Humayra Rahman Mitul talks about an initiative of BRAC

The vast majority of its microloans go to women, while a gender justice program addresses discrimination and exploitation

Even if one rarely steps out of home, it is impossible to not take notice of at least one Aarong advertisement on billboards. Aarong operates under BRAC, the largest development organisation in the world, and has helped in showcasing Bangladeshi talent nationally as well as internationally. A lot of organisations help tackle poverty and bring positive changes. But what makes BRAC so special? BRAC places special emphasis on the social and financial empowerment of women. The vast majority of its microloans go to women, while a gender justice program addresses discrimination and exploitation.

It all began with the Ayesha Abed Foundation (AAF). The Ayesha Abed Foundation was established in 1982 to commemorate the memory and work of Ayesha Abed, a co-worker and wife of the founder and chairperson of BRAC. The work done by the foundation is a testament to her commitment to the issues of education, training and employment opportunities for the disadvantaged women. In 1976, she initiated all the present major activities in Manikgonj. AAF acts as a facilitator in gathering and organising both the skilled and previously untrained artisans. The artisans are from various village organisations across the country. AAF provides them with training and employment in its numerous centres serving as Aarong’s production hubs. The foundation currently has thirty seven centers and six hundred thirty seven sub-centers spread across Bangladesh.

The co-existence of Aarong and the Ayesha Abed Foundation are both geared towards the same ambition, making an extensive support system for artisans all over the country a reality. Through this system, independent producers conducting fair trade with Aarong are encouraged to organise other artisans from their communities, including those communities which BRAC’s services have yet not reached. Today, there are almost eight hundred independent producers active in different corners of Bangladesh and working with them are nearly thirty thousand rural artisans. AAF’s current services to the artisans include free skillbuilding, supply of raw materials for production, transportation of goods, quality control, storage, management, finance, marketing and microfinance loan options through Aarong. Working mothers have access to daycare centers for their toddlers while they work, and senior workers receive a retirement benefit.
In addition to being trained, women recruited by AAF benefit from a living wage and job security. The workspaces are often near the houses of the artisans which enable them to mainly work from home while being able to look after their families. Taking into account the specific needs of its employees illustrates how Aarong, through AAF, has always infused a conscious effort to address issues such as environment, gender-specific needs, safety, security and most importantly – the empowerment of women.

Aarong supports sixty five thousand artisans, eighty five per cent of whom are women. Shondha Rani Sarker is one of them. When Shondhya first came to the Aarong Production Centre in Manikganj, she was a young widow with a toddler and had no means of feeding him. But now, fifteen years later she is one of the most experienced block workers at the centre and she is also in-charge of training new recruits. Not only is she earning a decent living, she is also providing her son with a bright future.

“Aarong is an equal opportunity employer and they are in balance with BRAC NGO’s movement of ‘Empowering Women’ as majority of the workforce comprises of women. Working as a sales associate for Aarong has allowed me to gain a wide array of knowledge on Aarong’s products and provided me with the opportunity to interact with a wide pool of customers and acquire knowledge. Mixing work with pleasure is very vivid in Aarong. The work environment is very friendly which helps us to handle pressure and get along with meeting targets and day to day work.” -Shamia Sultana, Sales Associate.

BRAC has worked for decades to integrate gender justice into its programs and eliminate gender injustice in society. The gender justice and diversity program works simultaneously within the organisation and the community. BRAC strives for equality, diversity and inclusiveness within BRAC; improves gender relations and empowers women at the household level across many of its programs. BRAC works to ensure that girls and boys are equitably nurtured to their full potential from pre primary through secondary school. We also promote gender equality and tackle violence against women at a national level by influencing government policies and agendas, organising public forums and events, and leveraging national and international alliances for gender justice.
BRAC is a beacon of hope; it has showed through its work that if proper initiative is taken, then a lot can be done, a lot of lives can be touched.