SWAPNO helps unskilled women change their fate

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DHAKA, June 3, 2019 (BSS/UNICEF FEATURE) – Two-month training has changed the fate of many unskilled women like Kulsum, Asirun and Rashida who are now working in garment factories and maintaining decent life.

The Strengthening Women’s Ability for Productive New Opportunities (SWAPNO), a project under the Local Government Division, helps fulfill the dream of these women from remote villages where they were living in abject poverty with no skills for jobs.

Under a joint initiative with SWAPNO, Ecofab Limited, a readymade garment (RMG) industry, is providing two-month training to unskilled women from the country’s remote areas.

Kulsum, Asirun and Rashida are the SWAPNO beneficiaries from Kurigram district who have been working at Ecofab Limited, Gazipur for the last two years.

Prior to joining Ecofab, these women worked in rural infrastructure development for the first 18- month in SWAPNO, and simultaneously they received various livelihood and life-skill trainings that that helped them enhance their skills and employability alongside building their self-confidence.

After the 18-month, SWAPNO facilitated their employment in the RMG sector at Ecofab, based on their interest.

Talking to BSS, these women expressed satisfaction over their present position as they can now contribute to the family income.

“Now, I earn Taka 11,000 per month, live in a shared apartment with my colleagues. Every month, I send Taka 6,000 to my brother in my village, Nolaya through bKash, where it is used to pay for purchasing of a piece of land in installments and contribute to my informal savings group,” said Kulsum.

Referring to her early life, Kulsum said, she was married off at the age of 15, after her mother passed away. “As my father was unable to pay the dowry, I constantly faced torture and abuse by my husband,” she added.

Eventually, she was divorced. When she returned home, she had the responsibility of taking care of her ailing father. When her father passed away, her two elder brothers constantly taunted her as she was depended on their income, so she began working as a domestic worker.

Asirun, on the other hand, was abandoned by her husband with three young children to bring up on her own. With no education, skills or finance, Asirun was left helpless doing irregular and high risk jobs.

Rashida also faced the same fate.

Kulsum, Asiron and Rashida came to know about SWAPNO from a public announcement that SWAPNO was looking for single, divorced or widowed women with no income, for employment in rural infrastructure development works.

They went to their respective local Union Parishads along with many other women and luckily they were chosen out of a lottery. SWAPNO engaged them in rural infrastructure development works. These women started earning a decent and regular wage. They began saving some money in a formal bank account through an informal saving group.

They received trainings and regular counseling through SWAPNO that enabled them to know about their rights and speak about their requirements that ultimately helped build their self-confidence.

After the 18-month public work employment tenure, SWAPNO facilitated their employment in RMG as per their interest.

Talking to BSS, National Project Manager of the SWAPNO Kajal Chatterjee said SWAPNO is a social transfer-based graduation model project targeting ultra-poor rural women who are widows, divorced, abandoned or left by a disabled husband.

“Major interventions of the project include: fixed wage contract for 18-month under public works component; need-based life skills and livelihoods trainings and formal financial inclusion,” he added.

He informed that the Local Government Division has been implementing the project from April 2015 to December 2020, with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Marico International and BSRM, he added.

In order to ensure livelihood sustainability post project intervention, Kajal Chatterjee said, SWAPNO takes on a market system development approach that ensures that project outputs fit in with national labor demand and market demand.

He said, there was a special arrangement made between SWAPNO and Ecofab, to ensure that SWAPNO beneficiaries would receive an additional two-month training prior to joining the job as they had no experience in the RMG sector.

For these first two-month, SWAPNO provides a stipend, while Ecofab facilitates their accommodation. SWAPNO and Ecofab are also working together to provide regular counseling, follow-up and monitor smooth transition of SWAPNO beneficiaries.

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