ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

Mobility of Unmarried Adolescent Girls in Rural Bangladesh

Restricting the freedom of movement of unmarried adolescent girls outside the home is common in Bangladesh. The objective of this paper is to assess the levels and determinants of such mobility in rural areas. The findings here can inform efforts to encourage parents to allow their daughters to continue their education, delay marriage, and develop skills critical for their future well-being.

REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESEconomic & Political Weekly november 3, 200763Mobility of Unmarried Adolescent Girls in Rural BangladeshR T Naved, S Chowdhury, S Arman, K SethuramanAdolescence is a largely neglected area of research, and few interventions exist to address the special needs of adolescents. Most public health interventions in south Asia have been devoted to maternal and child health issues, including family planning and the reproductive health of married women [Bott et al 2003]. In Bangladesh, as in most of the region, understanding and addressing the special needs of adolescents is important because of the widespread practice of early marriage and childbearing that carries considerable long-term and inter-generational consequences in terms of health and nutrition. Gender discrimination remains widely prevalent in south Asia, and recent literature on adolescents highlights the promi-nent practice of son preference [Arnold et al 1998; Clark 2000; Hussain et al 2000]. Large discrepancies between adolescent boys and girls are seen in access to education. In many parts of south Asia, male children have much better opportunities for schooling than their sisters, resulting in marked differences in literacy rates. For example, in the most recent Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey (2004), 26.5 per cent of females aged between 20 and 24 years had no schooling, com-pared with 15 per cent of males that age. The situations of ado-lescent girls and boys also contrast sharply in terms of expecta-tions of household work and freedom of movement outside the home. These two elements are somewhat related, as the work expectations of girls can automatically lessen their chances for mobility outside the home. As Mensch et al (1998) have noted, during adolescence, a boy’s world expands while a girl’s world contracts. Menarche, in particular, is a turning point for adolescent girls when restrictions in behaviours, dress, social interactions, and mobility are imposed. In a study in western India, Joshi (2004: 98-99) described the “shock” that some girls experience as they attain menarche and are suddenly confronted with many new rules and restrictions on their behaviours: “Thus, when a girl attains menarche there is a tightening of ‘controls’ on her movements, and her parents impose an entirely new set of rules that she must comply with, in order to conform to the social norms. After reaching puberty, a girl is not any longer permitted to play outside the house, and she cannot wear frocks unless it is the school uniform. Girls are strictly instructed not to talk to stran-gers, and any such instance is sternly rebuked if it comes to the attention of the parents.” Restrictions on the mobility of girls is one aspect of the larger process of socialisation that for girls begins in childhood and continues throughout adolescence. Mobility restrictions are particularly common in south Asia. Families and communities have various motivations for this practice. Often, restrictions Restricting the freedom of movement of unmarried adolescent girls outside the home is common in Bangladesh. The objective of this paper is to assess the levels and determinants of such mobility in rural areas. The findings here can inform efforts to encourage parents to allow their daughters to continue their education, delay marriage, and develop skills critical for their future well-being.
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESnovember 3, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly64areimposed with the premise that they protect girls from harm, but in effect it is a means through which families retain their social status and honour, because public speculation can result if girls have greater freedom. However, controlling the mobility of girls outside the home undermines their exposure to the outside world. Girls lose out in terms of educational opportunities and access to resources. These restrictions also limit the abilities of girls to develop key life skills and a sense of individual autonomy. Despite the fact that the majority of re-search findings show a gender bias against adolescent girls in practically every aspect of daily life in south Asia, it would be errone-ous to conclude that this bias is universal in the region. It is critical to carefully examine the variations. The experiences of girls often vary widely even in small studies, and some parents extend great love, affection, and empowerment to their daughters. For example, despite the seem-ingly universal patterns of restrictions on the mobility of girls’, Joshi (2004) found a range in the “degree of restrictedness” in western