This year’s International Women of Courage Award winner Sharmin Akter, a girl from Jhalakathi who had resisted a forced marriage at the age of 15, urged schoolgirls on Wednesday (12th April) to fight child marriage and continue their studies breaking all the barriers.
The United States embassy in Dhaka presented Sharmin before the media at EMK Centre to share her experience of a two-week visit to the USA where she received the award with 12 other courageous women and girls from across the world. US first lady Melania Trump and under secretary of state for political affairs Thomas A Shannon presented the awards on March 29 at the US department of state.
Two years back, Sharmin as a 15-year-old student of Rajapur Pilot Girls High School in Jhalakathi created a stir by revolting against an arranged marriage for her. Her mother had arranged the marriage against her wish, even without informing her expatriate father.
Sharmin said, ‘When I revolted, I was sent to and locked up at my maternal uncle’s house in Pirojpur and was eventually tortured mentally and physically.’
She recalled that she did not give up, fled from the vigil and challenged her mother and would-be ‘husband’ by suing them. ‘Finally, I succeeded in escaping early marriage,’ Sharmin said.
Recollecting the award ceremony, she said, ‘Indeed, I was honoured. But it now belongs to the girls who were, are or will fight their early marriage, even by defying their parents.’
Sharmin is now under the care of her grandmother Delwara Begum. She sat for the Secondary School Certificate examination this year.
‘I wish to be a lawyer and expect to fight for the rights of women and children,’ she said.
Since the inception of the award in 2007, the US secretary of state has so far honoured over 100 women from more than 60 countries recognising their extraordinary advocacy for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment, often at great personal risk.