Where migrant women are the breadwinners

Source: dhakatribune.com

In Bangladesh, where people migrating abroad to find better life opportunities are predominantly men, finding an upazila that has produced a higher number of female migrant workers than men is a pleasant oddity.

In fact, Singair upazila in Manikganj district, only 36.5km away from Dhaka city, has produced the highest number of female migrant workers in the country, according to sources.

Women from Singair are working in different countries, mostly in the Middle East, successfully turning their lives around.

They are also making hefty contributions to the country’s foreign exchange earnings every year.

According to the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training, 39,705 women have migrated to different countries between 2010 and November 30, 2016 from Singair alone.

This correspondent recently visited Char Nayadingi village in Singair and met several families whose female members are the breadwinners in the family.

Some of them have returned home after working abroad for years, while others are still working.

“We were in a destitute condition before our women started leaving home to earn money. Now look at us,” said Kulsum Begum, former member of Joymontop Union Parishad (UP), where Char Nayadingi village is located.

Before running for UP membership, Kulsum, 38, worked for years in Bahrain. With her earnings, her family is all settled now.

Kulsum now runs a grocery store which is located beside the Dhaka-Singair road.

She said since women in her village started migrating for employment, their families have become solvent and, in some cases, even wealthy.

Her 50-year-old neighbour Jahera Khatun agreed.

“My daughter-in-law has been working in Bahrain for 12 years. With her income, our family has become solvent; my son even bought some land in the village with Nilufa’s money,” she told the Dhaka Tribune.

This beautiful house in Char Nayadingi village, Singair upazila belongs to 28-year-old Jarina Begum, who has spent five years in the UAE working several jobs. With her income over the years, she has built a house, paid all her debts and gave her brother the money to migrate to Bahrain Photo: Adil Sakhawat

Asked if she was all right with her daughter-in-law running the family and not her son, she said she was more than all right.

“I am proud of my daughter-in-law, of what she has been doing. She sends Tk25,000 every month. My son bought an autorickshaw with the money she sent so he could earn a living too. Our family’s monthly income now stands at around Tk50,000,” she said.

A few houses away from Jahera’s lives Bilkis Begum, 25, who recently returned home after working in Jordan for three years.

“My parents married me off at the age of 11. We were very poor; my mother-in-law used to beg in the streets,” Bilkis said.

Bilkis also worked as a domestic help, while her husband Sohel was a farmer on hire.

Struggling to make it through the day, she came to know about job opportunities in the Middle East and made the snap decision to move abroad.

“When I returned home, I brought Tk5 lakh back with me. We now have our own house. My husband drives an autorickshaw that he bought with my earnings,” said Bilkis, smiling.

Her son goes to school and is in Class IV, she proudly added.

Bilkis is taking a break from work as she is expecting another child. Her mother-in-law, Rahima, left for the UAE a month ago.

“This was possible for me because of Brac. Their training office here provided the support I needed,” Bilkis told the Dhaka Tribune.

Development organisation Brac has been working in Singair to provide support to female migrant workers. It is a part of the organisation’s Safe Women Migration programme.

“All of the villages in Singair upazila have a rising number of female migrant workers. Last year, 342 women from Singair migrated for employment with the help of our office,” said Mokarram Hossain, community-based organisation facilitator at Brac’s Singair branch.

“Women willingly come to our office seeking help. Their families fully support them, including their husbands,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.

Aleya Begum, a field volunteer of Brac based in Joymontop, said: “Once, women in Singair could not even go to their neighbouring village without their husband’s permission. Now, they contribute at least as much as their husbands – if not more – to their family income.

“The men of Singair could not do much when they went abroad, but once the women took up the mantle, things changed rapidly,” she told the Dhaka Tribune.

“You cannot imagine how empowered women have become in my village,” said Kulsum Begum. “They are not just contributing financially, but also making decisions with their male counterparts.”

But that does not mean that their roles are reversed, she said. “Men have not taken the backseat. Rather, men and women are working together for the betterment of their families, with equal contribution on their part.”

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