India. Other studies also suggest that it is useful to ex-amine individual instance of defying community norms [Schuler et al 2005]. They illustrate that multiple pressures to conform to social expectations can be overcome or opposed, particularly if there are facilitating factors. Little is known about how the experiences of adolescent girls vary within communities in south Asia. Gaining insights into the lives of this group may provide answers on how to engage parents into allowing their daughters to continue their educa-tion, delaying their marriage, and developing life skills criti-cal for their well-being in the future. This paper presents the findings of a qualitative study undertaken in rural Bangladesh that was part of a larger qualitative study on nutrition and gender conducted in three sites, two in India (Maharashtra and Rajasthan) and one in Bangladesh. The objective of this analysis was to examine patterns of mobility and restrictions among un-married adolescent girls. It seeks to fill a gap in the available literature by providing insights into the experiences of this group at the community level. 1 Methodology and Data CollectionThe methodology used for this study was designed as a part of the larger three-site study, and a common protocol was deve-loped collaboratively by the research partners. The analysis pre-sented here centres on data collected on unmarried adolescent girls in two regions of rural Bangladesh: Matlab and Mirzapur. Matlab is a flood-prone region; and Mirzapur is close to Dhaka city and has many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and industries. In both regions, the economy is dominated by sub-sistence agriculture, with a high level of landlessness and many small-landed farms; however, the economy is more diversi-fied in Mirzapur because of the industrial presence. Data were collected using qualitative methods that included in-depth interviews and focus group discussions (FGDs). This analysis is based on data from in-depth interviews with 20 unmarried adolescent girls, and fourFGDs with such girls and eight with parents of such girls (Table 1). Checklists and guides for the interviews and FGDs were developed collaboratively with re-search partners. Convenience and purposive sampling was used to identify study participants. In-depth interviews and FGDs were conducted in separate villages, as were men’s and women’s FGDs. Each participant was included in the data collection only once and only for one method (i e,FGD or in-depth interview), and each was from a separate household.Oral informed consent was obtained from all study parti-cipants. Confidentiality was strictly maintained. Privacy was carefully con-trolledin the one-on-one interviews; interviewers changed the subject if the interview was interrupted by others. When needed, interviewswereresched-uled and the venue was changed to ensure confidentiality and convenience of the participant. All interviews and FGDs were tape-recorded. Names of the participants were not recorded on tapes and transcripts; instead, pseudonyms were used. All tapes were kept under lock and key. The research team included two male members, three female members, and a supervisor; a five-day training was provided on qualitative methods, study design, and content. Female and male interviewers collected data from participants of the same sex except in the FGDs with the fathers of unmarried adolescents, which were moderated by the female supervisor. Data was transcribed in Bangla. During initial data collection, each interview and FGD was followed by data transcription. The transcripts were reviewed by the principal investigator and used for further training of data collectors. Regular discussions were held by the field team. A code guide was developed collabora-tively among the research partners, and the transcribed data was coded using Atlas.ti. To address inter-coder reliability, a couple of interviews were coded by all the coders. Then individual cod-ers coded the data separately and checked each others’ coding of at least two coded interviews. All discrepancies were discussed by the research team. Data analysis followed the strategy of first identifying the modal patterns and then focusing on variations. The in-depth interview data were analysed first, then triangu-lated with theFGD data. Unmarried adolescent girls were categorised into high, medi-um, and low groups in terms of mobility by first identifying girls having the most and the least mobility. Girls who were highly mo-bile were allowed to go to faraway villages, move alone or with friends within their village, and shop wit h friends. Girls who had low mobility were not allowed to go to faraway villages or towns, make social visits outside their village, go out alone even within their ‘parha’ (neighbourhood) except to earn income, shop with-out being accompanied by close relatives (usually members of the immediate family), and attend public festivals. The remaining girls fell into the medium group. We also assessed spatial mobility – how far girls had ventured from home in their lifetimes. Faraway villages and towns were defined as those that cannot be labelled as neighbouring villages or towns. Finally, we checked the interac-tion of mobility with socio-economic status. Unmarried adolescent girls were categorised as poor or non-poor based on the availability of food. Girls whose families did not have any food deficiency Table 1: Number of In-depth Interviews and FGDsCategory of Participants No of In-depth No of FGDs Interviews Unmarried adolescent girls 20 4Mothers of unmarried adolescent girls – 4Fathers of unmarried adolescent girls – 4Total 20 12
