Nicoletta Del Franco (PhD Development Studies, University of Sussex, 2007; MA Gender and Development, IDS- University of Sussex, 1999) is a researcher and development consultant with extensive experience of qualitative research in South Asia (rural and urban Bangladesh in particular) with a focus on class and gender relations; young people and adolescence, the transition to adulthood; education and life aspirations; internal and overseas migration. She has also managed a range of development projects for international NGOs funded by EuropeAid and other donors in Bangladesh and conducted consultancy work. Del Franco has a long-term track record in teaching at high-school and University level both in Italy and the UK and in conducting gender trainings.
Relevant publications: 2012 Negotiating Adolescence in rural Bangladesh, a journey through school love and marriage, Zuban Books, New Delhi; 2010 ‘Aspirations and self-hood: exploring the meaning of higher education for girl college students in rural Bangladesh’.
NAW- Tell us about yourself? How did you get the idea for the book- ‘Negotiating Adolescence in Rural Bangladesh’? How did you carry out the research?
The idea for the book and the research on which it is based came from a previous brief research project on acid attacks against adolescent girls in Bangladesh and lies in an interpretation that acid attacks can be understood in the context of changes of the adolescent experience. New educational opportunities contributes, especially for girls to open different life trajectories and to postpone marriage creating in this way new spaces for the emergence of adolescence as a stage of life.
The research was carried out over two six months period between 2001 and 2003 by myself. I employed a qualitative ethnographic methodology, conducted a survey of the village where I lived to assess the soci-economic condition of the families, participated to lfe events such as marriages and in particular I had informal interviews in two colleges of the area and in one high school with boys and girls aged between 12 and 19.
NAW- While women’s autonomy in marriage is a sort of expected issue in the west, in the Asian sub-continent, it has never been so, even for women who are financially independent. What was your experience, are adolescent women in Bangladesh now expecting a greater deal of autonomy before and after marriage?
Certainly those who manged to study at least for ten years or more develop different expectations for life and more self confidence. This will definitely influence their choices and capacity to negotiate more independence inside marriage. Despite this, however, marriage remains a choice of the family and girls (and boys) see being compliant towards their parents’ decisions as a form of respect and loyalty towards them.
NAW- Can you tell us about your findings with respect to opposite sex friendships? How different was it from the west where such friendships are not frowned upon?
Opposite sex friendship is very rare in rural as well as urban Bangladesh except among the upper class. Opposite sex interaction is seen with great suspicion as something that can lead to premarital sex. As such parents as well as the ‘samaj’ (society) exercise a great degree of control on their children in this respect. Students can develop friendship at school but the possibility of encounter and interaction are limited to the school premises.In this sense it’s very different from the West where friendships are encouraged.
NAW- As an academic and researcher and I ask this because am one too, I feel the transition between writing a research paper and a book for the masses is sometimes difficult. I mean what do you find more easy, writing a book for the public in a passive and layman’s voice or a research paper?
I find easier to write a research paper, definitely, but it wasn’t too difficult to adapt my D.Phil thesis to a book format
NAW- You have also explored the marriage aspect in your book. Migration of the male spouse is very common and this is perhaps true for the entire sub-continent also. How difficult was it for the single female to run the family, what were their expectations? Any interesting anecdote that you can recall?
I haven’t explored this issue in this research but I have worked on migration from Bangladesh to Europe and specifically on the left behind, their situation depends very much on the migration destination and on the initial economic condition of the family. For example, migration to Gulf countries is less remunerative and the spouses left behind can manage and run the family only if there is support by the extended family.
NAW- Adolescents are getting better education nowadays and are more exposed to the media but dowry problem still exists although it’s taken a new form for Bangladesh I guess. I mean now a prospective bride’s family would be asked for paying fees for a visa, travel arrangements, right?
To my knowledge, at least Bangladeshi men who migrate to Italy move as bachelors in most cases and only once settled, do marriage arrangements start. So, dowry is still widespread but I never come across cases were the bride’s family was asked to pay for visa etc…
NAW- How independent and assertive have the women in Bangladesh become with respect to the choice of a life partner? Inter- religious marriages would still be frowned upon right? What were your findings?
As I said before, marriage remains strongly a family issue, so the initiative is in most cases and across different social taken by the parents. However, the opinion of the prospective bride and groom are now taken into account a bit more and in some cases it is possible to take the initiative in choosing one’s partner but for the sake of honour it is important to have the consent of the respective families. Inter-religious marriage are still very rare and socially disapproved.
NAW- What are your upcoming projects?
I am now conducting a comparative research on adolescent girls migration. The research is funded by SNIS (Swiss Network for International Studies) and entails research in Bangladesh (myself), Sudan (Dott. Katarzyna Grabska) and Ethiopia (Dott. Marina de Regt. You can find more on the resaerch: ‘Time to look at gilrs: adolescent gilrs migration and development’ on the SNIS website www.snis.ch