CHANGE MAKER Taking on taboos

Topics like sex education and mental health are still considered taboo in many parts of the country. But twenty-four-year-old Ishrat Naher Erina from Sreemangal in Moulvibazar has taken up the challenge of fostering open dialogue on the matters. She’s been researching the link between sex education and mental health. Her research has attracted international recognition.

“As a student I worked in the development sector. I visited schools, colleges and villages,” Erina explains. “I saw that while many people thought much about issues like career, they rarely consider mental health. In addition, in Bangladesh many aspects of upbringing are unreflective of science. For example, we are taught to be shy of discussing natural uncertainties felt during pubescence.”

In July 2016 Erina, who graduated with a pharmacy degree from BRAC University and has completed an internship with Beximco pharmaceuticals, embarked upon her own pilot project, Prescription Bangladesh. “I’ve visited schools, colleges, madrasas and slums,” she says. “I surveyed around 3,000 individuals, interacting with many more online.”

Her research efforts have recently been recognised by the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute of Population and Reproductive Health, with her name included on a list of the 120 ‘next generation’ family planning leaders worldwide.

Erina’s seminars on issues like reproductive health have been, for many participants, eye-opening. “I didn’t know infertility isn’t a weakness but solely a medical condition,” says Taslima Akter, 23, a cook from Sreemangal. “When I couldn’t conceive, I was tortured at home and ultimately had to divorce. If I’d known more, I would’ve asked my husband to undergo medical tests; the doctors said I had no fertility problem.”