Women of Bangladesh
Mary Ann King — Bobcaygeon, ON
In her book The Forgotten Followers, Carol Schlueter presents a challenging study of biblical women whose names we do not know but whose lives are models for women of today.
Likewise, the women I learned about in Bangladesh will remain, for the most part, nameless. They, too, present pictures of courage and resourcefulness from which I can learn much. The contrast between the rich and the poor Bangladeshi women is well defined and rarely is that line crossed, yet each has a unique and powerful story:
- Awami League president Sheikh Hasina: one of the most powerful women in Bangladesh, she has survived imprisonment, exile, and the assassination of her family. She heads a fourteen-party alliance whose goal at present is to force the current caretaker government to conduct a fair election. A symbol of hope, she is loved and respected.
- The wife of one of our Rotary hosts who teaches poor children in her home each morning: she told us that the bedkits they received gave them renewed enthusiasm to return each day carrying their backpacks and proudly wearing their new clothes.
- The leper in the street: she touched my shoulder with what remained of her hand, trying to survive in a country where being disabled means being forgotten.
- The 1.6 million garment workers, many of whom we saw streaming into one of the thirty-three hundred factories as we travelled around the country: often this is the only type of employment available to these women, who work 72 hours a week plus 12 hours compulsory overtime a month, but it does mean that their families will be fed.
- The three million women to whom UNICEF is currently giving tetanus vaccinations: to protect thousands of newborns at risk during delivery.
- The talented and charming wife of one of our Lion hosts who was recently nominated to win a prestigious international design award.
- The many beautiful women I met personally at our distributions: each had stories etched in their faces. These were moms who only wanted the best for their children and were so grateful for the bedkits. The surveys that we conducted gave them a voice, perhaps for the first time ever, and they were eager to share their thoughts. It was truly a humbling experience to share this time with them.
Each of these women's stories is a poignant reminder to me of how blessed I am to be a woman in Canada. I pray that knowing these stories will make me a more compassionate one.