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Following their lead: A model for girl-led activism against early marriage

Two teenage Bangladeshi girls sit on a bed with a bright red quilt and clasp hands while facing each other. One of the girls is wearing a red veiled head covering.

Photo credit: Mohammad Hasan Zobayer/CARE

Photo credit: Mohammad Hasan Zobayer/CARE

SDG 5: Gender Equality

For 16-year-old Arpita Bosunia of Deuti, Rangpur, Bangladesh, CARE’s Tipping Point project ignited an inner activism. Arpita designs and runs campaigns in her community to stand up for girls who experience harassment and challenge parents and community members who try to marry off their adolescent girls. “I have found the hidden confidence within me,” she says, “and I learned how to put it to good use for others.”

Arpita’s story captures the power of girl-led activism and why CARE is leaning into this model in the fight against child marriage, a complicated and pervasive problem. Worldwide, one in five girls marries before age 18, and 21 million girls (about the population of New York City) aged 15-19 become pregnant every year. By placing girls at the center and empowering them to shift the norms holding them back, CARE can help girls improve their futures and follow their dreams.

Now, Anannya and other girls in her village can play outdoor sports like cricket.
Khadija joined Tipping Point and now dreams of becoming a lawyer to stand up against injustices.

Launched in 2013, the Tipping Point initiative began by inviting girls to explore and reflect on their dreams for the future. They were then given tools, such as cameras and story prompts, to identify desired changes and document their growing activism. This participatory model meant girls could shape the project from the start and build their agency as it developed.

A recent evaluation points to Tipping Point’s efficacy: Bangladesh has the highest prevalence of child marriage in South Asia, with 59% of women aged 20-24 reporting they married before age 18. But among girls who participated in Tipping Point, the risk of child marriage went down by 63%. Additionally, girls enjoyed increased movement within their villages and engaged in activities outside the home, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

I have found the hidden confidence within me... and I learned how to put it to good use for others.

Arpita Bosunia

Anannya Rani Barman, a 16-year-old living in Narayanpur, Rangpur, Bangladesh, shared how things are changing in her village. She and other girls wanted to play sports but were not allowed to participate in outdoor games. Anannya says, “Tipping Point organized meetings with parents where we asked them to justify their reasons for not letting girls participate in games. Ever since these conversations, things have looked better for us. We now participate in cricket, football and other local games.”

This year marks a decade of Tipping Point in Bangladesh and Nepal. The model has since been replicated in Mali and Niger and adapted for use in emergencies in northwest Syria. To date, 6,000 girls have participated.

As we continue our work to end child marriage, another story that reminds us why girl-led activism can change the world is that of Khadija Akter Munmun. Initially discouraged by her father from studying science, Khadija joined Tipping Point and discovered the collective power of adolescent girls like her. After seeing positive changes in Khadija, her father changed his mind and now supports her completely. Khadija dreams of becoming a successful lawyer and standing up against injustices. And even though she isn’t a lawyer yet, she can already claim her first victory: stopping an under-age marriage in her village from proceeding without the girl’s consent. We at CARE cannot wait to see what she accomplishes next.

Hear more of Khadija's story

Khadija's story began with her father wanting her to get married at a young age. After joining Tipping Point and finding her voice, Khadija has now changed the minds of her family members.


A Bangladeshi girl leans against a green wall.

Interested in learning more? Reach out to us at impact@care.org, and we’ll be in touch soon.