Story Publication logo July 10, 2009

Bangladesh: Ruma



As U.S. citizens missed their chance to elect a woman for president for the first time in 2008...


Stine Eckert, Pulitzer Student Fellow

Girls and women learn sewing, English and how to use a computer at Nari Jibon Development Foundation - A visit to a struggling women's project in Dhaka. Part 2

DSC_4799 As I talk with Nipu, Shadia, and Tasnuva, a quiet fragile woman in a bright yellow sari drifts in and out of the doorframe of the computer room. Sixty-five-year old Ruma has been with Nari Jibon since the beginning of the project in March 2005. She helps the tailoring students, brings tea, and welcomes guests at Nari Jibon. She already greeted me as I only got half way up the stairs to the third floor where all classrooms and the office are located.

Ruma came to Dhaka 25 years ago, when she fled from her second husband in Khulna, a village in South West Bangladesh where he still works as a fisherman. As her first husband died she was forced to marry his younger brother, whom she didn't like. In Dhaka she found work by ironing garments to support her two sons.

"Nari Jibon has changed my life positively," she says. "If I had a chance like that earlier, I could have worked from home." She lives vicariously by seeing the younger girls learning tailoring and English as she never went to school. Until four years ago she was illiterate.

"Now I can read and can't be cheated on prices anymore," she says. In the morning she reads Prothom Alo, one of the top Bangladeshi daily newspapers. Her next goal is to teach her grandson how to read and write and to better establish Nari Jibon. "I love the project."DSC_4793

Nari Jibon pays her 1,000 Tk a month, a quarter than what it used to be before December 2008. Rent for her approximately 12 x 12 feet room in the neighborhood costs 1,800 Tk a month. "I have a small house," she says as she leads me down the narrow passage to her homestead, which she shares with her 25-year-old son who works as a rickshaw puller, his wife Lovely, and three year old son Rapi. Lovely will start a job in the garment factory next month, sowing on buttons.

Outside her house, a row of stoves provides a shared kitchen. Ruma's flame heats a pot with boiling egg curry. As we sit down on her bed she proudly shows her writing exercises while neighbor women and kids quickly gather at the door, spill into the room, and men peek through the window to eye Ruma's strange visitor.

A neatly dressed girl in a red and white three-piece with sparkling earrings stands out. Fatima doesn't know if she is 13 or 14 years but says she also works in a garment factory, motioning a boy nearby she indicates that she helps produce men's pants. Every day except Sunday she walks half hour walk to start her eleven-hour shift in the factory. Usually she works eleven hours, she says, but today there was not much work and she walked back home by one o' clock.

As I leave a little girl tries to take my hand, a young man poses to have his picture taken, and Ruma says she's happy I visited her house.

Photos: 1. Women and children crowd in to see how Ruma shows me her writing.

2. Proud of her writing skills: In her home Ruma shows her exercises.


teal halftone illustration of a construction worker holding a helmet under their arm


Labor Rights

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