Fish drying empowers coastal women
Nur Banu, a 50-year old costal marginal lady residing in the southeastern part of Bangladesh, became economically empowered within only four years working at a local fish drying farm.
"We are five in family. I have three kids and my husband. It was not possible for my husband alone to bear the expenses of the entire family. The fish drying helps me a lot to send my kids to school," Banu said with a smiling face.
Not only Banu, there are hundreds of women like her who have acutely been able to roll the wheels of fate by working at different fish drying farms along the coastal belt of Cox's Bazar district.
Najirartek Shutki Mohal (fish farm), one of the many farms in the district which is five miles south of Cox's Bazar city, employs 40,000 labourers, most of them are women.
"Currently, among our workers, most are women. Males of the area busy in fishing with trawlers down the Bay while women of their family come here to dry fishes," said an employee of the farm.
He said these fish drying farms give the local womenfolk some kind of empowerment that helps them take part in the decision making process in their families.
"I started working here four years back. Initially, I used to get Taka 150 per day that has been raised to Taka 250 now," said Banu with a glimpse of confidence in her eyes.
She said her husband sells toys to the tourists on the beach. "He was really facing a hard time to bear the family expenses before I started working here. I just wanted to help him and now it's going well for all of us," said Banu, living at Samitapara near the farm.
Arifa Begum of Kutubdiapara, another worker of the same farm who got the job using the reference of Banu, said, "I was in great troubles with five kids when my ex-husband divorced me three years back. I didn't have any idea about how I could lead our lives."
"That time, Banu saved me. She brought me here and I got the job. After a few days, my two daughters and son started working here along with me. Now I and my kids all together earn Taka 1000 to 1200 per day," she continued to narrate her success story.
However, Arifa complained that her male coworkers are getting higher pay than the women colleagues. "We do the same work, but I don't know why the men are getting more than us," she said with a sigh.
She said like her, many women working there are either divorced or widows. "We were not used to go out of our houses. But the cruel reality has forced us to work here. It helps us a lot to become empowered. Now, we have the economic freedom. We are now leading a life with our own decision and identity," she said.
Labour leader of Najirartek farm M Kaysar Ullah said a male worker of the farm is getting on an average Taka 500 to 400 per day while a female worker Taka 350-250.
"It would be better if the farm owners increase the wedges of the women workers here as they work more sincerely than their male counterparts," he said.
Sakhina Khatun, another coastal woman who works at a fish drying farm at Sonadia Island, said she is now getting Taka 350 per day for her whole day labour.
"My husband is a fisherman. I didn't have any earning earlier. It was too tough for my husband to run the family alone. I came here to work to help my husband," she said.
"Earlier, I didn't have any voice in my family. But now I can give my opinion for the wellbeing of the kids and even my husband. My income helps run the family more smoothly. My husband appreciates my efforts. This job gives me dignity and empowerment in my family and society as well," she said.
Not only in Najirartek, from last October many fish farms were set up at various points along the coastal belt including Sonadia island. The farms usually dry nearly 40 species of fish most commonly pomfret, coral and loitta (Bombay duck).
President of Najirartek business multipurpose cooperatives M Atiq Ulklah said every year, nearly 20,000 tonnes of dried fish are being produced worth Taka 200 crore in Najirartek.
"The amount of salinity in this area is good for dried fish production. Nine months of the year except the monsoon season, we dry fish here," he said, adding that the area has nearly 1000 fish warehouses.
Cox's Bazar district fisheries officer Dr Abdul Alim said the farmers basically dry small fishes here after catching those from the Bay.