Having a woman mentor could be a key to empowerment
Only 21 years old, Mahua is a budding entrepreneur. She uses her smartphone to not only learn agricultural practices but to also runs a Bkash and phone recharge business. In the comfort of her own home, she completes money transfers for her neighbours and tops up their phones for a small fee. Normally they would have to travel to the bazaar to have the same service, but Mahua is accessible, friendly, and helpful, a familiar face that community members trust.
In an alternative path, Mahua could have been a child bride at twelve years of age. Mahua’s mother was poor and vulnerable after her husband died, leaving behind a one year old Mahua. Her mother was ill, had no land, and struggled to take care of Mahua. She wanted to get her married off when Mahua was only a student in class 6. Munni, their neighbor (and another animator), convinced her not to get Mahua married and suggested that she open a store so that she would have an income to support Mahua. In the meantime, Munni supported them by giving them vegetables and fish to cover their basic need to eat. Thankfully Mahua’s mother listened to Munni and did not get her daughter married. She did open a shop and earned enough to keep Mahua’s early marriage at bay. In that circumstance, Mahua would most likely have been confined to her husband’s home, unable to continue her education with one or two children as a teenager. She would become a housewife with little opportunity for growth or agency in her own life.
In the current path that Mahua is on, she will be set to graduate from university in two years, a feat that many women in her community have not done. She plans to pursue her master’s from Khulna University afterwards, continuing her bKash business and another job that she found on bdjobs.com.
Mahua also wants to continue helping her community with her knowledge and connections. She shares everything that she learns with her community, including the SMSs she receives from PROTIC, and she encourages community members to attend agricultural trainings by the Upazila Parishad. She also proactively seeks solutions to various problems by posting pictures of her neighbour’s ailing plants and asking for advice from the local agricultural officers. Mahua goes out of her way to help because she genuinely cares.
Several factors were interventions in Mahua’s life, bringing her to where she is now. Firstly, Munni stopped her marriage and took Mahua’s responsibility. Munni took Mahua to different NGO trainings and meetings and helped her become a leader of a youth group. The second intervention was the PROTIC project training and smartphone technology that Mahua received. With her phone, she was able to do farming, bKash, and help her community. Mahua’s own drive has been an important factor to her success as well. She was self-motivated in finding something to do to support her family.
We learned from Mahua that having a woman as a mentor, such as Munni, is key to empowerment. We also learned from her that young people, when given the right opportunity, tools, and guidance, can be strong leaders and agents for change.
Tania Ahmed and Mity Mahmuda are a research officers at ICCCAD.