Inherited social, cultural norms and traditional practices in diverse levels like individual, community or organizational which have been reflected as the major features for deteriorating rural women’s ultimate empowerment in Bangladesh. Those long traditional based norms and practices basically are the in-depth inequitable practices, concerning men supremacy both at the household and community levels. So as a result, those traditional practices impose substantial obstacles to rural women’s participation in the decision making process.
Rupnahar Akter Parul and Hafizul Islam are now married for two years living in the Punchgachi union of Kurigram district. After marriage, her education stopped at 8th grade and she was totally engaged with household chores. Furthermore, her mobility was entirely restricted after few days of marriage and in-laws members indirectly forced her to conceive a baby. Moreover, her voice had no value in the family matter during decision making process.
When Parul thought that her life would be no more meaningful, at that moment CARE’s Women & Girls Empowerment Program launched IMAGINE project with its field activities in two unions of Kurigram Sadar upazilla. Initially community people didn’t take IMAGINE activities so positively because itss major focus is to ‘Delay First Birth’. But gradually people understood its values when the project initiated its activities: Girls Collective sessions, Couple Counseling, Mother and Mother-in-laws meeting, Husband outdoor cooking competition, Couple night-out movie screening, Social Analysis and Action (SAA) & Family Planning Counseling sessions for Front Line Health Workers transformation. Parul started participating in girls collective sessions and gradually she learnt about her Sexual & Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) and social rights and performed in all sessions and meetings regularly. As she describes:
“I have always finished my household activities early so that I can join the session conveniently and after attending the sessions with other adolescents, I came to know about SRHR and business management. In the Goal Setting Session, I have chosen myself to be a mobile servicing and retailing entrepreneur- something challenging especially in rural area”.
Along with awareness building sessions, IMAGINE also launched vocational trainings as alternative opportunities of women’s economic empowerment. A month-long residential training course organized on ‘Mobile Servicing’ at Kurigram Technical Training Center (TTC)], giving priority to the married adolescents and Parul tried to convince her husband and family for attending the training. Although she didn’t succeed initially as she had to stay outside from home for a month, but when her husband visited the training center, explored the accommodation facilities and had a conversation with the trainers, he was convinced. Then he spoke to his family to make the decision easier for his wife.
“I never thought I could stay outside from home for one month. It was like a day - dream for me but finally IMAGINE team convinced my husband and family that I could be an earning member and could contribute something to the family. I will always remember those 30 days of my life where no one yelled at me like in my in-laws for any mistakes. My courage, expectations and future goal have become much more solid after completing the training.”
After receiving the training, IMAGINE project provided a Smartphone along with seed money as business start-up capital for those trained girls. Now, Parul is working as a mobile entrepreneur and launched her own mobile servicing and retailing shop by her own name ‘Parul Mobile Telecom and Servicing Center’. Parul’s husband now fully supports her in every aspect of their lives. She said, “Now I am confident enough in making any decision either for me or family affairs. Every girl have rights to live with dignity, honor and power. So, we must have to self-reliant and confident.”
Parul now leads a completely different life due to her passion and IMAGINE’s contribution. Now she can actively participate in all of IMAGINE’s activities and the family members acknowledge her contribution to the family. She also has an active participation in her family’s decision making process.
“Community now praises all my achievements as well as my family. I have created my own identity as a mobile entrepreneur. I firmly believe my journey will enlighten many others and many Paruls who will experience a new world of equality.” ”
The story is written by Shamim Kobir, M&E Officer of IMAGINE project under Women & Girls’ Empowerment Program of CARE Bangladesh.