorations and analysis of issues and norms to be „challenged‟ collectively. The „therapeutic strength‟ of
these forms (e.g. folk music, drama, poetry, art, craft, etc.) was successfully used not only to educate them but also to boost up their morale and self-esteem through enhancing their agencies and building their solidarity. In addition, a set of proven participatory exercises and tools (e.g. body mapping, violence and problem tree, etc.) are also used to sensitize and enhance life skills of both adolescents and mothers. Different exercises (snakes & ladders, root cause analysis girls‟
and mothers‟ deaths and violence, forum theatre shows highlighting the usual discriminatory and
abusive roles the men plays, etc.) with men and boys are done towards sensitizing them and instigating men‟s action for ending violence against girls and women. In many cases men are now taking lead in campaigns to stop injustices against girls and women, e.g. demonstrations, human chains, etc. protesting recent incidences and claiming justice and punishments.
In breaking the culture of silence around sexuality and in promoting sexual and reproductive health, rights and decisions among girls and women following are done:
; Promoting the messages for equality between men and women, e.g. “My body my
decision” in adolescents‟ and mothers‟ groups, also in sessions with men and boys.
; Awareness and life skills building through Peer Facilitators utilizing different tools like
mapping of good and feelings/treatments and accordingly deciding responses, identifying
and handling risky sexual or related behaviours of self and others, developing skills to
say “NO” and other avoidance techniques against potential sexual abuse and exploitation,
; Promoting safer sex through basic sex education following peer to peer approach
; Clarifying mis-conceptions regarding, menstruation, bad dreams, masturbation, etc.
; Education on skills for relationship building and communication with peers as well as
parents and other gatekeepers
; Special sessions with parents and gatekeepers for creating enabling and non-
discriminatory environment for the adolescents.
Over 128 community-based youth fun, education and development centres (YFEDC) have
ensured very essential and aspired “spaces” for girls in entertaining themselves and developing necessary knowledge and skill bases through regular group discussion and study and skill-building sessions. These also works as their own platforms for initiating social initiatives like stopping child marriages, dowry, violence, especially very common sexual harassments through solidarity of girls along with support from boys. Hundreds of community support systems
(CmSS) comprised with gatekeepers and influential community persons aiding a lot in supporting the aforementioned youth initiatives and saving mothers during deliveries. The project developed/initiated youth and women friendly health corners (YFHC) in the public health
centres and satellite clinics (many of which are reactivated by community-led efforts) are creating scopes for receiving necessary SRH counselling and services. Further community capacity building is taking place towards facilitating community-facility dialogues to improve responsiveness and quality of care in these facilities.
To affect the girls‟ and women‟s social position linkage building with income generating thus
economic empowerment activities, especially related skill building and opportunity creations, are given highest emphasis. These linkages are built within and beyond CARE in areas like agro and handicraft based technology, production and marketing.
The stories of both victims and victories are communicated to the national and international audiences through youth and women assemblies and gatherings equipped with attractive and
popular local art forms (stories of girls or mothers lost in hand painted and stitched quilts or other crafts, in songs and drama written by adolescent groups) in advocacy purposes.