"Sexual harassment in public places is found to be one of the major causes of girls’ dropping out of school; this causes an increase in child and early forced marriage." Sheepa Hafiza

Panel Discussion: Spotlight on Progress "Securing the Way to Healthy Adulthood and Leadership for Girls"

Context: This presentation is from one of the 14 "Spotlights on Progress" video-recorded sessions from the Girl Summit 2014, London, United Kingdom (UK). The sessions were organised to share best practice between practitioners, grassroots activists, and government ministers across the issues of female genital mutilation (FGM) (also FGM/C - female genital mutilation/cutting) and child, early, and forced marriage (CEFM). Girl Summit is a project of the Department for International Development (DFID), UK.

Profile of speaker: A featured panelist of this Spotlight session was Sheepa Hafiza, Director of Gender, Justice, Diversity and Migration, BRAC, whose presentation was entitled "Meyeder Jonnyo Nirapod Nagorikotto (MEJNIN) Safe Citizenship for Girls, Bangladesh." 

From the BRAC website: "Ms. Hafiza joined BRAC in 1990 and is currently the director of the gender justice and diversity and the migration programmes. Ms. Hafiza is widely recognised for her expertise in areas ranging from social communication and policy advocacy, organisational change process, human resource management and development, gender justice and empowerment, and on the rights of labour migrants. She also has expertise in the area of cross-cutting organisational development, and programme development.

She serves in a number of national and international leadership roles, for example as an advisor to the UN secretary general on the Peace Building Fund; member of the civil society advisory group of UN Women, Bangladesh; member of the governing body of Bangladesh Public Administration Training Centre (BPATC); a trustee board member of the government’s national women and children development implementation and evaluation committee.

Ms. Hafiza received the Communication for Sustainable Social Change Award in 2010 from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA, for her groundbreaking work on sustainable social communication on extreme poverty and public health challenges like TB. She was also awarded for her contribution in gender work in 2007 and on human development management in 2008. She co-authored the BRAC technical manual and has also facilitated numerous seminars, workshops, and lectures related to organisational culture and development, ethical fitness, public policy, VAWG [violence against women], rights of migrants, institution-level management and leadership courses nationally and internationally. She has been published in several national dailies, magazines and books on organisational development, gender and rights.

Ms. Hafiza obtained an MA in intercultural and international management as well as a post-graduate diploma in NGO [non-governmental organisation] leadership and management from SIT Graduate Institute, USA. She also completed an MA with honours in public administration from the University of Dhaka." In 2012, Ms. Hafiza was appointed to the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund’s 10-member Advisory Group by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Strategy overview:  "The Meyeder Jonnyo Nirapod Nagorikotto (MEJNIN), Safe Citizenship for Girls programme in Bangladesh, provides a platform of young girls and boys to raise consensus, choice and voice for creating safe public space for girls and women which contributes in reducing child marriage and school dropout.

Working with whole communities, this programme generates common respect for a life free from any forms of violence and sexual harassment against young girls. Girls and communities are now talking about sexual harassment; it is no longer a taboo to speak about it."

MEJNIN is focused on students of secondary schools across Bangladesh and facilitates community-led collective action of students, addressing boys and girls, parents, community members, media organisations, police, and government policy makers, to protect girls and protest sexual harassment against girl students. Action groups include Students Watch Groups (10125 members) and Community Watch Groups (6075 members) at 405 schools  and its adjacent areas and  sexual harassment elimination network (350 members) at 12 districts, with civil society organisations, youth, women's rights activist, and journalist. MEJNIN is working with 210,000  secondary students (60% girls), teachers, parents, and community people  in its catchment areas.

MEJNIN's lessons include those of convening parties to work for collective safety of girls. The programme aims to break the culture of silence and improve the intergenerational communication and relationships between teachers and students, parents and children, and the elders and boys and girls. It centres on the importance of collective power and neighbourhood connectivity, generated from a motivation to promote girls' right to life. "Using the diversity of perspectives in each community, they can reach the unreachable, including those in power. If communities are pro-active, they can connect with each other and help their children to grow in a protective environment."

According to Ms. Hafiza, this dignified approach to women's and girls' rights can be both effective and cost effective at scale. Messages can be brought to other sectors beyond schools: markets, playgrounds, and service areas, for example.

Ms. Hafiza closed by recognising the problem of malnutrition in young children starting from their infancy, in part because, through child marriage, girls have children for whom they cannot provide. Stunting is a significant problem in Bangladesh that can be addressed, in part, through the empowerment of girls to delay marriage.
Overview of this Summit Session: From the Girl Summit summary document: "This spotlight highlighted initiatives that have piloted ideas or taken them to scale with measurable, positive results. From sports and financial literacy to reproductive health education and citizenship, these programmes are empowering girls with the life skills and leadership opportunities necessary for long-term success. Speakers will give specific examples of how their programmes are equipping girls with the right tools during this critical developmental period to deal with economic disparities, violence and harmful practices."

The speakers for this session are:

Dr. Rema Nanda, Founder and Trustee, JAGRITI Youth, India.

Iwalola Akin-Jimoh, Executive Director, Ovie Brume Foundation.

Karen Austrian, Population Council.

Furaha Pascal Karimiko, Moving The Goalposts Coach, Woman Win, Kenya.

Sheepa Hafiza, Director of Gender, Justice, Diversity and Migration, BRAC.

The session is moderated by Mike Thiedke, Director of Public Engagement, Plan International UK.

Footage of this (available below) and other "Spotlights" are available on DFID’s YouTube channel.

The Girl Summit is a project of DFID. Click here and scroll down to see the full list of individuals and organisations committed to working on girls' issues, as well as a list of Girl Summit Charter signatories.


DFID Girl Summit Outcomes website, the BRAC website, Eliminating Sexual Harassment of Girls in Bangladesh, and Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment blogspot, accessed on August 26 2015; and email from Sheepa Hafiza to The Communication Initiative on August 31 2015.

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