Photo: Viktoria Isaksson
Fahima Begum Rupa in Bangladesh
Fahima is 31 years old and has been married since she was 14 to Abul Kalam Azad, who is 7 years older than her.
"My family was against the marriage, but I was in love. It was my own decision," says Fahima, admitting that she was a girl with a very strong will.
There were several tough years with very little money as her husband was unemployed. Digarkanda lies in the haor area, a large wetland that is flooded for large parts of the year. There are an abundance of paddy-fields, but many people do not own their own land and it is difficult to make a living. Fahima continued to study and got into college, but could not continue due to a lack of money.
"I thought I had made a mistake by marrying."
One day she saw a sign for a local women's group run by the organisation SUS, Sabalamby Unnayan Samity. Fahima contacted the SUS staff and asked if they could also start a group in her village. And that's how it started, Fahima got ten women together and became the group's chairperson.
After a while, SUS started an activity to prepare children for starting school, in order to minimise the risk of them dropping out further down the line. Fahima enquired about becoming a pre-school teacher in the project and became enrolled in training at the SUS headquarters. There, she was encouraged by the staff to continue her studies and now Fahima has passed an examination that makes her eligible for higher studies, thus allowing her to continue her plans to become a teacher.
"My grandmother, like my father, was a teacher, which has inspired me."
Fahima says that she has had a dream since childhood to be able to work, but marriage put a stop to those plans.
"If I had not joined the SUS programme, I would have not been able to do anything in life."
Fahima has a central role in the village. In the last election, she was elected to the local Union Council, which is the equivalent of a municipal council, after having received many votes.
Fahima's husband comes home. He now drives coaches and earns pretty good money. He is proud of his wife. Together, we walk through the village towards the municipal building. Fahima shows me the room in which the Union Council holds its meetings. The Council meets twice a week and consists of three women and nine men.
"I try to encourage the other women. If I receive an assignment, I always do it together with them."
Fahima is also a member of the village school committee and the local unit of the association 'Stop violence against women', where she works with issues such as early marriage and dowries.
"I want women to have the possibility to do everything, especially the village women, side by side with their husbands. I am here to contribute to change."