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESEconomic & Political Weekly november 3, 200765orhad surplus food fell into the non-poor group; the rest fell into the poor group.2 Survey ResultsTwo-thirds of the 20 unmarried adolescent girls interviewed were 14-15 years old (Table 2). All girls had reached menarche. The majority had at least a primary education; however, two girls had none, while one was attending college. Eleven girls had dropped out of school. Most of the girls came from nuclear families. Four families had only two children, but the majority had more. Fathers were the main breadwinners in most families, and they were generally either farmers or businessmen. There were 12 poor and eight non-poor house-holds in the sample. The interviewed samples in the two regions differed in certain aspects. Relative to their counterparts in Mirzapur, the girls in Matlab generally were older, more educated, and more often from non-poor families. Because socio-economic status dif-fered considerably between the sites, data were pooled and analysed by socio-economic status rather than by site.Level of Mobility: Most adolescent girls, whether from poor or non-poor families, re-ported that their mobility was far more re-stricted after menarche. However, their level of mobility varied: five girls had low mobility, three had high mobility, and 12 had medium mobility (Table 3). In general, non-poor girls had greater mobility than their poor counterparts. An example of a girl with low mobility was Sokhina, aged16years, from a poor family in Mirzapur. Previously, she was allowed to move around freely and play with children, but that changed abruptlywithmenarche: “Since then [menarche], those [activities]werestopped.…[They] used to say, ‘Hey, don’t go that way or don’t go to that house or don’t move around so much’.” She also talked about the control she faces: “My elder brother controls me too much. … For example, he does not let me go to any ceremonies. Suppose something is going on over there and all girls are going. I also want to go. … He won’t let me go. [He’d say], ‘Why would you go? Why would you compare yourself to others?’ This is what he says. … Then suppose I went to watch TV in that house – he’d scold me even then. He doesn’t do that anymore as TV was purchased in my uncle’s house. … If I say I’d go to the Hatola [local market] for getting something, he’d say, ‘If you go to Hatola, I’d leave home for good.’ … He doesn’t let me speak to any males.”The interviewer asked whether Sokhina went to the ‘rother mela’ (a public Hindu festival), which had recently taken place in the area. Her reply was, “[He] doesn’t let me go”.She described her father’s control over her mobility as follows: “Suppose I was laughing with other girls on my way to somewhere and abba (father) saw it. He’d scold me when he returns home. … He says, ‘Why did you laugh with all those girls? Why do you need to go? What did you need in that place?’”Thus, Sokhina never left her village. She is not allowed to go to the village fair, the local market, or even neighbouring houses of non-relatives. She is not permitted to talk to men or to have fun with her peers outside. In contrast, Fatema, a 14-year-old girl from Matlab from a non-poor family, lists five villages close and far away that she has visited. She has also visited the nearest town. She said, “I go to Deora, Mirzapur [town], Dulla, Bashtel paharh, …Najira. I visit my nani (maternal grandmother) and my sisters – three of my sisters. … I go on my own. At times I hire a van (i e, a three-wheeler with a flat top for carrying loads or people) for this.”Unlike many girls, she often goes to health providers and to the market accom-panied by her friend. She suffers from pain-ful menstruation and often goes with her friend to the ‘kobiraj’ (faith healer) to get divine water. She explained, “Most of the time, the two of us (ie, she and her friend) go. I feel shorminda (shame), and she gives [the kobiraj] all the details.”When asked whether she gets permission from her parents to go to the kobiraj with her friend, she said it varies: “I don’t tell either my abba or my amma, but at times I do”. Fatema is a member of anNGO and regularly attends its weekly meetings in the adjacent parha (neighbourhood) with her aunt. She also has very high mobility for recreation. She said, “I went to the mela nearby. It was boishakhi mela (fair for cele-brating the new year).”When questioned further, she said she went to rother mela (a fair around a Hindu festival) as well: “I went with my biyai(sister’s husband’s brother). I went there notifying my abba. Everybody from here attends it – female or male does not matter.” Then she added, “There is not much opportunity for going