A Woman We Are Proud of: Mili Khatun from Bangladesh
How a woman gets more decision making power in her household.
Mili Khatun from Bangladesh lives in a village with her husband, son and in laws, and unlike many rural women in Bangladesh, is now pursuing her postgraduate degree. Mili’s husband is the head of the household and as a male member, he is responsible for all primary decisions. This story reveals how advocacy and economic empowerment has helped Mili earn respect, dignity, and decision-making power within the household.
In 2017, Mili became engaged with ICCO’s Civic Engagement Alliance (CEA) program, funded by Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and co-implemented by Helvetas Bangladesh. The program targets marginalised small producers involved in small-scale agriculture, helping them to become economically empowered by utilising their existing assets, developing their leadership & negotiation skills, and addressing underperforming lobby & advocacy capacity.
Growing Medicinal Herbs
Mili, like her fellow neighbours, knew that growing medicinal herbs and supplying to pharmaceutical companies can bring a better income. However, the problem was that most of these farmers either did not have land, or they owned land that was not sufficient and suitable (contaminated by chemical fertilisers) for producing medicinal herbs.
As part of the CEA program, Mili received training to preserve seeds & saplings, techniques to grow the plants, and improve yield quality of Basak (Malabut Nut). In addition, she received training on lobby and advocacy, where she also learnt about policies and practices related to access to roadside and public fallow land (also known as khas land). These areas are owned by the state and government leases or gives it away to people who do not own or have access to land. Although available size is not fully known (due to lack of official accurate inventory and consequent loss of a substantial amount of land), most khas land remains unused in the country.
Successfully Lobbying for Access to Land
With the newly acquired knowledge and her educational background, Mili supported her federation to prepare documents to approach local officials, negotiate lease of the land, and finally get access to roadsides for planting Basak. As a result, Mili joined other women from her village to plant 200 Basak saplings along their newly leased land. After three months, she was able to produce 10 kgs of dry basak leaves, which she sold for 1500 BDT (approx. EUR 16). Understanding the financial benefits, Mili collected more saplings. Now, she can supply 40 kgs of dry leaves to ACME every quarter.
Mili says “Without the federation and the trainings from the project, I could have never connected with a big buyer, like ACME. A truck from ACME would never come to my house to collect the products; they mainly come to us now because we can jointly supply a bulk amount of dry leaves which are being grown on the leased land”.
Having her own income allows Mili to contribute to the household. She pays for her son’s and her own education. As a result of this empowerment, Mili noticed that she is more valued in the family and is regularly involved in decision-making as well. Her husband is now more inclined to listen to her suggestions. “Now I can earn and fulfil my own financial needs. For little things, I do not have to depend on anyone. I can also contribute towards my family’s well-being.” she adds.