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Women leading change in Bangladesh

By Practical Action On 01.03.2024 IWD-2024Blog

This International Women’s Day, we celebrate the theme “Inspire Inclusion.” In Bangladesh, we’re working with female waste pickers in Faridpur to improve their work conditions and get their voices heard by the authorities.

Celebrating IWD 2024, we spotlight the inspiring stories of Mukta and Tasleema. Their extraordinary work is making Bangladesh’s streets cleaner and improving the health and wellbeing of the city’s poorest people. Discover their stories and join us in our work for a more inclusive future for everyone.

Mukta’s story: A young leader with a bright future

Mukta Bashfore is just 25 but she leads a cooperative in the slums of Kalaroa, Satkhira, where many families live in one-room homes. Through her cooperative, she supports other female waste workers and promotes gender equality.

Mukta starts her day at four in the morning, sweeping streets and managing a public toilet. Her afternoons are spent with her son and family or doing housework.

“As a woman from a marginalized community, there were, are, and will be many obstacles in my life. The cooperative gives me courage to face these obstacles.”

The cooperative, which began in 2020 with the guidance of Practical Action, has grown to 20 women, increasing their monthly savings and offering loans to members. They’ve also secured life insurance, ensuring financial support for families in case of death.

With our support, Mukta’s work with the cooperative has led to significant social and economic improvements. Residents have better access to community services, increased respect from service users, and better income through ventures like managing the public toilet.

“Service users used to call us “sweepers,” but now they call us “sanitation workers.” They give us respect now.”

A woman in a blue sari standing in front of flowers.

Mukta’s cooperative plans to expand into new areas by converting waste into fertiliser and leasing land for farming. They also hope to get training so they can produce sanitary products for local clinics.

We’ve stood alongside Mutka’s cooperative, advocating for them with local authorities. This has led to increased salaries, bonuses, and municipal support for housing improvements, changing their lives for the better. None of this would have been possible without the vision and dedication of this amazing young woman.

Tasleema’s story: From labourer to entrepreneur

Tasleema Begum, a 32-year-old waste picker, has transformed her life with the support of Practical Action. While cleaning rubbish from Faridpur’s streets, Tasleema faced the dangers and discomforts of working with dirty and dangerous materials, often getting injuries. Now, as a member of the cooperative we helped set up, she has access to protective clothing and has tripled her income.

“I sell the collected items and earn money. I’m now a small entrepreneur.”

Tasleema’s workday begins early, with household chores and caring for her children before she heads out to collect recyclable materials such as plastic, bottles, tin, iron, paper, and cartons. The introduction of safety equipment has made her job much safer and more dignified.

With our training, Tasleema learned the importance of organisation and saving for the future, which has given her a new sense of peace of mind and control over her life. Her newfound financial stability has allowed her to dream bigger – she now hopes to open her own shop and expand into other areas of business.

“Practical Action showed us how to get organised and save for the future.”

The cooperative’s influence has brought a sense of security and progress to Tasleema’s entire family. Where once her husband pulled a rickshaw and income was uncertain, they now work together as partners. Their combined efforts have enabled them to send their children to school, ensuring a brighter future for the next generation.

Tasleema’s success has also had significant impact far beyond her own family. Her story of creating wealth from waste has inspired many other women in the city to join cooperatives, take control of their lives and stand up for their rights.

The experiences of Mukta and Tasleema show the impact of supporting women in all areas of life. These two remarkable women are not only cleaning streets but also creating stable futures for their families and communities.

Let’s recognise their efforts towards inclusion and progress. Women like them are at the heart of our mission. Together we can keep working towards a world where every woman can succeed and drive positive change.