From where I stand: “Teaching girls how to read and write is one of the biggest ways I can make a difference”

Rima Sultana Rimu knows education is power. As a young Bangladeshi activist living in Cox’s Bazar, that hosts one of the world’s largest refugee settlements, she’s made literacy of Rohingya women and girls her mission.

“When I look around me, I see that women and girls are treated as less than men and are not given the same rights and opportunities. It’s a very traditional culture and we have endured conflict, violence and displacement. When girls and women are not treated as equals, there can be no real chance of achieving a strong and peaceful society. 

On a daily basis, girls here face many problems: child marriage, street harassment and sexual violence. I feel that I have a duty to do something to try and make life easier for women and girls, and try to create a more peaceful and equal society. 

When I started speaking out about women’s rights, some of my family members didn’t like it. They said that I was disrespecting my religion and not behaving correctly. Other people in my community can also be very discouraging but I enjoy the challenge of trying to change their minds. Luckily, I think I was born determined, which helps me to keep doing my work.

Most of the women and girls in my community can’t read or write, so they cannot fully understand their rights. Many of them are forced to leave school at a very young age. It means they can be dismissed as uneducated and, if they are facing harassment or violence, they may not feel they can report it or seek justice. Without education, girls struggle to become economically empowered, which means they will never be in control of their own futures. Teaching girls how to read and write is one of the biggest ways I can make a difference.

Last year, I was invited to go to Dhaka to deliver a speech in front of a room full of policy makers and share my experience of being a young Rohingya community activist. I was so happy and proud. It was the biggest moment of my life.

This year, all the problems that the Rohingya girls and women are facing in the camps have been made much worse with the Covid-19 pandemic. Many girls have not been in school. It’s been difficult to move around to do my workshops. There has been an increase in child marriage in the camps, and I have launched a campaign to raise awareness of how damaging this can be to girls. I tell people that every girl has the right to be safe.

At the moment I feel very positive and strong. I love this work and I have big plans for myself. I want to study history and write a book of poetry. Maybe one day I’ll even be Prime Minister of Bangladesh. Why not? I will not stop until every woman and girl becomes aware of their rights and can live happily and safely as equals.”

SDG 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions

Rima Sultana Rimu, an 18-year-old peace activist, is part of the Young Women for Leadership (YWL) network in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, a program of the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders organised in partnership with the local women’s rights organisation Jago Nari Unnayan Sangsta and supported by UN Women. She runs workshops on women and youth participation in peacebuilding, educates young women about their rights, using theater and radio broadcasts. UN Women spoke with Rimu on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of UN Security Council resolution 1325, which continues to shape the agenda for women, peace and security, to include women and gender analysis in all aspects of conflict prevention, peace and reconstruction. Critical to the agenda, are women peace leaders gaining and exercising decision-making power.