Since independence, having had massive development interventions for women empowerment in Bangladesh, but still rural people perceived that technology is something that needs to be handled by men. Similarly, entrepreneurship is believed to mens sphere. However, aiming to bring some changes in these gendered domains, under EC- PRSIM project (funded by European Commission), we have distributed Aashkol (jute fiber extraction machine) through a joint entrepreneurship model (one male and female member can take lease of the machine fro 3 years). In this entrepreneurship model, women have significant role to play both for unleashing their potential entrepreneurial skills and earn an income. However, it was not easy for community people to see woman leading an enterprise. Sheuli Begum- one of the woman entrepreneurs of the project stated that;
I am a housewife and people do not see my entrepreneurship skill in positive way. They never encourage to do such thing. Rather people laughed at me. But I know, I can do this.
Sheuli helping her husband in jute retting
Sheuli Begum lives in Bozra, Kurigram with her husband and two children. Her husband is a jute farmer, and she is a home maker. From her husbands income, it is impossible to save any amount for meeting any emergency need. Seasonal income from selling jute fiber, jute stick is also insufficient. Therefore, to meet their regular expenses such as education expenses for the children and medicine for the family members, often they need to borrow money from neighbors. Since they do not have other sources of income, thus it becomes impossible to pay back the borrowed money. Sometimes, she sells her jewelries to pay the indebted money.
Ashkol is being used for jute extraction
With such hardship in life, suddenly she came across about a jute extraction machine. She also heard about a project that would select entrepreneur for Jute extraction from their community. She got surprised to know that women would get equal partnership with men in this entrepreneurship. Without any hesitation, she shared her keen interest with her husband. After fulfilling all the requirements and receiving the training, she got the machine from Practical Action Bangladesh.
During the season, after meeting all the expenses, she earns 1500 taka per day with her jute extraction machine. Since they have got better quality of fiber, thus she hopes to sell the jute fiber with a higher price (in compare with last year). In her words;
Before, it required many days for jute retting and fiber extraction. Now with this machine, fiber extraction is done immediately and retting also takes less time. Thus, labour and time both are saved. Thats why, we could have made some profits.
She informs that due to regular rainfall she was unable to dry the broken jute stick. But she has explored an innovative alternative about the raw jute sticks. She has rotten them in compost bin to make organic fertilizer. She will use the fertilizer in the crop. Along with that, she has plan to use the machine in multipurpose way throughout the year to secure income round the year.
As a concluding reflection, it can be said that women like Sheuli in rural Bangladesh never (or hardly) have opportunity to give a try to develop and run some sort of enterprise. Sometimes, a few of them get development support and try to do like Sheuli in this case. Among them, a few of them become successful (of course many reasons will work behind) and are considered as role model in the community. But there are others as well, who could not make it a success. As many development interventions, now a day are not comprehensive (like in this project, we do not have any activity like community awareness around on gender & entrepreneurship; which is very important to sensitize the community). Therefore, the problem that Sheuli has highlighted in her first statement will play around and continue creating problems in her way of empowerment. However, we need to continue putting our efforts some way or others. And if we can carefully and dedicatedly deal the issue, then big change may happen from this entrepreneurship initiative around the small technology- Aashkol.