Human Rights Badasses

{August 6, 2007}   Habiba Sultana’s classmates: not too young or too female to help

Habiba Sultana is a 13 year old girl in Bangladesh. Her father needed money and decided to marry her off to a 23 year old man. She didn’t want to, but what did that matter? She told some of her friends about it at her all-girls school, and they decided that it did matter. Well, that, and it’s against the law to marry off a minor. As usual, my sources conflict on some details. El Pais says a friend told her father (her own father, not Sultana’s) about the issue and asked him to report it to the police, but he didn’t. BBC says Sultana’s friends parents tried to get her father to call the wedding off, but he didn’t. Either way, patriarchy would have the story end there, but these high school girls decided they could accomplish something without depending on men to do it for them and without giving up when a man says no. 50 girls from her school protested the marriage, and sure enough, it was called off and Sultana’s father had to sign that he wouldn’t marry her off until she was of age.

There are lots of things still wrong here, and there are a lot of root problems that need to be fixed before child marriage will end. Poverty, for one, patriarchy, for another, the commodification of women and girls, for yet another. But I can’t help but smile to think about these girls. When I was 13, I would’ve been too self-conscious to protest against something and risk getting in trouble or looking weird. And this is in Bangladesh, not the be-an-individual United States. Quite impressive. And it worked! Sure, she’ll get married off when she’s 18, and there’s no guarantee that guy will treat her properly, but the girls protested and people listened and their demands were met. Females got their voices heard. Kids got their voices heard. Double whammy against patriarchy right there. I hope this experience makes them confident to keep speaking up in the future. Good times.

You can also find the story in the Bangladeshi paper The Daily Star, and I got this from feministing.


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