From Where I Stand: “The torture made me more defiant and more resolute to wrestle with my fate- a man’s world. The once-a-child Shorifa finally came into her own.”

Shorifa Jahan* from Bogura, Bangladesh, fought abuse itself to break free from a life of violence. With support from UN Women, she has been supporting other survivors to seek justice against gender-based violence.

Date:

Author: Nubayra Jeheen

Shorifa is an expert weaver financially supporting her family through this craft. Photo: UN Women/Rawyan Shayema
Shorifa Jahan is a Community Leader under UN Women’s Combatting Gender-Based Violence (CGBV) Project in Bangladesh. hoto: UN Women/Rawyan Shayema

I still recall my school days, especially the childhood games “gadol” and “ful-tula-tuli”[1] I used to play before I was married off at the mere age of 12. Now all that remains are these tender musings of a lost childhood. I was a child brutally thrust into a world I knew nothing of that included a husband, a new family and the social expectations that came with the role. All I knew was that disobedience equaled thrashings, and I had enough bruises to show for it. I lost my innocence the day I realized my husband was a degenerate gambler, but I was silenced into accession of this by my mother and sister-in-law. This silence only prevailed till my daughter was born.

Motherhood gave me a newfound courage to fight back. The abuse that followed was something out of a nightmare, with my little daughter there to witness it all. That incident had the entire village talking. So much so that my father rushed to my marital home, took one look at his daughter’s broken body and spirit, and decided enough was enough. No village matbors[2] or shalish[3] helped me find justice, but it did help my father see the errs of his decision- albeit a little too late.

Soon after, I started carving my own path to independence. I enrolled in a skill development training program on sewing, won a sewing machine and kickstarted my small tailoring venture. In addition, I also had a side job as a nanny, both of which allowed me to raise my daughter and contribute to the household expenses. 10 years down the line, I got married to a widower and felt like I had jumped out of the frying pan into the fire. Fate, it seemed, had a cruel sense of humor.

All my past trauma resurfaced when the physical and verbal abuse began, a second time around. However, the torture made me more defiant and more resolute to wrestle with my fate- a man’s world. The once-a-child Shorifa finally came into her own. Two things made this possible- first, when I received the opportunity to train as a Bangladesh Ansar Village Defense Party (VDP)[4], the only female from my village, and officially became an Ansar VDP. Second, through UN Women’s intervention on unpacking restrictive social norms and gender power imbalances. The courtyard sessions helped me to understand how harmful community norms and unequal power relations between men and women drive violence against women. We also explored the positive benefits of non-violence both for an individual and the community. Soon, I began to connect with my inner power and strength. I was able to recognize how men’s use of power over women bars strong and healthy relationships and communities.

Shorifa is an expert weaver financially supporting her family through this craft. Photo: UN Women/Rawyan Shayema
Shorifa is an expert weaver financially supporting her family through this craft. Photo: UN Women/Rawyan Shayema

As my confidence grew with each reflective conversation alongside my role as an Ansar VDP, I became involved in community leadership and started engaging with community members in fostering a transformational change to prevent violence against women. Since then, as a Community Leader I helped obtain justice for two domestic violence survivors who are now on their way to gain financial independence and, made sure that the young boys within my community know better than to perpetrate sexual harassment.

The learnings gathered, the knowledge gained and the loss of fear from the intervention has allowed me to have conversations with my husband on such issues, particularly why violence is costly to a perpetrator. With time, while I have noticed him mending his behavior, it is a work in progress.

I have always dreamt of a happy home. Four grandkids and two abusive marriages later, life has taught me that not only homes, but a society can only prosper when women can forge their scars, their miseries, and their fears into weapons with the men as active allies by their side, to battle a common enemy: gender-based violence."

Shorifa Jahan (not her real name) is a Community Leader under UN Women’s Combatting Gender-Based Violence (CGBV) Project in Bangladesh funded by the Government of Canada. The project focuses on primary prevention, stopping violence before it occurs, so that all women and girls live a life free of violence at home, at work and in public spaces.


[1] Local outdoor games
[2] Village elite/leaders
[3] Informal community dispute resolution
[4] A paramilitary auxiliary force responsible for internal security, law enforcement and protection of the country