In Shahinoor’s household there were days when she struggled to put even one meal on the family table. She and her husband are among Bangladesh’s ultra-poor; those with no land, no assets and little hope of breaking out of hunger and poverty. But a new programme to unlock the entrepreneurial spirit of Bangladeshi women has transformed her life.
DACCA -- It was Shahinoor's mother in law who first suggested that she sign up for a new programme aimed at women. Living in a bamboo hut in a riverside village in Northern Bangladesh, Shahinoor certainly met the criteria. Her husband worked as a day labourer when he could, they had no land and three young children to feed. At 24, Shahinoor found herself among 35,000 women selected for WFP’s Food Security for the Ultra Poor programme.
The premise is that, even without formal education but with some basic training, these women are capable of making investments to better their families’ lives. They simply lack the start-up capital. After presenting a detailed business plan, Shahinoor received a cash grant of around US$200. Like many of her fellow participants, she bought a bull, for fattening. She tended it well and sold it at a profit a few months later.
“I will never forget how proud I felt when I saw that I had increased my initial money,” she explains with a broad smile, as her middle child, 6-year-old Mim, tugs at her skirt. A monthly salary of around US$7 is also provided to the women over the two-year programme to boost their food security even before their investments mature.
The women’s self-help groups meet monthly for training on issues from nutrition to veterinary practice to hygiene. they also discuss how their investments are working and the challenges they face. So when Shahinoor invested in a second bull, she listened to the advice that came from the group. The advice was to diversify. So after she had sold the animal, she used the money to buy a rickshaw with a trailer. That allowed her husband to earn money. She also biught several baby goats to rear.
“We used to struggle to provide one full meal a day, and that was rice and vegatables, with maybe fish once very two weeks. Now our family can eat three meals a day – every second day we can have fish or maybe an egg” she says. But for Shahinoor the benefits go well beyond staving off hunger and meeting the nutritional needs of her young children. “My husband respects me more but so does the community, and because of our achievements we women together are getting listened to.”
Recently her women’s group successfully petitioned to have local government provide a community well and pump. Shahinoor has savings put aside, her older children are attending school regularly and she is on the lookout for new opportunities.
When asked how this programme had changed her hopes for her own daughters, Shahinoor pauses. “I would like my daughters to continue their education right up to Masters level,” she says “but only if that is their wish.”