Young rural entrepreneurs bring changes
By Munima Sultana
Khulna, 08 August, 2013: When most people talk about beauty parlours they would probably imagine them to be located in central Dhaka or in some cosmopolitan cities.
They probably do not have a remote village in southeastern Bangladesh in the forefront of their minds.
Yet 16-year-old orphaned entrepreneur Roksana Akter was able to set up a parlour near Cox’s Bazar after attending a three-month beautician’s training course.
The course has enabled her and other girls to escape the evils of under-aged marriage and instead earn an income.
Roksana started her new venture with 8,000 Taka ($ 102) she received under the programme. Her parlour now provides the teenager with a decent income of about $25 a month (2,000 Taka) after she completed elementary training as a beautician.
The people in her village were initially a little apprehensive about having a beauty parlour in their neighbourhood, but, now they appear to have come to terms with it and are regular customers.
Roksana’s parlour is located in an area where people either farm or are daily labourers.
Opportunities for women in employment are hard to find. But the training Roksana received gave her the confidence to become an entrepreneur, enabling her to bring an income to her family.
“I get a decent amount to lead my life now,” she says.
“I do not have to depend on my mama (maternal uncle) and nani (grandma). They no longer pressure me to get married.”
Roksana’s parlour may not have the most up-to-date beauty products, but it does have the essentials such as threads, make-up boxes, clips, face powder and hair spray.
She runs it without the high-powered light bulbs, wide mirrors or air conditioning found in the more luxurious parlours. There is no voluminous black leather chair in her premises – neither is there any ornate desk displaying the latest beauty products.
But that does not bother friends, aunts or other relatives in her remote village.
For them it’s a joy to get a professional to pluck their eyebrows, or give them a facial or a haircut in a different style.
Roksana learnt about the stipend programme after attending a “Shonglap”(discussion) facilitated to empower adolescents to act as change-makers through life-skill and occupational development organized by a partner organization of UNICEF.
She said that the Shonglap encouraged her to speak out against child marriage and dream of becoming a beautician.
“I got stipend from the programme when I was in training which has helped me to stick to my decision not to marry at an early age. I was also able to buy the necessary items for starting my parlour business”, says Roksana.
Necessary life skills
The Shonglaps are organised under the Enabling Environment for Child Rights (EECR) project to make the younger generation aware of various social issues in addition to the perils of early marriage.This includes sessions on dowries, divorce, polygamy, hygiene, girls’ education, reproductive health, gender equality and environmental and disaster management.
“Shonglap programme is specifically designed to help young people get the necessary life skills and occupational skills to earn their own incomes,” says Nilufar Bani, a training officer involved with the project.
Inspired by Roksana, her friend Fatema took training to pursue a career in Karchupi, an ornamental embroidery done in clothes and dresses.
Fatema now earns about Taka 2,500 ($32) a month by preparing dresses on client demand.
The oldest of her five siblings, like Roksana she comes from a poor family and would otherwise have found it difficult to go against her parents will regarding her marriage.
“Now I encourage other people of my village whenever I hear any news of an impending marriage of a small girl,” Fatema said.
With the support of UNICEF, the EECR Project under Ministry of Women and Children Affairs is working in partnership with local organizations to provide life skills training to the adolescents girls. Roksana and Fatema are two examples from many other empowered girls who have benefited from the project.