to cinema from home. But if I go to nani’s (maternal grandmother), which is close to a theatre house, then I go with my mamato bhai (sons of maternal uncle). There is a bunch I know and I go with them. We go in the evening and return once the show is over.”A positive outlier in mobility was Majeda (aged 16 years, poor, Mirzapur). Despite her family’s poverty, she went to distant places to visit relatives, travelled to a neighbouring village with her friends to see a health provider, and, within her village, went alone to a provider living in a neighbouring house.Spatial Mobility: In terms of spatial mobility, most girls did not go very far from home (Table 4). This measure also seemed to be Table 2: Unmarried Adolescent Girls InterviewedCharacteristic No of GirlsResidence Mirzapur 10 Matlab 10Age, years 14-15 13 16-19 7Education Less than primary <5 years) 3 Less than secondary (5-9 years) 10 Secondary or more (≥10 years) 7Father's occupation Farmer 6 Daylabourer 3 Small business and service 8 Unemployed 2 Fatherdeceased 1Mother earns an income regularly No 19 Yes 1Family structure Nuclear 13 Extended 7Socio-economic status Poor 12 Non-poor 8Table 3: Mobility by Socio-economic StatusSocio-economic Status Level of Mobility Total Low Medium High Poor 5 6 1 12Non-poor 0 6 2 8Total 5 123 20
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESnovember 3, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly66influenced by socio-economic status; thus, while five of the seven girls from non-poor families went to faraway villages and towns, only two girls from poor families had such mobility. Fully six of the eight girls from poor families had not set foot beyond the neighbouring village or town, compared with only two of seven girls from better-off families.Unmarried adolescent girls provided vari-ous reasons for their mobility and described conditions they had to meet. Social visiting and shopping were the two most common reasons for mobility; other reasons includ-ed going to school, seeking healthcare, and attending public gatherings. In most cases, and regardless of where girls needed or wanted to go, they had to be accompanied, and in nearly all cases, they could go out only during the day.Mobility for Social Visits: Social visiting was the most common reason for girls to go about their village or to other villages. In rural Bangladesh, village exogamy is com-monly practised; therefore, many relatives from the mother’s side live in other villages. Similarly, fathers’ sisters and girls’ own sis-ters marry men in other villages. Brothers’ wives come from other villages. Most adolescent girls are allowed to visit their relatives living in other villages. In fact, they often have more chances to visit those other villages than to visit other parha within their own village.Thus, patterns of social visiting and girls’ mobility were quite strongly affected by where individuals in their kin networks resided. Usually, adolescent girls were allowed to go to relatives’ houses. Within a village, a girl’s kinfolks (espe-cially paternal kin) were typically clustered in the same parha. Thus, almost all the girls were allowed to move about within the parha, but restrictions were imposed on going to other parha. Visiting maternal grandparents was the most common reason for more distant mobility. But when maternal kin were in the same village, girls’ mobility outside the village was limited.Majeda (aged 16 years, poor, Mirzapur) had kin outside her vil-lage and said, “I can go to my maternal grandmother’s [who lives in another village]. Then my aunt lives in Kashil [a faraway vil-lage], where I stayed for a month. Then I went to my paternal aunt’s house in Mymensingh several years ago and stayed there for one and a half months. … [Besides] I went to my cousin’s rela-tive’s house.” Here, despite her family’s difficult economic situation, Majeda could travel to faraway towns to visit and stay with relatives. Of 17 girls who were asked about going to “public gatherings”, six girls reported attending melas or festivals or going to the cinema, without apparent variation by socio-economic status. Usually, close relatives accompanied girls to these events, but there were exceptions. One girl was allowed to go to a mela with friends, and school events were generally attended by groups of school-going young girls. However, 11 of the 17 girls did not attend any public gatherings.Another important reason for mobility among adolescent girls was “shopping”, typically to purchase clothes, cosmetics, and jewellery. The fathers of unmarried adolescent girls had the following exchange in anFGD:“Moderator: You said that the girls could go to the market.A: When it’s her sister or brother’s marriage, she wants to go to the market to buy the clothes of her own choice. So the mother tells her to go with her father or brother. Moderator: … Can she buy fish or vegeta-bles?A: No, no.B: Those who have adult sons don’t send their daughters to the market [for food shopping].C: She cannot buy fish or vegetables from the market. It doesn’t happen.C and D: This is a rural area; things like that don’t happen here.B: It’s not good if women go to market [for food shopping].C