“Awareness is easy but knowledge is important”, says Ella

The First Secretary of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) at the Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands (EKN) in Dhaka, Ella de Voogd has been working in Bangladesh for last 5 years. She shared her working experience in Bangladesh to Share-Net Bangladesh team.

The time she started her journey in Bangladesh, there were many activities going in reproductive health, especially in family planning and mother and child health care. She said, “Whole structure of the health system was good, services not so good, human resources, not so good.” Many government organizations, Non Government Organizations (NGO) and donors were very active in family planning and their work was incredible in this sector. In fact, Bangladesh has achieved great result in this area. It was interesting for her to learn how Bangladesh government achieved that by family welfare visitors and family welfare assistance in the rural area.

Contrary to that, she added that many organizations were reluctant to work on Menstrual Regulation (MR) which is basically abortion that is why EKN decided to work on this area. She said that, MR is highly tabooed and often service providers do not perform MR because they think it is not right thing to do. She recommended that only having degree on reproductive health is not enough for service providers; they also need comprehensive and adequate knowledge on sexual and reproductive rights.

Another area of SRHR that EKN is focusing on is sexuality education which is known as Unite for Bodily Rights program where five different organizations are working together and they have introduced sexuality education in the schools and communities.

Gender based violence is another focused area which EKN is currently working. A research done by UNFPA showed that, gender based violence is really high in Bangladesh, especially violence against women. In that research it was mentioned that, involvement of men is very important for eradicating violence against women since they are the perpetrators. Then EKN decided to include men in their project curriculum to change their behavior towards violence against women.

Another social problem she mentioned in this interview is child marriage. Bangladesh has the second highest rate of child marriage and there are many social and cultural reasons why girls are being married off before their legal ages. EKN is also working on empowering the adolescent married girls. In addition to that, she mentioned that adolescent health needs proper attention. Young boys also feel different like girls when they enter to youth and both young boys and girls need continuous support to develop their life skills.

She also discussed about the system of change makers where theater groups go to community level and perform drama based on social causes. Performers ask questions to the audience about different social causes and based on their answers observers from individual programs approach to them to become change makers. These change makers get trainings from the program and then disseminate their knowledge to the communities. This is also known as snowball effect.

After that Ella also talked about the involvement of the media and communications and how to use media to mobilize people and disseminate knowledge on SRHR.

According to her, “awareness is easy but knowledge is very important”. Emphasizing on education she added that it is imperative for everyone in the society to have the knowledge on SRHR or else it will be very difficult to change the current scenario of overall SRHR situation.

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