The International Rural Women’s Day was celebrated on 15 October in Netrokona, Bangladesh. Many women from the villages around came together and had a fun time. It was nice to notice how many women from the Swallows ACCESS program, a program that aims to increase women’s participation in the society, were sitting there proudly and participating in the festivities.
The schedule started with a parade walking towards a school nearby. At the school ground some games were played, the Bangladeshi version of the chair game for example. It was nice to see the women smiling and having fun. I noticed that Rina was participating in one of the games. I cheered for her. Rina is one of ACCESS participants from Bonuapara village, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interview her. She is one of the broken ones, she was married at a very young age and she has very little self-esteem and is not respected by her husband or mother-in-law. She came of as being very sad and lonely and I as I talked to her I became so grateful that this program exists and that Rina was able to join in it. Rina won the chair game and received her winning price a water bucket for her household. I am very glad that Rina won. She seemed happy and looked proud.
After the games, some speeches were held by the Upazilla chairman, Violence against Women committee’s chairman, representative of the women participating in ACCESS and the school headmaster. Then Kohinoor Begum one of SUS (Swallows partner organization) directors ended it with a powerful speech on how important this day was for the women’s fight for freedom. She encouraged all men to give their wife and daughters a small gift for example flower or a chocolate to emphasize the importance of this day and show their support.
As I sat there listening to one of the speeches on how important education is for women, I noticed that a woman wearing a black burka came walking slowly towards us but she stopped by a big tree quite far away standing there trying to play a low profile, half behind the tree. I saw that she was listening to the speech that was being given. She stood there for some time and I am sure she wanted to join but she could not or was not allowed to. It is my hope that she will come again next year and maybe then she will come a bit closer.
The schedule ended with some cultural music and dancing activities, something everybody enjoyed very much.
As I drove back to the office with my colleagues in the auto rickshaw I saw where some of the women from the celebration where shopping at the market. They looked free, at least this day they were free.
As I woke up this morning, I noticed through my mosquito bed net that the sun was coming up and it was a beautiful sight out of my window and it did not feel as hot as these recent days. I did my daily meditation, took a shower and got dressed. Then I went out and felt again that the weather was quite comfortable and not as humid as it usually is. As I drove in my rickshaw to the office the breeze from the ride felt nice. On my way I passed many beautiful smiles. Some people were brushing their teethes in the street, others were opening up their little shops and many kids were on their way to school.
When I arrive at the office I go first to the cafeteria where I get my breakfast. What a relieve I feel when I see that I am not getting rice this morning. Three meals of rice per day (breakfast, lunch and dinner) is more than enough rice for one day. No, this morning I get freshly baked dry tandoori naan bread with a spicy momelette (omelette with onion and chilly). It tasted very good. After my breakfast I have tea with my colleagues and we discuss today’s work schedule. The tea is extremely sweet, just the way my Bangladeshi friends like it. I am not a big fan of sugared tea, however I am learning to appreciate this daily ritual.
Today’s agenda is all about preparing the International Rural Women’s day, which is the coming Monday, 15 October and a lot of preparation is needed to be done. There will be a big gathering in one of the villages here close by. All the women from the villages in the district are encouraged to come and join. This is their day and this day they should feel happy and free. The women will be encouraged to speak up and let their voices be heard. There will be speeches, some musical events and then a chain will be formulated as all the women will hold hands to create a symbol of how they should stand together and support each other. Libon, my colleague, suggested that after work we go together to the market so that I can buy a sari, a traditional Bangladeshi dress, to wear on the International Rural Women’s day. She says, “For this occasion you really should wear a sari”. And so I will.
Netrakona is in the northern part of Bangladesh, close to the Himalayan border.
Here you share the road with pedestrians, rickshaws, cows and chickens. Here you can find beautiful nature and tall green trees, far from the noisy Dhaka. However, in Netrakona there is even more poverty than in Dhaka and very little development has taken place in the district for the last years. People’s living standards are very primitive. Many men do not have fixed jobs but go out every morning hoping they will be picked out for some sort of work, for instance construction work. In the morning they do not know if they will earn any money at all. In most of the cases, they are the main breadwinners of the household. People are eager to continue to fight for their lives and work very hard to possibly and hopefully make their children’s future a little bit better then their own.
Despite the hard life, the people here are more friendly and helpful than you can imagine. They are very curious and “where are you from?” is a question foreigners get asked quite a lot. Children wearing torn and dirty clothes give their big beautiful smiles to you and say, “hello, how are you?”
Bangladeshi people love colors and they decorate their rickshaws and baby taxis along with everything else with something colorful. Even though you meet some women wearing black burqa here, most of the women wear nice three peace or saris in all the bright colors of the rainbow.