Bangladesh: Rafiza Begum

From despair to hope, Rafiza has traveled far. She now wants to devote her time to making that journey easier for other women.

— Rafiza Begum

From a timid wife whose husband abandoned her to a Union Parishad leader, Rafiza Begum (born around 1965) has traveled a long, bumpy road. When she contacted the NGO Proshika and its women's microcredit group, she could hardly imagine that one day she would be looking well beyond her own life toward improving the lot of all women in her village. Nor did she think that she would inspire scores of village women to break social, religious, and cultural barriers and move toward empowerment.

The tireless and fiery Rafiza Begum was once a retiring housewife in a Bangladeshi village, wondering how she would pull her life together after her husband abandoned her. "I had no education, no training," she says. "My father and mother were also very poor. But they supported me. They gave me shelter." In 1982, wondering what to do next, she heard about the development and support programs of Proshika, one of Bangladesh's largest NGOs, and contacted it. She undertook income-generating projects with a loan from Proshika, becoming active in a Proshika-facilitated microcredit women's group. For 22 years, she has been working to build awareness among the impoverished, particularly women, on child marriage, dowry, repression of women, and the need to maintain local law and order. Rafiza has also been encouraging women to engage in income-generating activities such as poultry farming and tree plantation. Proshika provides loans to members of the women's group to get them going. Her work has inspired scores of village women to break a panoply of barriers and edge toward empowerment. A prominent woman leader in the area, Rafiza has been elected to the Union Parishad three times. Despite the support, Rafiza has had to brave enormous opposition. Her engagement with "sensitive" issues has created unprecedented turmoil in the village, and she has been threatend by local religious leaders and power cliques. But, undeterred, Rafiza wants to devote her time to making her journey easier for other women.

Thana Federation Narikuli Women's Group