People will gossip over her. It’s not good for the girl.”Thus, it is clear that the purpose of shopping is restricted to buying clothes, cosmetics, and jewellery, and food purchase by unmarried adolescent girls is not allowed or acceptable. Almost all the girls go shopping (Table 5). There are many more shops in the nearest town, as compared with the villages, and most of the girls did get opportunities to shop there. By socio-economic status, more non-poor girls tended to travel far-ther to shop: six of seven girls from non-poor families went to the neighbouring town for this purpose, while the majority of girls from poor families did not. Most of the girls said they had to be “accompanied” when they go on a social visit or for shopping (Table 6). Finding the right kind of company could allow them a lot of mobility. Thus, Dolly (aged 15 years, poor, Mirzapur) from the low mobility group can visit relatives and shop when accompanied. She visits her sister living by the river and shops with female cousins living in her village. She said, “[Abba] doesn’t let me visit our kin if I want to. If I go, abba sends my younger sisters with me. He says, ‘Go with her.’ If I don’t want to take her, he asks me, ‘How would you go in the street alone? The time is not good. [So] take her along.’ Then I take my younger sister with me.” When asked what could happen if she went alone, Dolly said, “That I cannot tell you. Abba doesn’t allow [that]. We need to listen to him, there is no way out. If I don’t, he would say, ‘The girl gharh terami korey [acts stubborn] and disregards my instruc-tions! I feed her and clothe her and she acts stubborn disregarding my instructions!’ So I say, ‘Send with me whomever you wanted to send with me.’ ” Girls mentioned being accompanied by the following relatives: brother-in-law; sister-in-law; mother; mother’s brother’s wife; brother’s wife; younger sister; father’s brother’s wife; mother’s brother’s son; and maternal uncle.Although most of the girls had to be accompanied when they went visiting or shopping, there were exceptions (Table 6). Five girls could go visiting alone, and two girls could shop alone. Table 4: Spatial Mobility by Socio-economic Status*Farthest Girl Has Gone Poor Non-Poor TotalOwn village 3 1 4Neighbouring village or town 3 1 4Faraway village 1 4 5Faraway town 1 1 2Total 8 7 15*Missing:Four girls from poor families and one girl from a non-poor family.Table 5: Mobility for ShoppingSpatial Mobility Poor Non-Poor TotalDoes not go shopping 1 0 1Within the village 3 1 4To a neighbouring village 1 0 1To a neighbouring town 4 6 10Total 9 7 16
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESEconomic & Political Weekly november 3, 200767Table 6: Partners of Girls during Social VisitsWho Accompanies Girls Poor Non-Poor TotalSocial visits Close relative* 7 2 9 Friend 1 0 1 No one 1 4 5 Total 9 6 15Shopping Close relative* 4 2 6 Friend 3 1 4 No one 0 2 2 Total 7 5 12*Immediate family/uncle/aunt/brother and sister-in-law/cousin.Shopping with friends seemed to be a relatively common phe-nomenon. In the cases of both social visitation and shopping, girls from non-poor families seemed to be more autonomous.Mobility for Education: Some adolescent girls go to school alone and some go with friends. Those who go by themselves usually have schools close to their home. Kulsum, aged 16 years and from a poorfamilyinMirzapur,ex-plained that one of the reasons she dropped out of school was that there was nobody to accom-pany her: “I could not study successfully in the primary school. So, I enrolled in a BRAC school [alternative non-formal school]. Now, theBRAC school is far away. It is awfully distant from my home,and there were no peers I could go with. So going to school was stopped.”Mobility for Healthcare Seeking: There was wide variation in mobility for healthcare seeking (Table 7). The type of illness deter-mined the type of provider consulted and the treatmentsought, and also mobility. Treat-ments ranged from none for minor illnesses, to treatment by faith healers for certain reproductive illnesses, to treatment by formal health providers for specific, rare, or un-resolved illnesses. Eight girls were not taken to a provider, and the majority of these girls were poor. But two girls from non-poor families were also not taken to a provider. Three girls went to providers within their village, and several others were taken to farther places. In fact, often, if a girl was sick, family members reported the problem to a provider without taking the girl to the provider for diagnosis and treatment, and brought the necessary medicines to the girl. In a few cases, the provider was brought home to visit the patient. For some health problems, such as painful menstruation and irregular menstruation or white discharge, kobirajs (pro-viders of herbal treatment) or faith healers were consulted (as described in Nasima’s case below).At times, restrictions on the mobility of adolescent girls seemed to get in the way of getting treatment. A girl in anFGD in Mirzapur brought this up in relation to the distance of service providers and lack of female health providers: “Suppose I get very sick. Now the parents or others cannot find the time [to go to the provider with me]. I could go on my own if there was a ‘clinic’ [in the vicinity] or there was a female daktar.”Nasima (aged 17 years, Matlab) described what happened when she had a urinary tract infection: “Abbu consulted the daktar (pharmacist). The daktar said, ‘Make her take the medicines I give you and wait and see what happens.’ This is how I got cured.” Nasima often suffers from stomach-ache. The first time she had it, a ‘daktar’ from the market was called in to treat her. Ever since then, she said, “Abba consults daktar from time to time”. She also said when she had a bad headache, “They brought me a tabij (amulet) and then the pain receded”.In contrast, Laila (aged 16 years, poor, Matlab) is a positive outlier in terms of mobility for health seeking. Although her family is impoverished, she travelled the farthest for treatment. She described what happened about three years ago when she had a skin condition: “[Amma] took me to the daktar, noti-fyingabba. He [the daktar] is based in Matlab [town]. We went to his house. I took shots from him and I took medicine prescribed by him. … But I didn’t get cured. Then I underwent bonaji (herbal) treatment. I went to Mirsadik for that. I got treatment from my kaki’s (paternal uncle’s wife’s) father. … She is from Chandpur (the district town located far away).”Most girls who went to a healthcare pro-vider were accompanied, usually by either their mother or father. Hasna (age 16 years, non-poor), a college student from Matlab, said, “Abba (father) does not allow me to go alone. … Many people talk a lot when they see a girl [alone] on the street. They can say a lot of things. So that nobody can talk. Nobody would say anything if I go with Abbu (father).” However, importantly, there is a variation in accompaniment as well. Two girls were ac-companied by friends when going to provid-ersinthe nearby village. One was Fatema, describedabove.The other was Majeda, also previously intro-duced, who felt that her family does not care much about her health. Her teeth became “discoloured” as a result of using ‘mi-shi’(alocalproductfor cleaning teeth) and spoiled her looks. Nobody at home did anything about it, however. So Majeda did the following: “Iwentto Jamurki (neighbouring village) and told the daktar about all my problems. … I went with my friends, who are also my chachato bon (daughters of my paternal uncle). … I told at home that I am going to Jamurki.” Salma, a 14-year-old girl from Matlab in the non-poor group, had painful menstruation. She said, “I went myself to get pani porha (water, to which healing power has been imparted by a faith healer) and I brought tabij (amulet). … This is (the healer lives) close to my house.”Another condition for mobility is that adolescent girls are al-lowed to go out “during the day only”. This condition seems al-most universal. Only Majeda, a poor girl categorised as highly mo-bile, was an exception. She said, “Suppose somebody is sick, then I bring medicine. Or suppose there is an emergency in the evening, [then I go out].” By emergency she meant: “Suppose somebody took ill, then I go to see [the person]. Suppose somebody died. … Take, for instance, the person who suddenly died yesterday, and then I went.”Restrictions on Mobility: In our sample, the level of restrictions imposed on the mobility of girls varied. In most cases, parents were the ones imposing the restrictions, but other family members such as brothers (see Sokhina’s case, presented above) and uncles also played important roles and acted as gatekeepers. According to the fathers in an FGD:“A: They [family members] keep a careful watch on her. … Her sister-in-law (brother’s wife), mother, or grandmother reminds Table 7: Mobility for Seeking HealthcareFarthest Girls Went Poor Non-Poor TotalNone 6 2 8Within village 1 2 3Nearby village 3 1 4Nearby town 1 3 4Faraway town 1 0 1Total 12 8 20
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESnovember 3, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly68her that she should not go out during that time or she should not talk to the other boy, etc. They caution her.B: They caution her, “Do not go outside after dark; you cannot go out unveiled”. They give her instructions on how she should behave now. They also tell her that if she does not follow their instructions, her parents will face problems in the future.C: Her mother is careful about her. D: We understand that the girl may have sexual tendency, she may engage herself in illicit relationship. As there are these pos-sibilities, we take precautions about her and restrict her mobility. We watch over her and she understands why.E: We create many obstacles for her.”One reason why family members restrict the mobility of un-married adolescent girls is to protect family honour. Thus, a father in an FGD said, “If my daughter is 12 years old, she cannot behave badly in the school. I am her guardian. If somebody says bad things pointing at her, it will be very shameful for me. I will make my daughter understand how she should behave now. If she wants to go somewhere, she will go with her brother, or with me or with her sister-in-law.”Dolly (aged 15 years, poor, Mirzapur) appeared