How a poor Bangladeshi woman became a community role model

Author: 
SHEHAB SUMON
Sat, 2018-01-13 00:39
ID: 
1515782415041421000

In the highly conservative, poor district of Kurigram in northern Bangladesh, Swapna Rani, 32, has risen from poverty by becoming an auto-rickshaw driver.
“There was a time when I couldn’t even provide two meals a day for my children. For years, there were no new clothes for us. But now things have changed. Now I don’t need to fight poverty like that,” she told Arab News.
A mother of two, she got married at a very early age. Her husband Ratan Chandra Barman disappeared soon after the birth of their second child.
She now raises her 13-year-old daughter Radha Rani and 11-year-old son Hridoy Chandra Barman as a single parent.
“Although it was very tough, I was still optimistic that someday I’d come out of poverty,” Swapna said.
“I got the chance two years back when our local Union Parishad Chairman Aminul Huq offered the village women the opportunity to become auto-rickshaw drivers in the locality. I instantly took the offer, and now my monthly income is around 40,000 taka ($500),” she added.
“Initially, people were reluctant to sit in my three-wheeler since I’m a female driver. They feared an accident, thinking I might not be able to drive the rickshaw properly,” she said.
“I’d assure them that they’d experience a safe and comfortable ride with me. After a few days the locals felt confident, and now the commuters enjoy my driving.”
Swapna’s income covers her children’s education, which costs around 3,000 taka per month. Her daughter feels proud that her mother is a role model in the community.
“My mother initiated something extraordinary that other women couldn’t think of before her,” Radha said.
“Now she can provide us with proper food, education, clothes and medicines. This was unthinkable two years ago.”
Swapna’s mother Sabitri Rani, 70, said her daughter “has become an example in our society. Her unconventional efforts have given us a different identity and a very good source of income.”
When asked about future aspirations, Swapna replied: “My next plan is to buy a pick-up van since there are so many auto-rickshaws on the street nowadays.”
She added: “A pick-up van will increase my income, and I’ve decided to have a female helper from the community as my assistant.”
Huq said: “Swapna became an icon for our locality, inspiring others with her success. Now many women are planning to come out of their homes and take up this kind of income-generating activity.”
He added: “At the beginning, we marked Swapna’s auto-rickshaw as only for women passengers. That’s why society leaders didn’t react negatively. Later they got used to seeing a female driver, and now everyone is riding with her.”
Dr. ASM Amanullah, professor of sociology at Dhaka University, said: “It’s an example that if mainstream society helps, women in developing countries can elevate their position in their communities both financially and socially.
He added: “Women in rural areas of Bangladesh are more progressive than their counterparts in urban areas. We should ensure equal opportunities and extend our support, mostly financial, so they can initiate their own ventures.”
Amanullah said: “Swapna’s success shows that we can empower our 80 million womenfolk if we extend a little support to them.”

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