This interview was part of a two-article series aimed at presenting and showcasing one of the projects that Time for Equality has chosen to support in the frame of their ‘Take Action‘ mission. The first article, introducing Siddika Ahmed, can be read here.
In line with the Millenium Development Goal 3 to “promote gender equality and empower women”, Breaking the Cycle UK aims to give young girls from disadvantaged families and geographical areas in Bangladesh a better chance in life through better access to information and education. The form of support provided includes meeting the financial costs for school fees, exam fees, uniforms, books, tiffin and travel costs.
Siddika Ahmed, founder of this initiative, points out on the organisation’s website that ”daughters in Bangladesh are not generally given priority over sons in families, particularly where money is tight, thus, families, including the girls themselves, sacrifice their education to facilitate the sons.”
By addressing this type of inequality in Sylhet, Breaking the Cycle UK promotes the long-term advantages that come from improving opportunities for girls. ”Practical support for girls of secondary education age to access higher level education and the value of increased literacy and educational attainment will be demonstrated through their ability to help their families access and put into practice advice on healthy living and civic rights, as well as improving their chances for gaining meaningful employment.”
The beneficiaries are girls who are academically bright in secondary education and thanks to this support programme, some 35 girls have already been given the opportunity to advance their studies and be better prepared for their life ahead.
The cost to change the future of each girl is £10 per month or £120 per annum and donations can be made via the Breaking the Cycle UK website here.
Time for Equality talked to Siddika Ahmed about Breaking the Cycle UK and girls’ access to education in an interview conducted in May 2014.
‘‘Breaking the Cycle’’ supports girls of secondary school age, from financially deprived backgrounds in the Greater Sylhet District of Bangladesh. Why did you choose this particular area in Bangladesh?
”My family heritage is Bangladeshi. I was born in Sylhet and did not come to live in the UK until I was 4 years old. Also I discovered through my research that a lot of the funds from International Aid did not reach the Greater Sylhet District but the “lions share” of funds was spent in the Dhaka region.
I felt that both these factors were important in choosing location as well as the identified need for support for girls who are not able to continue education due to poverty.”
How can a UK-based not-for-profit organisation promote social change and particularly help local communities of young girls in Bangladesh? What has ‘‘Breaking the Cycle’’ achieved so far?
”Social change is created through empowerment of those who feel they have no power or “voice”. Access to and completion of education is a key starting point to meet these needs. I believe that our girls will help others and their children will have better opportunities. Just as a small stone can create a ripple effect that spreads across a pool, Breaking the Cycle UK can do the same through the progress of our girls.
So far, we have 35 girls on our programme of support with 40 more places that will be filled by the end of this year. I feel we have started the “ripple effect”.”
What was the initial reaction to this project from the locals’ point of view?
”My initial fear that there would be a negative reaction to my aims with Breaking the Cycle was unfounded.
The fact that I was born in Sylhet, the region of Bangladesh in which Breaking the Cycle UK is working, was a good start to our conversation and furthermore, I can speak the local dialect of Bangla which was a great “crowd pleaser”.
I had begun with a great strategic presentation written in English about the value of education and how it can improve the future prospects of girls –particularly- if they are currently living in economic disadvantage. However, when I asked the audience whether they were happy with English or preferred me to speak in Bangla about the background, aims and objectives of Breaking the Cycle UK, they asked for me to deliver my presentation in Bangla. Once I started speaking Sylheti, the smiles just spread throughout the room and they welcomed the “returning daughter of Sylhet” with a positive and supportive response.
The audience made up of families, head teachers, local officials and local media as well as children were all keen to ensure that my aims were achieved and offered to help in any way that their personal capacity would allow.”
What are your hopes and goals for ‘‘Breaking the Cycle’’ in the future?
”I hope that the girls we are supporting now will go onto further education and feel empowered to make their own choices for the future they want.
I would also like to have a peer support group made up of Breaking the Cycle UK “alumni” who sign up to helping other girls in Bangladesh.
In the next phase of development, I would like international companies based in Bangladesh to provide job opportunities and apprenticeships for both our girls and for boys who are from families who cannot facilitate those opportunities.”
Women face gender-based barriers all over the world: if in some countries they may have limited access to education, in others, despite pursuing higher education, many women still find it hard to gain the same recognition as their male counterparts. Is gender equality then a feasible concept? Can women hope to achieve it in the nearest future?
”Gender equality is definitely a feasible concept. It is not so long ago that women were not in professions such as engineering or leaders on the political landscape. Now we have women in all professions, even though progress can be limited in some cases. As more men support the rights of women and gender roles are shared between the sexes, I believe there will be a “tipping point” and we will progress. As women, we need to have the confidence and belief in our own abilities. We also need to support each other to make progress rather than allowing a masculine need compete against each other to take hold. As mothers of future generations of children we need to take responsibility for treating our daughters and sons equally. Nothing is impossible, if we truly believe we can create change!”
In the words of Theodore Roosevelt: ”If we believe we can, we are halfway there”.
You can read the full interview dedicated to Breaking the Cycle UK on Time for Equality, an online platform for the promotion of equality, inclusion and social justice.