From tending to a kitchen garden or rearing a cow, to making handicraft items or running a small village shop, some 800-plus women, all homemakers, made it big with a fistful of aid and loads of motivation.
By Sajid Hasan
The past year has been a roller coaster ride of discovery for Rashida Begum.
It was a special year; Rashida, 60, set up a plant nursery in her village in Nilphamari, in northern Bangladesh, bordering India. In this past year, Rashida is proud to be earning an income to meet the needs of her family.
“My family and I faced a lot of poverty in the past years. We could not manage enough food for ourselves and my children also struggled a lot to continue their education. Now we are well off,” says she with a smile.
More than 840 women like Rashida have turned their lives around in the rural areas of Bangladesh.
For the first time in their lives, the women have been in a position to start their own business and earn a reliable income, with support from Bangladesh Red Crescent and the International Federation of Red Cross.
A longer-term programme, economic empowerment of rural women, is offering women access to cash assistance and skills training so that they can develop sustainable livelihoods and independence.
The women say it’s reducing inequality in their villages and helping to prevent sexual and gender-based violence.
The village’s only woman shopkeeper
A few years ago, Monnuja Begum, faced big financial difficulties for her family after her husband passed away. Monnuja started a small grocery shop, but it was not enough to support her son and daughter.
Monnuja, 40, agreed to her daughter marrying, typical in rural Bangladesh, to reduce the daily cost of an impoverished family. Yet she still needed to find ways to boost her income to provide enough for her family, including her son’s education.
Mannuja received 10,000 Bangladeshi Taka (120 US dollars) from Bangladesh Red Crescent and the IFRC to start a bigger grocery shop.
“I now earn around 5,000 Bangladeshi Taka (60 US dollars) per month from the shop which helps me lead my life smoothly and support my son’s education,” says Monnuja.
In rural parts of Bangladesh, 60 US dollars a month is just enough to run her small family.
For a widow like Monnuja, this income is a lifesaver, she explains, as women are not typically able to find a job or another way to support their family. Women are asked to stay inside the house and men do jobs outside.
“I am, as a matter of fact, the only female shopkeeper in this village,” Mannuja adds, indicating a positive change in her community.
Vegetable garden pays for schooling
It seem like months ago when this land was full of weeds. Sudha Rani Roy, smiles with joy as she explains that now, she has transformed this patch of paradise into a big vegetable garden near her house.
Sudha says this has been one of the best years of her life. She loves growing organic vegetables, as she shows off her bountiful brinjal, gourd and spinach.
The garden is laden with colourful fruits, papaya bursting from beneath big green leaves, surrounded by spices, ginger and turmeric and leafy greens.
During recent months, Sudha has earnt 6,000 Bangladeshi Taka (70 US dollars) a month, by selling her winter vegetables, which are in high demand.
“I hope to earn more during the rest of the winter as there is a huge demand for vegetables in this area,” says Sudha Rani. This has all been made possible with special financial support and training in recent months.
She has two daughters, one of them goes to school; and she is extremely happy to be able to spend her earning to support her family and her daughter’s education with her vegetable garden.
A training on handicrafts and cash assistance enabled Momota Banu, 35, to earn more than 9,000 Bangladeshi Taka (105 US dollars) per month that helped her become financially independent and support her family.
“Now I have the capacity to make customized dresses by pasting batik and I sell those in my own community and in the local market.
“I invest the earnings in household matters such as for repairing my home, latrine and tube-well and for my daughter’s education,” says Momota.
Her daughter Jui, 12, is a school student and happily helps her mother in her work.
Milking a cow and other opportunities
Parmina Begum, 45, has a large family that used to depend entirely on the income of her husband coming from agricultural work and crop production.
If the production is hampered any year due to adverse weather, the family used to go through a lot of hardship as they could barely save money for such times.
Parmina received 17,000 Bangladeshi Taka (200 US dollars) which she spent to buy a cow.
She also received training on cow rearing and now she can think of supporting her family.
“As my cow has given birth to a calf, I will have some extra money now by selling milk. I am cheerful and have no worries for the coming days,” she says.
Women and climate change mitigation
The impact of climate change is severe in northern Bangladesh resulting in the destruction of rivers, changing the agricultural patterns and affecting typical livelihoods.
Women are particularly vulnerable in these areas due to the compounding effects of climate change and other socio-economic causes such as early marriage, dowry system, and gender-based violence.
The women targetted under this programme, including widows and female-headed households, have been supported to strengthen economic capabilities which have ultimately increased their adaptation capacity in facing the impacts of disasters caused by climate change as well as reduced gender inequality in the community.