Breaking the shame. Towards improving SRHR education for adolescents and youth in Bangladesh

This project aims at getting an insight in the varied understandings of sexuality of young people and how they build their relationships, in order to make interventions such as Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) more effective.


Coordinator: Dr E.W.M. (Els) Rommes, Assistant professor gender and diversity studies and pedagogy, Radboud Social and Cultural Research, Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands

Consortium partners

  • Dr Sabina Faiz Rashid, professor and dean, James P. Grant School of Public Health, BRAC University, Bangladesh
  • Anna Minj, director of BRAC Community Empowerment Programme (CEP), Integrated Development Programme (IDP) and Gender Justice and Diversity (GJD) Programme, Bangladesh
  • Moonmoon Gulshan, national program coordinator of United for Body Rights program, Bangladesh

Summary of results (2019)

This project aimed to understand and propose ways to overcome shame as a hindrance to effective adolescent SRHR promotion in Bangladesh by developing innovative educational tools. Various past and present sexuality education programmes notwithstanding, according to the practitioners, the level of SRHR-knowledge among adolescents remains insufficient. A critical analysis of international collaborations on SRHR-development and underlying competing values was provided. Moreover, an ethnographic study was conducted to investigate what sexuality means to young middle-class youth in Dhaka regarding their identity concerns in a highly urbanising and globalising context. Simultaneously, using multiple qualitative and quantitative methods, a needs assessment was carried out among urban and rural adolescents, teachers, and implementers of SRHR in Bangladesh. Three main areas of improvement were identified: a lack of psycho-social training to deal with strong emotions; skill-based SRHR-knowledge to complement theoretical information; reliable sources of SRHR-information to oppose popular myths and misconceptions and to help overcome youth’ uncertainties. Cultural notions of shame, reputation, status and respectability cause reluctance among both adolescents and the adults to openly discuss various SRHR-topics, including heartbreak and rejection, sexual and gender diversity, and female and male sexual desire. With the help of experts, the project team developed, implemented and tested three tools to accommodate these adolescents’ needs. The evaluations of the tools point at the effectiveness of using multiple pedagogical methods, an increased level of knowledge through a practical step-by-step approach, as well as the persistence of some of the deeply ingrained perceptions regarding femininity and masculinity. The project team recommends a positive approach to sexuality that acknowledges adolescents’ creativity and diverse realities and needs based on class, ethnicity, age and gender, a more inclusive, politically-sensitive and value-oriented conversation on international SRHR-development, creating international online platforms to provide reliable, sustainable and self-explanatory SRHR-sources of information and facilitating school-based psycho-social adolescent training.

Summary of progress

Stakeholders in the field of adolescent SRHR education in Bangladesh have voiced concerns about the actual effect of their efforts. Despite tackling various topics of sexuality in educational programs, young people remain ill-informed on practical issues and experience emotional difficulties in handling intimate relationships. Taking these concerns seriously, this project aims at providing a better understanding of youth’ lived realities and needs with regard to sexuality. Through probing different meanings of ‘shame’ for boys and girls, the researchers investigate how sexual cultures are shaped among different groups of adolescents. Moreover, specific challenges and barriers faced by teachers when educating on SRHR issues will be identified. Both stakeholders and adolescents are asked to share their experiences with existing sexuality education tools in Bangladesh in order to investigate which approaches and practices require improvement. The data gathered in this project combined with insights from international literature on SRHR tools will enable the research team to develop new or refined tools for sexuality education and to make suggestions to local government institutes and policy makers as to how more effective SRHR programs can be realised.


Organisations who run comprehensive sexual education programmes for young people in Bangladesh experience a gap between their aims and the actual effect of their efforts. They express a need for more insight in young people's varied understandings of sexuality and for better tools to both elicit such understandings as well as to improve young people's interactional competence in issues concerning sexuality, including sexual harassment, early marriage, divergent sexualities, rights and health. Moreover, a theoretical reflection is needed on what programmatic aims of SRHR education, e.g. 'sexual interactive competence', mean in the cultural context of Bangladesh where youngster's realities are heavily influenced by religious or other cultural norms and in social relations with peers, parents, and teachers, besides potential partners.

