Life in the slums of Bangladesh is especially difficult for girls.

In the run up to International Women’s Day, we share one girl’s story.

Many girls who live in the slums forgo their childhood to work long days in factories, some are otherwise exploited, while others are victims of early marriage. Often girls stay at home looking after unwell parents or younger siblings. Few have a chance for education.

Extreme poverty means rural families migrate to urban areas, but the cities are already overcrowded and so they end up living in slums, where they face significant sanitation, health and livelihood problems. In Dhaka, 3.4 million people currently live in around 5,000 slums.

Islamic Relief is working in Dhaka to support basic education for girls who live in the slums, and to bring them up to the academic level needed for them to join primary schools. Our basic education programme also includes awareness on rights and social issues, income generation skills, micro-finance, health security including reproductive health and prevention of sexually-transmitted diseases.

Assets not burdens

Enrolment in primary schools in Bangladesh is 90 per cent, but almost 50 per cent of children drop out before completing primary education. A focus of the project is to encourage girls to stay in school by helping parents and wider communities understand the benefit of educating girls.

Programme manager Mainuddin Ahmed said: “We want girls to be seen as assets not burdens. Children are the key to future development, and progress will not be sustainable if girls are left behind. If these girls continue their education, they will be able to get jobs and support their parents better in the future. If parents can understand that, then they will be more motivated to support a better future for them.”

To encourage girls into education, child-friendly environments were set up near the slums and interesting learning materials developed. These included pictorial resources and learning through play. Equipment was also provided, along with food during the day.

The project, which began in 2010, has seen success. In the programme’s fourth year, for example, 40 girls sat the National Primary School Certificate Examination, and all of them passed. Girls in other years also performed well. Baishakhi, now nine years old, joined the scheme when she was six. The daughter of a day labourer, she and her family moved to Dhaka from Rangpur, in northern Bangladesh, and took shelter in a slum near the centre. Her parents found work at a garments factory but couldn’t afford to send their children to school.

Enjoying her lessons

Baishakhi with her school books in her home.

Baishakhi with her school books in her home.

The family heard about Islamic Relief’s scheme and Baishakhi started attending and was provided with a school book, notebook, and stationery. She began enjoying her lessons. She sat an exam at the end of 2014, and came third in her class.

“I would like to continue my studies and one day join the Bangladesh police and serve the people of my country,” she said.

Her mother Rupia Begum added, “We could not invest money in Baishakhi’s schooling. Islamic Relief opened the door of education for her.”

There are currently 1.5 million primary school age girls out of school in Bangladesh. Without an education, these girls will have limited options for the future.

A similar Islamic Relief scheme in India’s Bombay Hotel slum is also helping girl children to escape poverty.

In the run up to International Women’s Day, we are sharing stories about our commitment to improving lives through gender justice.