to be the most severely restricted girl in our sample. She described her father as extremely domineering: “If abba says you have to stand here the whole day, you have to do that. His instruction is: ‘Don’t go anywhere’.”Her father’s concerns are apparently directed at both the sup-posed dangers out in the social world and the danger he sees in his own daughter’s tendencies. If Dolly went out when she was es-pecially dressed up, he would say, “Why do you temguti khelosh (flirt) at this age? Why do you go out?”Dolly’s reaction to this was, “I feel hurt. … I wish I were inde-pendent so that I don’t have to hear such talk. …”The restrictions on mobility are particularly stringent regard-ing contacts with males. Dolly is not allowed to go anywhere with her male cousins or even to talk to them. Her father says, “You’d go with them and people would say his daughter is hang-ing around with the sons of such and such. Maybe I am poor, but so many people come to our house [referring to his kobiraji prac-tice]. Why would you go with them?” Thus, it seems that it is disgraceful for a family if an adolescent girl goes out, and the disgrace comes through people talking. This notion of honour is also evident in Dolly’s grandmother’s comment: “Jater meye ghorey thaka bhalo (a girl from an hon-ourable family should stay at home)”.When Dolly was young, her father allowed her to play a lot. But once her elder sister married, the restrictions started, even though she had not yet reached menarche. The family hopes that all of the remaining five daughters will eventually marry. The girls must all be protected and restricted, to make favourable marriages possible and to protect the family honour or izzat. Dolly does not agree with and always adhere to these restrictions. Sometimes, she finds ways to get around her father’s control, and some of this “disobedience” is abetted by her paternal cousins and other relatives. She told us: “My paternal cousins [female] from the same barhi (a compound shared by households of close relatives) would ask me to go with them for a walk. I don’t go [with them]. I tell them abba would return home.” Interestingly, the story does not end here. Dolly added, “The day abba goes to haat (the weekly village market), I dress up and tell them ‘let’s go now’.”If she is caught, “abba galitali korey (calls her names).”Dolly’s aunts, cousins, sisters, and even grandmother help her to get around some of her father’s restrictions. When she goes out while he is away, her grandmother and her sisters try to warn her if they see him returning. Dolly’s father does not allow her to watchTV in her uncle’s house in the same ‘barhi’. But her aunts call her under some pretext when her favourite programme is on, and her father does not stop her in those situations. Those relatives appear to consider Dolly’s father’s restrictions excessively strict. Thus, it appears that the social expectations among villagers require that adolescent girls’ freedom of move-ment should be monitored and restricted, but not to an unneces-sarily harsh and arbitrary extent. An example of the imposition of restrictions by the extended family is Banu, a 16-year-old girl from a poor family in Mirzapur. She said, “In my childhood (ie, before menarche), I went to school, went to many places, and nobody said anything. Now that I have grown up, kakara (parental uncles), mother, and my dada-dadee (paternal grandparents) discipline me. … They do not let me go anywhere. … They don’t let me go anywhere in the evening. … Kakara would tell me “Why do you do this? You have grown up and we have fear about maan-shomman (honour). … I understand this too. So I don’t go anywhere all of a sudden.” This notion of internalisation of the restrictions, which are im-posed not only by the immediate family but also by the extended family and the community, was revealed in other in-depth inter-views as well. For example, Sokhina (aged 16 years, poor, Mirzapur) talked first about curbed mobility after menarche and then added, “I felt different from within. I felt I have grown up. So, I didn’t like so much moving about. Wouldn’t people say bad things [if I did]?” Similarly, another girl, Farida (aged 15 years, poor, Mirzapur) said, “No, I can’t go anywhere. Suppose I go and somebody durnam uthhaye (spreads disrepute or a bad name). So, I can’t go anywhere. … I rarely go, and my parents also don’t let me go [to neighbouring houses].” On the topic of interaction with male strangers, Farida said, “I don’t speak to a [male] stranger. … If I do, people would be suspi-cious. People would say that the daughter of that person is talking to them and that the relationship might take a turn [ie, would be-come romantically involved]. So out of fear I don’t speak. I don’t speak on my own will, and then my family forbids me too.”Nasima (age 17 years, non-poor, Matlab) said her brother could mix with everybody, but she could not. Nasima explained the reason for such restrictions from home, “[They say] I’ll be ruined and people would talk bad things about me”.Her brother does not take her along when he visits Dhaka, giving the following reason: “I’d [Nasima] change if I go. My eyes would grow large.”
