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How Surma learned to advocate for sexual and reproductive health rights – and exercise her own

October 1st, 2022

When Surma was only 12, her father died and her mother got sick: her left side (hand and leg) became paralysed, and she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Even though Surma was a good student and a quick learner, she had to leave school to help her mother. Her brothers then sold the portion of land that their father had left them.

Representative photo

Two years later, when Surma was 14, her brothers forced her to marry an 18-year-old from a nearby village. Surma’s mother agreed to this because she wanted Surma to get married before she died. Surma then had to leave her home and mother behind as she moved to the Majhandga village in the Sadar Upazila of Dinajpur district, with her husband and in-laws. 

Surma and her in-laws live in a village where houses are constructed with a mixture of clay, sand, and straw. Surma’s family have a fence made out of straw and a tin roof; the kitchen is in the yard and the toilet is outside. Members of their community are mostly farmers, van and auto-rickshaw pullers (like Surma’s husband), and day labourers.

Neither Surma or her husband knew anything about contraception, hygiene management or family planning: within a year of marriage Surma gave birth to a girl. During pregnancy and after having her baby, Surma was the one doing the household chores. Every day, Surma cleans all the rooms and prepares food for herself, her husband, her parents-in-law and sister-in-law, without any help from anyone. The huge amount of responsibilities prevented Surma from feeding her baby on time, thus ignoring her own and the baby’s needs. 

Luckily, Surma was identified by Nuffic project staff. Ms. Kamron Nahar, Master Trainer of Pollisree, was advocating for sexual and reproductive health rights and against gender-based violence when Surma met her at her cousin’s house. 

After taking part in the project, Surma was selected as a Change Maker in the group of Early Married Girls (EMG). The Nuffic team focuses on strengthening capacity, teaches advocacy and negotiation skills; and raises awareness on sexual and gender-based violence, sexuality, sexual and reproductive rights, and the importance of mental wellbeing. Surma, her husband and her family all needed knowledge about the previous topics. 

Surma is still in touch with a Trainer from the Nuffic Project and other EMGs in her community. 

Her husband and her parents in-law also took part in the project: monthly meetings with them are organised and conducted. As a result, Surma convinced her husband to take birth spacing into account, and they discussed contraception and family planning. In addition, her in-laws now also understand sexual and reproductive rights. 

Surma is now a Change Maker that advocates for sexual and reproductive rights in her community, while also exercising her own. She is capable of providing opinions on the issue and making decisions. With her support, her husband bought an auto-rickshaw. He takes her to the community clinic regularly, or her in-laws do when he is not available. In addition, although she still has to do most of the house chores, Surma’s coping ability has increased. 

“I realized that the Nuffic project can help us in providing opinions for having choices and decision making for sexual and reproductive health and rights […]. I regained my dream and proved myself as a Change-Maker from Early Married Girls (EMGs), advocating for others through the Nuffic project – that makes me happy,” said Surma. She also pointed out that she never wants her daughter to face early marriage. 

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