Angela Gomes, a Catholic defending women victims of violence from Bangladesh
by Sumon Corraya

Her organisation, Banchte Shekha ('Learn to Survive') helps those who are abused by their husbands. In the course of her life, Angela Gomes, originally from the Mathbari parish in Gazipur, has, however, also had to face many challenges: "They have given me more strength to be a voice for those who do not have one.

Jessore (AsiaNews) - When Achya Akter Boby began to suffer mistreatment from her husband, she didn't know where to turn. The marriage had been organized by the girl's parents with a man called Shaidul Islam, who not only asked for a dowry of 150 thousand taka (1,260 euros), but began to beat his wife.

Until one day Achya ended up in the hospital. Her parents then decided to turn to Banchte Shekha, an NGO run by Angela Gomes, a Catholic, which deals with women who suffer abuse and mistreatment. "Angela Gomes saved my family and I am grateful to her," Achya told AsiaNews after undergoing a process of reconciliation with her husband.

Salma Khuton also turned to her NGO - whose name in Bengali means "Learn to Survive" - after her husband, Mohammad Israfil, started beating and mistreating her for giving birth to two disabled children. “Angela Gomes is doing amazing work for abused women like me. If she weren't there, many women could kill themselves, victims of their husbands."

According to the latest report published by the Bangladesh Institute of Statistics in 2015, around 73% of women have been victims of violence by their husbands at some point in their lives. 39% do not feel the need to report the violence. And around 27% feel ashamed to report the incident to the police due to social pressure.

Angela Gomes, 72, has been working in this sector for 48 years, in Jessore and other southern districts of Bangladesh. The purpose of her organization, she explained, is to help battered women obtain justice, honor and dignity: “To resolve problems between husband and wife, we sit both parties down and give them our advice. Most of the time we manage to solve the problems, but if the husband leaves his wife demanding a dowry or making other illegal demands, we help the women obtain justice,” she told AsiaNews.

Gomes, who won the 1999 Magsaysay award for community leadership and has also received several other awards, belongs to St. Augustine of Hippo Church of Mathbari Parish in Gazipur, near Dhaka. However, she has had to face many challenges throughout her life: “One day some Muslims threw human feces at my head, but I didn't stop. On the contrary, it gave me more strength to be the voice of the voiceless women in Bangladesh,” shared the Catholic woman, who is convinced that if women received an education and empowered themselves economically, they would have a better chance of achieving equality enrich society with men. But to do this you also need the support of men, she said.