Azmal Hosen Mamun
According to the World Health Organization, there are 7.5 million women with disabilities in Bangladesh. They often face great difficulty in accessing education, vocational training, employment and income generating opportunities on an equal basis with others in our community. This is because of the discrimination they face on the basis of being women, disabled and all too often, poor. With the help of Bangladesh Protibandhi Kallyan Somity (BPKS), however, numerous role models are emerging of women with disabilities, who are taking charge of their lives, building their own sustainable livelihoods and becoming active and valued members of their communities. Here are two of their stories.
Bandodebi Chakma is a 47 year old tribal woman with a visual impairment, which she acquired at the age of five. She grew up in a poor family in the Rangamati area and was not provided the opportunity to attend school. With much of her life spent behind the doors to her family home, she did not even know that there were others in her community, who faced the same kinds of challenges she did. She thought she was all alone.
That was, until BPKS came knocking on her door. BPKS was setting up a new ‘Persons with Disability to Development’ (PSID) center in her area. On hearing about the new centre, Bandodebi joined up. For the first time in her life, she started learning about the importance of self-confidence, about gender issues and the rights of people with disabilities. She also started participating in a training program aimed at helping the members build their own Grassroots Disabled Peoples Organization to Development (GDPOD).
With each new course, her knowledge and confidence grew. It was then that the idea of starting up her own small tooth powder business, something she would previously not even have dreamed off, started to become a reality. She took out a loan of 3000 Taka from the GDPOD, along with an additional 15,000 Taka from the Directorate of Social Welfare in the Rangamati district. She now produces 100 portions of tooth powder each month, which she sells to grocery stores in Rangamati and Dhaka and now has plans to begin cultivating mushrooms in her own yard. This helped her confidence grow even more. Now, she is not only the President of the `Grassroots’ Disabled Peoples Organization to Development (GDPOD), but is also an active member of both the Women with Disabilities (WWDs) Committee and the General Council (GC) of the Rangamati PSID Centre. Importantly, however, Bandodebi now very much sees herself, not as someone with a disability, but as someone who is “differently-abled” who also happens to have much to offer.
Kamrunnahar is a 28 year old woman with a physical disability. Like Bandodebi, she also lived a very isolated life and did not know there were other people with disabilities like hers that were able to work and earn a livelihood. When she heard about the PSID centre established by BPKS in Faridganj upazilla, she became a member. Completing the training program offered by BPKS also helped her confidence to grow and she began to take on more and more activities in her community. Not only has she taken on the role of Treasurer for the Chandpur Disabled People’s Organization to Development, but she is also working in the Volunteer Organization for Social Development (VOSD) as a community nutrition organizer. She also studies in BSS at the Laxmipur Government College. Much to her own surprise and to those around her, Kamrunnahar had many more skills and abilities than she realized and is now playing a very active role in her community.
BPKS is not only working in Rangamati and Chandpur – they are operating across 33 districts, and working to empower 8000 women with disabilities across the country to actively participate in their own and their communities development. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ratified by Bangladesh, recognizes the additional needs of women, whilst affirming the human rights of all persons with disabilities to life with dignity and justice. Bandodebi Chakma and Kamrunnahar’s stories are a living testament to what can be achieved through working together, alongside women with disabilities themselves to assure these rights are realized.
(Writer is a development worker and can be reached under the Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed are personal.)