Mariam: Worthy of respect

Mariam, from Sarmongal village, Rajoir, Madaripur, was married to Bojlur Sheikh when she was 15 years old. After 13 years of marriage, she learned that her husband was having an extramarital relationship with another woman. Not surprisingly, the relationship between Mariam and her husband deteriorated after this discovery. Bojlur decided he wanted to divorce his wife. The problem turned into a crisis for Mariam when her husband stopped providing financial support to the family, on the false assertion that he and Mariam did not have any children and so he owed her no support. Mariam and her three sons did not know where to turn for help.

Someone brought this situation to the attention of BRAC’s gender quality action learning (GQAL) programme, since it works with the ultra poor to stop domestic violence and gender based discrimination within families and communities. As soon as the GQAL team was informed, they sent a staff person to approach Mariam and discuss the problems she faced. This GQAL intervention was the beginning of Mariam’s new life. The staff encouraged Mariam to raise the issue in a larger venue, which she did during some of GQAL’s courtyard meetings and in focus group discussions. Afterward, and thanks to the influences of other community members, a dramatic change took place in Bojlur’s behavior towards Mariam and their children. He started caring for his wife and children and contributing to household expenses again. He realised his wife’s value and started showing her respect. Mariam now enjoys a happy conjugal life. Bojlur is attentive to his family and even helps with household chores. They even share more key household decisions. For example, Mariam once suggested that Bojlur buy cattle, which he did, and now the family earns extra money selling milk. Even better, this money is spent on their children’s education.

The GQAL has been responsible for bringing gender equality and reducing domestic violence in thousands of households like Mariam’s. It works through public discussion forums, community workshops, and training sessions during which the programme raises awareness of gender equality issues that affect the household. The programme has made a significant impact by creating assertive community movements for the rights of women and children, including by increasing men’s involvement in and awareness of women’s needs for education, nutrition, work, rest, and recreation.