Sheffield, 11 September 2014 (Alochonaa)
Living with an Abusive Husband: Lakchunhar’s Story
In West Kalirdabak, not three kilometres from Fatima’s village, the lives of women are very different. The majority of these women do not have any land. Instead, they own freshwater ponds, in which they rear fish, as well as the small area in front of their house in which they grow vegetables. Like Fatima’s village, most of their husbands work as either day labour or rickshaw pullers. Lakchunhar’s husband, Monsur Faraji, runs a timber business, but struggles to make money while Lakchunhar makes little from the fish she sells. “The time I enjoy most,” she tells me, “is once a month, when we can have meat.” Her situation is dire – her husband regularly beats her, and has done ever since they were married, a common occurrence the other women tell me. “Every time I ask for things that cost money, he shouts at me, tells me “Don’t ask me for things!” If I ask again, he hits me, calls me a son-of-a-bitch. There is nothing I can do, except cry. When he was little, my son would run away as soon as it started. I thought he would help me when he grew up but now he is married and lives far away. I am alone.”
Unlike the women in Sonatola, Lakchunhar and the other women in her village have received no help from NGOs – no women empowerment sessions, no training in agriculture – because they have no land. This means that they are not eligible for micro-credit, as there is no certainty they’ll be able to pay the money back, and with micro-credit being the central link between NGOs and the poor, this cuts them off. “Who can I go to for help?” She asks. “If I try and talk to the chairman of the local council, I get no response. No one is helping me.”
Her situation has become even worse in the last two months, since a flash flood wiped out her fish stock and salinated her pond, crushing her livelihood in one blow. Her life at home has reached a new low too. Her husband borrowed money from some local moneylenders to spend on his business, but hasn’t seen a return on the investment. “Now they want their money back, but we can’t pay. Every day, he leaves the house very early and comes back after dark so that they won’t catch him. When they come, they shout at me, they are rough with me. When he comes home, if I tell him they’ve come, he hits me.”
The lives of the women in these two villages stand in stark contrast from one another. The key difference is their empowerment. In Sonatola, the women have land, so they are on the NGO radar. They have access to credit, are far safer from gender discrimination and have training in agriculture. As a result, they are strong, self-confident, and, most importantly, happy. In West Kalirdabak, the women have no land and are regular victims of domestic violence. They are isolated completely from help, whether that be in their home or out by their pond. They have just as much of a right to training and awareness raising programmes as those in Sonatola, but they are not getting it, and as a result, their whole family suffers.
As for Lakchunhar, her hopes for the future are dead. Black humour is all that’s left: “The future? I will hide under my blanket, and never come out. What can I do? I have no future.”
Lakchunhar (Author’s image).
Dealing with the ‘Aratdar’: Rawshunara’s Story
The village of Shatgharia is not the only community plagued by middlemen; the “Aratdar” are resented by women all along the southern coast of Bangladesh, including the village of Chowra Loda.
“There is so much pressure on our time,” says Rawshunara Sarker. “I am constantly on my feet, working, working, whether in the home or in the field. I get so tired, particularly around when I am preparing lunch, after spending the whole morning tending to my crops. Then, sometimes, I get angry. I hit my children. I argue with my husband.” Rawshunara, like so many other women in Potuakhali, struggles to make enough money with her husband in their acre or so of land, to adequately feed her family. She works incredibly hard, waking up at 5 a.m. every morning, in order to get the morning’s cleaning and breakfast out of the way so she can get out to work. It is harder, too, because we get very poor nutrition – we have enough money to eat small fish three times a week. We eat meat once a month.”
Rawshunara, like the women from Khulna, sites the “Aratdar” as the main cause of her and her family’s hunger. For many women who make a living by selling agricultural products, these middlemen are a huge burden on their lives. “I can only sell 1kg of potatoes for 12TK,” says Rawshunara. “but in the market, it sells for 20TK.”
And yet, despite the hardships they endure daily, Rawshunara makes it clear that she knows she is lucky: “We live happy lives. We are happy that we make a small amount, on our own land. For that, we are grateful. Our families are happy families.” Indeed, she is well aware that a few kilometres down the road are those without any land, like the women of West Kalirdabak, for whom life is even harder. Without land, they have no access to credit, as they cannot be sure they can pay it back. They get work on a day-to-day basis, finding what they can.
Farmers, fisherfolk, day labourers, full-time mothers – everywhere you go on Bangladesh’s southern coast, rural women are battling against countless enemies; from domestic violence to ruined crops, from floods to cyclones, from no food to no water, their problems are vast, their futures bleak.
One of the key causes behind their plight is the shrimp farming industry. The government of Bangladesh needs to act to prevent tampering with embankments, deterring shrimp farmers from cutting channels in them. The way in which shrimp farming is carried out in Bangladesh must be regulated, and its devastating impact on the surrounding communities minimised.
As this study has shown, those who stand to gain most from a stemming of global warming are women. They are at the fore of the climate change battle, and have experienced the worst of its effects. In Bangladesh, the cyclones and floods that have ruined their lives are set to increase in frequency, intensity and unpredictability. Monuwara, Bish, Champa, Bashmonti, Minati, Anima, Fatima, Lakchunhar, Rawshunara – all of these women will have to endure even greater deprivation if rising global temperatures cannot be brought under control.
*Finlay Green recently graduated from the University of Sheffield with a First Class Bachelor of Arts degree in Economic and Politics. This fall he will begin a Master of Science in Social Policy Research at the London School of Economics. In 2010, prior to his time at Sheffield, he spent three months as an intern at the Dhaka office of Oxfam GB in Bangladesh.
**Part 1 of this series can be found here: https://alochonaa.com/2014/08/23/living-on-the-edge-women-and-climate-change-in-bangladesh-part-1/
***Part 2 of this series can be found here: https://alochonaa.com/2014/09/02/living-on-the-edge-women-and-climate-change-in-bangladesh-part-2/
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