| Author: Yuri Ohlrichs | Function: Technical Advisor

A lesson learned from Hello I Am Parents Groups

How do you develop workshops to convince illiterate parents of alternatives to marrying off their teenage daughters? This was one of the questions posed to Rutgers in the programme Hello I Am in Bangladesh, funded by Ikea and together with BBC Media Action (BBC MA) and our Bengali partners RHSTEP, DSK and PSTC. I am working on behalf of Rutgers in this programme since 2018. In this blog I will share with you the most important lessons we learned in this.

Breaking harmful social norms

With the Hello I am-programme we help young people in Bangladesh to break with bad social norms. It also helps them to decide about their futures, more education and against being promised in marriage to someone, for example. 
When girls get married and become pregnant, they usually leave school early. As a result, their education and further development stagnates, resulting in a low socio-economic status, large families and  continuation of the (vicious) circle of poverty.

Radio and television

The basis of this project is a series of eight television programmes – titled Hello Check! - and more than a hundred half-hour radio shows on Dhaka FM about relationships, gender, (some) sex education and future opportunities.

For example, one episode is about the generational conflict and the clashes with parents and possible solutions. Another episode is about two students who have produced a new type of sanitary  napkin that is made more easily available for girls in rural areas. It is difficult for them to buy sanitary pads in shops, not only because they are very expensive, but mainly because there is a big taboo on the subject. In the TV shows, studio discussions are interspersed with videos about and interviews with young people on location. We developed six parent workshops around fragments from the six episodes of Hello Check.


Positive approach

Our in-country media partner BBC Media Action Bangladesh has many years of experience in making educational television for the low-educated. They made these programmes with young Bengali people from various provinces of Bangladesh.
We advised BBC MA on the structure and content of the television and radio programmes. I gave the makers a short workshop on the "positive approach" of some sensitive topics in the field of sexual and reproductive health.

Parent workshops

The six parent workshops are each developed around one relevant fragment from the Hello Check!-TV show. Each workshop aims to inform parents about aspects of sexual education. They want to help them understand what children are going through in their adolescent sexual development, so that parents will be able to support them in a positive way.
Even more important is to make fathers and mothers realize that longer education offers their daughters a better future perspective than an arranged marriage when the girls are twelve.
Strong social norms on gender, sexuality, fertility, virginity and marrying at a young age and the taboo on those topics and on discussing them with children and adolescents, made the development and implementation of these workshops a major challenge. This became even larger due to the fact that all parents who were invited to these workshops were illiterate. Our presentations and work forms that require reading or writing were of no use.

I was invited at my cousin’s wedding. Suddenly I found her birth registration card and saw she was only 14 years old. I asked my uncle and auntie to stop the marriage and tried to convince them. Hence, I stopped a child marriage in my family.


Role Playing

During training sessions designed to help adults understand the youth perspective, we often use methods in which they exchange childhood memories. In small groups, participants discuss with each other how they would act with the knowledge of today and more life experience. In the context of this project, we realized that this method was not effective.
Looking for alternatives, role play turned out to work well. In the role plays, the mothers - and some fathers - discussed how they would react when a situation outlined by the trainer occurred at home. For example, if the daughter starts menstruating for the first time, if the son is rebelling against school, or if the rest of the family or neighbours want to marry off the daughter. Discussing sensitive topics such as child marriage, sexuality and gender in a safe environment appears to work well.

Mothers in the workshops now speak out more easily against marriage and want more education for their daughters. Hopefully, they will also speak out to their husbands and in-laws. To help them with this, I am now developing workshops with our local partners in which they have conversations with three generations; their parents(-in-law), husbands and children.

Yuri Ohlrichs Technical Advisor