Tailoring a better life for women in Bangladesh

17 Jul 2009

Achieving the MDGs, changing peoples’ lives

Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women

Aleya Begum (left) at her shop in Bangladesh with her two apprentices (Photo: UNDP)

With her tape measure around her neck, and sheets of cloth and strings of thread behind her, Kakuli Aktar would be recognized as a seamstress or tailor anywhere in the world. But in Bangladesh, as a young woman from a poor background running a successful small business, she is not the common type. Kakuli stands out. Thanks to a UNDP initiative, she is paving the way to entrepreneurship for other women in her country.

Like many women in Bangladesh, Kakuli was married at a very young age, when she was only 12, cutting short many life opportunities. She became a widow at the early age of 14, and dropped out of school after finishing the seventh grade.

Alone with her young child in the town of Mymensingh in northern Bangladesh, Kakuli learned to sew after receiving training from a UNDP-supported project. In 2008 she took a loan of 20,000 taka (approximately US$290) from her local Community Development Committee and opened her own tailoring shop. Now she is making 5,000 taka (around US$72) per month, providing for herself and her five-year-old son.

Kakuli is also teaching tailoring skills to two young women working in her shop, an apprenticeship initiative supported by the Urban Partnership for Poverty Reduction project, through the local community association. Through the employment of the young apprentices, project beneficiaries like Kakuli are spreading skills – and new ideas – to the broader community.

On the other side of town, a similar story is unfolding, this time in Aleya Begum’s shop. Here, three apprentices work in a small shop front opening onto the street. Aleya has received training under the same apprenticeship program as Kakuli. With a 20,000 taka (approximately US$ 290) loan, she opened what is now a thriving tailoring business – and is making around 10,000 taka (US$145) per month, with a 30 percent profit: a success story in Bangladesh. Her apprentices received two months of training through the same project and all dream of owning businesses one day.

The women’s involvement with their community, in training and loan schemes supported by UNDP poverty reduction projects, is creating a huge impact on society. By proving that they can run thriving tailoring shops, Kakuli and Aleya are helping to shrug off historical prejudice, also relating to the abilities and roles of women. By teaching their apprentices, they also pave the way for new roles for women. Aleya, for example, is working not only to provide the basics for herself and her 13-year-old daughter: she is slowly helping to change the conditions that may enable young women like her daughter to craft their own lives.