GWS Grad Student Co-Authors Research on Bangladesh

March 25, 2022 |

Maimuna Zahra Fariha posingFirst-year graduate students in Gender & Women’s Studies program, Maimuna Zahra Fariha is very happy to co-author two important research projects that took place in Bangladesh. The first project is “Perception of Substance Abuse Among Adolescents in Urban Slums.” This research and photo narrative was an output of James P. Grant School of Public Health, BRAC University, Dhaka, Bangladesh in Collaboration with GAGE (Gender and Adolescence: Global Evidence: GAGE program which is funded by UK Aid from the UK government). This research is published online; however, Zahra will planned on going home to Bangladesh this summer to receive hard copies. She cannot wait to celebrate, and she is hoping to bring the hard copies back to Mankato.

This research is very close to Zahra’s heart, not only because it was the steppingstone to her career as a researcher and a realization to the pursuing of her second master’s degree in Gender and Women Studies here at Mankato; but because she was able to explore the real hardships and lives of people living in urban slums in Bangladesh. For the methodology of the research, Zahra and her colleagues used IDIs (In-Depth Interviews), FGD (Focus Group Discussions), and KII (Key Informant Interview). Through this methodology, she was able to connect with many humble people. She was able to understand the different perspectives and trauma that people especially adolescents go through just for the environment they live in.

(Trigger warning next paragraph: Sexual assault)

One memorable incident she had while conducting this research was talking to a 15-year-old female from a school in an urban slum. She remembers the girl was so quiet. Zahra could read her eyes that she was in trauma, and she needed to speak to a person just to be free. In Bangladesh, mental health counseling and advocacy, and women speaking up are still a myth and highly stigmatized. Zahra knew that she had to get out of her researcher’s shoes and simply be there for this girl. Zahra bought the small old box of food for her that was sold in a big steel trunk, which the students and faculty there call their “cafeteria.” At one point, the girl burst into tears and shared her pain of how she was raped by her relative in the village and how she and her family had to force themselves to move to the city. She was still in trauma, and she did not like her lifestyle in the city or in the school. At that point, all Zahra could do was console her and just be a friend and listen to her. The girl requested Zahra to not talk to the authorities because it would further put her in trouble. But Zahra communicated with her and her family, and she helped the girl whenever she needed. Zahra is still in touch with this girl, and she wishes her all the best.

The second research Zahra co-authored is “Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the social, economic, and psychosocial wellbeing of Sex Workers in Bangladesh.” This short research was also done by BRAC, James P. Grant, School of Public Health, Dhaka, Bangladesh. This has also been truly an inspirational and empowering journey she had. Zahra received an opportunity to connect and be part of the lives of many females out there who are badly stigmatized but have a world of their own with so much pain always, which got worsen with the arrival of the pandemic. Through this research, Zahra and her colleagues were able to compensate individuals who gave them time. Through this research, they were able to convey their message to the government and various other organizations which needed to acknowledge their situation as soon as possible. One of the big revelations of this research was to break the myth of sex work and how the entire world by that time know what COVID-19 was. But when Zahra and her colleagues spoke to them, she realized there are still thousands of marginalized individuals out there who were still not aware of what COVID-19 is despite the news being circulated worldwide through live news broadcasts, radio shows, the internet, etc. It gave them a reminder of the importance of the traditional method of awareness that still needs to exist and create awareness among the people who still in today’s world cannot afford a TV, a mobile phone, or the internet.

Truly, the experiences have been life changing for Zahra. She explored a world that she did not see, even though she is from Bangladesh herself. It was an honor, and she is proud of herself to be part of this research that has prepared her to pursue a career in research and writing.

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