Tania Main

Women finding their voices

Confidence is not something that one is born with,

it is nurtured

Tania Ashraf BRAC Programme Head, Asia Region

Coming from a privileged background, I had access to many opportunities to better my position in life. I was born in Bangladesh, usually a country associated with poverty and floods, but because of the opportunities my family was lucky enough to have, we were able to see the world in a very different way compared to most of my fellow country people. Conscious about their privileged position, my parents ingrained in us the importance of giving back and contributing to Bangladesh's development.

I worked hard to achieve a Bachelor's degree in Economics from the Australian National University and an MBA from The George Washington University. Studying gave a powerful urge to contribute positively to societal challenges. What I realised very early on in my life is that the only thing that sets me and the people I work for apart today, is that I was just lucky to have those opportunities. Now, while working at BRAC, I truly feel honored to be in a position to help create opportunities for others, especially for young girls.

While we still have a long way to go, I am encouraged by the remarkable progress over the last 15 years when it comes to the position of women in Bangladesh. A woman I know had independently decided to marry the man she loved. After a couple of years of marriage, she realized that he had been lying about his job and his income as he was never contributing to the household expenses nor the household responsibilities. She was fed up with doing everything by herself and decided to file for divorce. It was her mother's support through this experience, that gave her the strength to leave him. Divorce is still very much frowned upon by society, but was encouraged by a mother for her daughter and this to me is a clear example of how far women in Bangladesh have come in terms of taking control of their own lives and decisions.

Not too long ago, we would hardly see or hear women in public spaces. But now there are changes - little and big ones - that are hopeful and inspiring. Working with BRAC these women are able to lift themselves out of poverty and importantly they are more aware of their dignity. One of my early memories from a field visit was that while meeting with beneficiaries, it was the women who were outspoken and spoke freely of their personal challenges, while the men were mostly on the sidelines trying to peer in from outside. To even have this voice was unimaginable just two decades ago. As women are getting more educated, they now have the power to resist some traditional customs or social pressure. What gives me so much hope is that it is these same women who are making sure that their daughters are going to school so as to ensure a better future for them. What has evolved is the level of confidence I see in so many of these women. Confidence is not something that one is born with, it is nurtured. Women are increasingly becoming decision-makers in their own households and in their own lives which is indicative of empowerment. My dream is to see Bangladeshi women (and all women), regardless of their background, at the front and center in all spheres of life.

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The boats mean thatmore children like Jhuma stay in school.Froma few boats in the wetlands, the boat system was scaled across thecountry. There are now500 floating schools, providing classroomsto 14,000 students all year round.