After the death of her husband, Monnuja Begum struggled to provide for her family and support her children. Thanks to a new Red Cross skills training and cash assistance program, her grocery shop in rural Bangladesh is thriving.
The story details the Economic Empowerment of Rural Women Program, a project administered by the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) and Red Crescent Societies and the Bangladesh Red Crescent. The program has helped more than 800 women in rural communities across Bangladesh develop sustainable livelihoods, gain independence and contribute to their communities in meaningful ways.
The women enrolled say it is reducing inequality in their villages and helping to prevent sexual and gender-based violence. We checked in with three women to see how the program has made an impact in their daily lives.
Grocery Store Becomes Livelihood
A few years ago, Monnuja Begum faced financial difficulties after the death of her husband. She started a small grocery shop in her rural village in Bangladesh, but it was not enough to support her two children. Providing for her family and paying for her son’s education remained a daily struggle.
Through the Red Cross program, Begum received 10,000 Bangladeshi taka, the equivalent of $120 U.S. dollars, to start a bigger grocery shop.
"I now earn around 5,000 Bangladeshi taka, the equivalent of $60 U.S. dollars, per month from the shop which helps me lead my life smoothly and support my son's education," Begum said.
In rural parts of Bangladesh, this is enough income to support a small family.
For a widow like Begum, this income is life-changing, she explains, as women are not typically able to find a job or another way to support their family. In her village, many women are asked to stay inside the house while men work outside.
"I am, as a matter of fact, the only female shopkeeper in this village," she said.
Custom Fabrics as a Path to Independence
Momota Banu earns more than 9,000 Bangladeshi taka, the equivalent of $105 U.S. dollars per month, thanks in part to a Red Cross cash grant. As a result, she’s gained financial independence and can now support her family.
"Now, I can make customized dresses by pasting batik and I sell those in my own community and in the local market,” Banu said.
"I invest the earnings in household matters such as for repairing my home, latrine and tube-well and for my daughter's education," she said.
Her 12-year-old daughter, Jui, is a school student and happily helps her mother make handicrafts in her free time.
Cow Provides Economic Stability
Parmina Begum has a large family that used to depend entirely on the income of her husband’s agricultural work and crop production. If adverse weather impacted the crops, the family would experience hardships.
Through the program, Begum received 17,000 Bangladeshi taka, the equivalent of $200 U.S. dollars, which she spent to buy a cow. Additional training on cow rearing helped her adopt best practices and provide care for the animal.
"As my cow has given birth to a calf, I will have some extra money now by selling milk. I am cheerful and have no worries for the coming days," she said.
Looking to the Future
As climate change impacts local water sources and changes agricultural patterns in Bangladesh, Red Cross and Red Crescent teams say their work is more relevant than ever.
Officials say that women in the region are particularly vulnerable in these areas due to the compounding effects of climate change and other socio-economic factors including early marriage, the dowry system and gender-based violence.
For Monnuja Begum, Momota Banu and Parmina Begum, the program has made a real-world impact in their ability to care for their families and contribute to their communities. They say that the success of this program proves that if women are involved in economic activities, they can be economically empowered.
The American Red Cross has a delegation in Bangladesh and works alongside the Bangladesh Red Crescent to provide aid and training across the country. Our teams teach disaster preparedness in Cox's Bazar refugee camps and train students in coastal areas of the country on first aid and other lifesaving skills.