Real-Time Stories On Women Empowerment
‘Learn to be my own hero’
I am my mother's only child as my father passed away when I was very young. Devasted with the loss, my mother did not know how she would financially manage to bring me up as she had no support from her family. So my mother and I moved to Dhaka to make a living. From a very young age of 6 years, I had to work as a maid servant along with my mother. We received meagre and irregular income, hardly enough to afford two meals a day. With no permanent shelter above our heads, and some days with one or no meals, we lived as support to each other, never giving up. For the next five years life continued as such, but we had begun to find our footing. When I was 12, my relatives back at the village took me to get me married to a man much older than me who already had a first wife. I had no choice in the matter, but as life has taught me to see the best in every situation, I accepted him with my full heart knowing that perhaps now I will have someone to take care of me. Little did I know that I was being sold into slavery and not being accepted with love. I was made to do all the household chores, and would regularly be beaten up with sticks and hot rods for any small mistake. I was in a lot of pain and suffering, but I bore in silence. After some time, I got pregnant, but this did not make them compassionate towards me, instead they (husband and his first wife) became more violent towards me, increasing the beatings as I could no longer do so much work. Neither my suffering nor my pregnancy made them take pity on me. I had had enough and could not let my unborn child suffer like me. So I went back to my mother and for some time was working in irregular day jobs during my pregnancy. Soon I gave birth to a boy, but neither his father nor anyone from his family ever came to see him or support me. In fact when my son was only two, he divorced me without ever looking at his son.
Once I came back to the village, I heard a public announcement that, SWAPNO was looking for single, divorced or widowed women with no income, for employment. I went to the Union Parishad along with many other women suffering just like me and luckily was chosen out of a lottery. SWAPNO enabled me to realize my own potential. With regular wage for 18 months, with only 6 hours work day, with the rest of the day followed with various life skills and livelihood trainings, I gained financial independence, learned to save and invest responsibly, knew my rights, regained my self-confidence and now had skills in livestock rearing and how to run small businesses. I would receive my wage through my bank account, delivered to me at the Union parishad, and I would regularly save a part of it in the bank and participated in informal saving group of 12 women. Soon I was able to purchase a second hand sewing machine using my money and started running a small tailoring shop with the skills and guidance I received through SWAPNO. As my income increased, I was able to purchase some cows and goats which added to my income. Today, I am able to send my son to school and give him two meals a day and I know from what I have been able to achieve, that my dream of establishing a bigger tailoring shop is not far away. I am now no longer a victim of circumstances. I have learnt how to be my own hero.
Firoza Begum, Bhrungamari, Kurigram shared her story with Farzana Ahmed Julie, National Consultant, United Nations Development Programme. SWAPNO (Strengthening Women's Ability for Productive New Opportunities) is a gender-based social security project targeting ultra-poor rural women, implemented by Local Government and UNDP. Major
interventions of the project include: Fixed wage contract for 18 months under public works component; need-based life skills and livelihoods trainings and formal financial inclusion alongside grants and linkages with private sector.