07 October, 2013
Lutfa, a 17 year old girl in Joykolosh village of south Sunamganj pointed out that girls are not a burden but key to prosperity if they are given the chance they deserve. Since 2010, Lutfa has been a member of the women’s empowerment group known as Empowerment Knowledge and Transformative Action (EKATA) facilitated by the Food Security for the Ultra Poor in Haor (FSUP-H) project. This European Union funded project is implemented by CARE Bangladesh and is working in the northeastern of Bangladesh to ensure food security through empowering some of the most vulnerable communities in the country.
Previously extremely poor, Lutfa's family are now working together to improve their lives and it is Lutfa who catalyzed this change through her determination to stand against social pressure. Lutfa completed primary education before her participation in FSUP-H project. Due to her family’s poverty she was unable to continue her education and remained solely engaged in household chores. Gradually her family members started to see her as a burden as, according to them, she was not bringing anything to the family except costing them money to raise her. Her parents decided to marry her off in order to reduce their 'burden'. They even agreed to pay dowry to the groom's family to let their daughter marry.
Astonishing her parents, Lutfa bravely denied this imposed decision. She convinced them that marrying her off would instead invite more burden and a continuous demand for money from her in-laws. She explained,
'I was broken inside, as my dream to educate myself remained unfulfilled and on top of that I started to doubt my abilities to change my life...the EKATA group restored my faith, my dream and abilities. Attending the training sessions taught me about the bad effects of child marriage. This helped me to convince my parents to stop my marriage and instead buy me a sewing machine...now my family members rely on me to take decisions about different matters; I also contribute financially on a regular basis'
Lutfa’s dream to change her and her family's poverty situation was fueled by the training in literacy and women’s empowerment as well as social support she received from the EKATA group. Her EKATA peers encouraged her to take up tailoring and promised to support her by buying clothes. Lutfa convinced her mother to invest the small cash grant of BDT 4,700 from the FSUP-H project to buy a sewing machine for her. Her EKATA peers also came to her home and requested her parents to invest in her instead of letting her be married off. Lutfa's parents were finally convinced and let Lutfa chase her dream to be a self reliant girl.
Lutfa now earns BDT 200-300 a week where most of the customers are her peers. She invests part of her profits on her sibling's education so that their future will be protected. Her busy days are accompanied with a sense of satisfaction and self reliance. After having the courage to negotiate a decision which is often imposed on adolescent girls in Bangladesh and then using her own initiative to help her family escape from poverty, Lutfa has become a name of inspiration in her community. When asked if she will marry, she replied with beaming pride '...at least not before I am 25 years old'
EKATA is a platform for extremely poor women and girls to raise awareness on negative social norms such as early marriage, dowry payments and violence against women. The women are taught about their rights and encouraged to share their thoughts in the group as well as at home with their family members. EKATA's knowledge transfer to empower the most marginal communities is playing an innovative role as an alternative education for ultra poor women and girls in the Haor region. They apply soft skills they receive through training sessions, to raise their voice against social odds and to negotiate with dominant social actors at the family and community level. Lutfa’s story is just one of a growing voice of adolescent girls in this region of Bangladesh.