We therefore ask how we can break the shame and silences around young people's sexuality to better understand their needs and to increase their relational competence. This project will critically reflect on theoretical concepts dominant in sexual education programmes by confronting them with data gathered qualitatively, and partly checked quantitatively, on the lived reality of young people, their needs, experiences and wishes in the sexual and relational domain. Further, it will develop and test different tools of elicitation to better obtain an emic view of young people on various sexual issues and to identify factors that may hinder or promote competence building. It will also develop and test new or refined tools of competence building, going beyond acquisition of knowledge on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).


Scientific article

Publications for the general public

  • W.P. Meerstadt(2016): Symposium: Dealing with shame and normativity in sex education
  • J. Ronjan Talukdar(2016): Presentation of preliminary research findingds JPG School of Public Health
  • S. Camellia(2016): Understanding Shame in Communicating Sexuality Issues among Unmarried Adolescents in Urban Areas of Bangladesh
  • S. Camellia(2016): Sociocultural Construction of Shame in the Process of Learning and Communicating about Sexuality
  • F Alam Bhuiyan(2017): Breaking the Shame midterm youth workshops 1 and 2
  • F.A. Bhuiyan(2017): Creating a Space for Shame-Free Sex Ed
  • F.A. Bhuiyan(2017): Breaking the Shame: Unaddressed Needs of Adolescents in SRHR Education in Bangladesh
  • F.A. Alam(2018): Breaking the Shame: Toward Effective SRHR Education for Adolescents in Bangladesh
  • F.A. Bhuiyan(2018): Sexual and Reporductive Health Information and Services in Bangladesh: What do Young People Want?
  • A. Roodsaz(2018): THe Personal is Theoretical and the Theoretical is Political
  • S. Siddiqua(2018): Breaking the Shame: Towards improving SRHR education for adolescents in Bangladesh (SUB-PROJECT 3)
  • F.A. Bhuiyan(2018): For the Well-Being of Young Bangladeshis: What do young people want?
  • E. Rommes, F.A. Bhuiyan, S. Adnan Khan, T. Hassan, A. Roodsaz(2018): Booklet on Myths and Misconceptions (tool)
  • J. Chia(2018): The Relationship Between Type of Stressor, Social Resources, and Coping when Vulnerable Adolescents in Bangladesh Face Stressful Situations.
  • F.A. Bhuiyan(2018): Young People's Perceptions on SRHR Issues
  • F.A. Bhuiyan(2018): Breaking the Shame: Towards improving SRHR education for adolescents in Bangladesh.
  • S. Camellia(2018): Negotiating masculinities by Dhaka urban middle class adolescent boys
  • Y. Lievers(2018): Sexual Orientation Development Amonst Self-Identified LGBT Youth in Bangladesh
  • S.A. Khan, R. Roodsaz, N.F. Rahman, E. Rommes, N. Haque, S. Karim, F. Alam(2018): Booklet on dealing with strong emotions during adolescence and coping mechanisms (tool)
  • S. Camellia(2018): Navigating Towards ‘Good future’: Significance of ‘Physical Appearance’ in Aspirations of Bangladeshi Urban Middle Class Adolescent Girls.
  • E. Rommes, F. Alam, N. Haque, S. Karim, S.A. Khan, S.F. Ahmed, T. Hassan, M. Rony, R. Roodsaz(2018): Drama on strong emotions during adolescence and coping mechanisms (tool)
  • A. Roodsaz(2018): Religious Othering?
  • F.A. Bhuiyan, S.A. Khan, S.F. Ahmed, T. Hassan(2018): Animated video on myths and misconceptions (tool)
  • W.P. Meerstadt, T. Hassan, F.A. Bhuiyan(2018): Bangla version of an animated video on how to use a condom by SOAIDS Nederland (tool)
  • F.A. Bhuiyan(2018): Presentation of Project Findings and Policy Recommendations
  • F.A Bhuiyan, K.S. Nasar, E. Rommes, A. Roodsaz(2019): Policy brief
  • B van Enckevort(2019): Thesis: Sex education in Bangladesh
  • S. Camellia(2019): Changing ideas and expectations about intimate relationships among Bangladeshi urban middle class adolescents


Project number

W 08.560.003

Main applicant

Prof. dr. W.H.M. Jansen em.

Affiliated with


Team members

B. Barua MA, T. Biswas, S. Camellia, Dr. S. Karim, M.B. Kauserey MA, Drs. C. Krops, Drs. C. Krops, Drs. W. Meerstadt, S. Rana MA, Dr. S.F. Rashid, Dr. E.W.M. Rommes, Dr. A. Roodsaz MSc, J.R. Talukdar


01/09/2015 to 31/12/2018