REVIEW OF WOMEN’S STUDIESEconomic & Political Weekly november 3, 200769She explained that eyes growing large means: “I’d adda marum (chat) with the boys”. Restrictions on mobility seemed to be the least in the case of Fatema, as described above. Before menarche, she could be descri-bed as a typical tomboy: she wore shirts and trousers, rode a bike, and could drive a tractor. After menarche, her mother forbade her to ride a bike and to engage in “bajey function” (talking to and hanging out with boys). Her mother is strict about this, and Fatema is beaten if her mother ever finds her conversing with a boy. Fatema went another step further than Nasima in explaining why restrictions on mobility are imposed on adolescent girls: “In rural areas, [sometimes] babies are born onno purush diya (out of wedlock). This is why we are not allowed to go to phakey-phukey (distant places).”A father explicitly stated this reason in anFGD, saying parents keep a close eye on an adolescent girl so that, “She cannot develop an illicit relationship”.It is clear that an adolescent girl’s mobility is strongly linked to the honour and prestige of the family. In the words of a father participating in anFGD, “Suppose my daughter is aged 12. If she goes anywhere and a man makes a comment, then I’ll lose ijjat (izzat). … If she wants to go somewhere, if I have a son, he’d take her or she’d go with me, or if she has a sister-in-law, she’d go with her.”Another father said, “Mobility of an adolescent girl declines once she reaches menarche as both she and her family members face a bhoy (fear) that if she gets sexually assaulted, the society would disgrace her and the family.” Adolescent girls in anFGD also mentioned both kinds of fear: ‘manusher bhoy’ (fear of men, implying fear of sexual assault) and ‘shomajer bhoy’ (fear of society or being disgraced bysociety). So, according to fathers, some restrictions imposed on girls are: “Don’t go anywhere after dusk, don’t go anywhere. You can’t go anywhere without purdah (veil).”Strategies for Negotiating Mobility: It was clear from the datathat some girls use strategies to negotiate their mobility, with success in some cases but not in others. In other words, within the socio-cultural context, some girls appear to have identified ways in which they can retain some degree of freedom in their movement even in an environment that is quite restri-ctive otherwise.Firoza’s case presents us with a paradox. She is a 19-year-old from a non-poor family in Matlab. She is the only daughter in the family and has an elder and a younger brother. She failed the secondary school certificate exam and recently enrolled in a ma-drasa (religious school). Ever since she entered madrasa, she started wearing a ‘borkha’ (veil). However, she has high mobility. She even visits her grandmother and paternal aunt living in dis-tant villages by herself. Explaining why she does not go anywhere she wishes or play or run since reaching menarche, Firoza said, “People would say I am bad. They would say I grew up, but still I act in this way or that way. So I carry myself in a way so that they praise me.” It is not clear whether she always had this level of mobility, or whether she earned high mobility by conforming to social expec-tations, but it seems possible.Another highly mobile girl, Majeda (aged 16 years, poor, Mirzapur) mentioned a similar theme. After a girl in her village eloped, Majeda’s family began restricting her mobility more. Her reaction to this was: “Why would not they allow me to go? I am a straightforward simple girl. Would I do such things? Don’t I understand? Am I still a small girl that I would behave improperly? Why wouldn’t they let me go? I get upset and I tell them [these things]. … I announce [to my parents] I am going now. I would use the street. I would go and return bhodro moto (with modesty). … Then they say, ‘Then you may go’.” Majeda used this strategy recently when she wanted to go to the market for some cosmetics and for arrangements for a dress. Her father wanted to accompany her but then was not at home. So she went to the market with her female cousins and asked her mother to send her father later.Thus, it seems that adolescent girls may be able to negotiate greater mobility by showing respect for social expectations. They need to avoid being talked about or being labelled as bad. They need to act ‘bhodro moto’ and may also need to wear a borkha. Paradoxically, the borkha confers anonymity, hiding a girl’s face; thus, neighbours or kinpersons who might gossip about the girl are unlikely to recognise her if she is seen alone away from home. Bhodro dress highlights her modesty and also ensures that she is not talked about because of her mobility.One 14-year-old girl from a non-poor family in Matlab, Salma, mentioned using two different strategies when she wanted to go somewhere: “I am afraid of my parents. If my mother goes anywhere, I don’t say anything, apprehending being scolded.… But if I want to go somewhere with baba (father), he wouldn’t say no to me.…If baba says no, I get cross with him.…So, then baba insists, ‘Talk to me, ma (mother).’ If I get cross with him, baba laughs and talks to me.”According to Salma, “Ma (mother) would prevent me from going anywhere by saying that there is work to be done at home”.At times, Salma gets around this by completing her household chores and finding somebody to plea for her: “Many girls go to places, still my ma prevents me from going anywhere. For example, my khalato bon (maternal uncle’s daughter) lives nearby. I wanted to go to her house the other day, but ma did not let me. Then, I completed all the work hurriedly. My khalamma (mater-nal aunt) came and persuaded her, and only then she allowed me to go. She won’t let me go otherwise.”The notion of using household chores as a deterrent for mobil-ity was supported by girls in anFGD:“B: They [family members] don’t give us any permission to go out. They don’t think, “They (the girls) always stay at home. It would be refreshing for them if they went outside.” But we always have some work at home. C: Eid (biggest religious festival for Muslims) is coming. If I want to go somewhere, my mother will say, “Your brother will come. Your sister and your father will come. So there’s work at home.” B: So there’s no chance to go out.”

To read the full text Login

Get instant access

New 3 Month Subscription
to Digital Archives at

₹826for India

$50for overseas users


(-) Hide

EPW looks forward to your comments. Please note that comments are moderated as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear. A comment, if suitable, may be selected for publication in the Letters pages of EPW.

Back to Top