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An expanding world
Rina Begum's soft smile belies the strength and inspiring leadership that has made her both a community and national leader in her home country of Bangladesh. Five years ago, Rina wouldn't have been able to leave her home in Lalmonirhat, Bangladesh, unless she was accompanied by a male family member. Today, she welcomes both female and male visitors as the leader of her local women's group, known as an EKATA (Empowerment, Knowledge and Transformative Action) group.
Rina's group, originally started as part of CARE's SHOUHARDO program five years ago, is made up of 20 women. Although CARE's involvement in the program ended over a year ago, the women have continued the group, making great strides for bettering not only their lives but the community as a whole. Today, they talk about everything from children's education and local dispute resolutions, to ensuring community access to government services such as immunization and birth delivery, and ensuring people receive their national identity card so they can vote.
Rina also serves on other community groups, including three school management committees, and is an executive member of the People's Organization Convention (POC), an annual meeting that brings together more than 400 community groups. Rina, through the POC, is trying to bridge the gap between the needs of local communities and the national government service providers. She is a rare leader, who has not only managed her own development, but has created a space for the other women in her group to flourish. Because of this, they are all seen as leaders in their community, and regularly turned to for support, such as resolving family disputes or going to the hospital.
The group points out that husbands are showing increased respect for their wives throughout the community. And the group now knows what their rights are – and are fully confident in asserting and accessing them. “We were worried that our intermediaries were misrepresenting us,” says one woman in reference to men who would go to the local government with their requests. So now they communicate directly with the service providers, travelling some 60km to the local government offices. “It was only because of joining this EKATA group that this is possible,” she says.
Together, the EKATA group has stopped a number of child marriages in the community, started an early child care for development program and created a savings group. They are also all employed, earning income through activities such as raising livestock, making and selling food products, running a small shop or offering tailoring services.
The results for their families and the community have been inspiring. Five years ago, young girls would often be pulled out of school at a young age. Today, the education of young girls is valued and they push for continuous education. The families of Rina and the other women in her group would previously have lived on only one to two meals a day. Today, they all get three meals a day, and their children are fed a range of healthy foods, including eggs, meat, fish and vegetables.
What's more, the EKATA group has expanded the world for its members. Since joining the EKATA group, Rina has travelled across the country, carrying her goal to make life better for herself, the others in her group and her community. Referring to her group's meeting space, Rina says, “This room was not the only destination in my life. I had to explore beyond it.”