Empowering women to run small businesses in Bangladesh

By Inmanuel Chayan Biswas, Caritas Bangladesh

Juthika Borua, a mother of three and a widow, lives with her children at Kutupalong Purba Para village in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

“Surviving in this world was the biggest question after my husband’s death,” said Juthika, sadly.  “He left us all of a sudden and we were not ready at that time to carry on without him. From that day on, the shadow of suffering came down on our lives.”

“He had been suffering from heart disease for a few months. The doctor advised an operation and told him to stop working in the tailors’ shop. That surgery required a lot of money and we didn’t have the money…”

“…Suddenly one day, he had a stroke and left us forever,” Juthika said through tears.

In rural Bangladesh, 26 percent of the people aged 40 years or above are suffering from hypertension, and, of them, 21.5 percent have suffered strokes, says a new study on Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. There is no universal health coverage in Pakistan or Bangladesh and blood pressure medicines are not free in either country.

Empowering women and host communities to be more resilient

Juthika in her shop. Caritas Bangladesh women empowerment program

Juthika in her shop. Photo by Shohel/Caritas Bangladesh

Juthika was sitting in her small clean shop wearing the traditional Bangladeshi saree as she told me her story. Most of the Bangla women living in the countryside usually love to wear red and yellow cotton saree like Juthika. The difference is that in the case of widows they wear white sarees. But modern culture has changed that tradition.

According to Bangladeshi culture, women do not work outside of their homes. So when tragedy strikes, it is very difficult for a woman maintain her family. It’s like surviving alone out in ocean.

When her husband died, Jukhita says she felt overwhelmed. “I didn’t know what to do,” she said.” I had no experience working outside. In order to survive, I started this shop.”

As the shop was small, so were profits. It was becoming very difficult to keep the family going on so little income and they had to stop going to school. Jukhita says that as the Rohingya crisis began, sales in the shop went down even more.

Due to the Rohingya influx, prices of most of the essential commodities increased in the local markets all of a sudden. It impacted the local community especially families with low income.


A business plan that changes lives

Caritas Bangladesh launched a disaster risk reduction (DDR) project for host communities at Ukhiya Upazila in Cox’s Bazar in 2018. The aim was to make the communities more resilient in the face of increasing numbers of Rohingya refugees.

Caritas found Juthika’s family to be extremely vulnerable and decided to give her training and help her do a small business plan. She was given BDT 25,000 (€260) for restarting her small business in 2019. With that money, she renovated her shop, keeping DDR measures in mind, and added some new commodities understanding more deeply the community’s ability, its needs and demand in her shop.

“I am so happy now. Caritas gave me new life, through this small shop … Now I have at least sufficient food for my family and my children have started going to school again.” said Juthika

Now she is the owner of a functional grocery shop and earning enough to maintain her family. This positive boost has not just an impact on her family but on her community as well.

Caritas has empowered many more women-led families like Juthika through this project at Rajapalong Union. A small support like this can change a life, a family, a community or a group to move forward towards empowerment and social sustainability.

No one can take away the memories of a lost loved one. Only very gradually time can heal such wounds. But at least in material terms, Caritas  empowers women with what they need thanks to your help.


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