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First Published: Date 29.05.2013 | 9:44
http://blogs.dw.de/womentalkonline/2013/05/29/the-infolady/

Infolady – the short form for “information lady” is a revolutionary concept that has provided thousands of Bangladeshi women the much-desired freedom and chance to use modern technologies. The infolady project is one of the winners in the Deutsche Welle Bobs awards for the category, “Global Media Forum Award.” Women in Bangladesh are usually trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty. They hardly receive any support in health-related problems and are not literate enough to improve their chances in life using Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). An infolady is a real person who delivers information-related support to the underprivileged rural women of Bangladesh at their doorstep. A typical infolady cycles about five to ten kilometers everyday and offers a variety of ICT-based and other services at the doorstep of the rural community she lives in.

An infolady is laden with a range of technological equipment such as, but not limited to – a netbook computer with a webcam, digital camera and mobile phone with internet connectivity and a headphone. She also carries a weighing machine, a device to measure blood pressure, a blood testing kit, a pregnancy test kit, a sugar testing kit and so on. Her distinctive service in the rural communities of Bangladesh helps the members acquire knowledge through the use of modern technology. The infolady is a trusted name among thousands of rural women.

Women of Bangladesh face several barriers towards development: first, they lack in formal education. Second, they are completely in the dark about computers and because of these two factors they have little access to political and social information which could change their lives. The infolady concept not only ensures employment but also boosts empowerment of these women who have been living sub-standard lives. Infolady has also provided enormous support in health services to pregnant mothers and elderly people.

An infolady ensures the fundamental right to health to vulnerable groups through medical advice (such as contraception, safe sex behavior, pre-natal/post-natal care of mothers and babies) and also creates awareness about medical services that are available at the government hospitals. The introduction of the Right to Information Act 2009 accelerated the free flow of information in Bangladesh. The Act smoothed the way for information to reach easily to the end beneficiaries. Nevertheless, people still need an effective interface to get access to such information.

The infolady has proved to be an effective tool to provide life supporting information. There have been many instances where a person came to know about his or her right to services through an Infolady. There have been successful cases where corrupt local representatives were caught depriving citizens of their entitlement. The infolady has made the government and stakeholders more responsive by ensuring delivery of such services to citizens.

Dnet, the planning & implementing agency of Infolady is currently initiating talks with the government and related stakeholders to franchise the model nationally in more places. Bangladesh government is considering the potential for introduction of Infolady in 4,500 Union Parishads of the country where information centers have been set up. Bangladesh Bank (the central bank of Bangladesh) recently allotted a 100 million Takas or 1.2 million dollars to facilitate the availability of low-interest loans for the infoladies. The fund is to be disbursed by the National Bank Limited (NBL), a private bank.

Over the years Infolady has received multiple awards for being a unique model of disseminating information, such as Manthan South Asia Award 2011, Stockholm Challenge Award 2010 and so on. Recently the Infolady project won the prestigious DW Bobs award for the category “Global Media Award (Jury) 2013.”

Author: Aziza Ahmed

Editor: Manasi Gopalakrishnan

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First published: May 6, 2013, 3:42 pm
http://blog.tehelka.com/sifting-through-the-rubble-of-a-sweatshop/

I was at the hospital with my ailing father, when news of the eight-story Rana Plaza collapse in Savar, Bangladesh first flashed on the television. While the doctors were writing a prescription as a process of discharging my father, I went for a quick visit to Shahbag (Mancha), in front of the hospital. Hundreds had gathered there to donate blood for the victims, but at the time, I couldn’t yet fully grasp the magnitude of the accident. The following morning, I tried to piece together the latest updates online on the Savar tragedy. What I read and saw was gut-wrenching. So my husband and I rushed to Savar to assess the situation firsthand and planned immediate relief for the victims.

We had to park our car near Enam Hospital, where the rescued workers were being treated, almost a mile away from ground zero. The sun was at its worst and it was difficult to walk for an extended period. When we reached Rana Plaza, all I saw was rubble, bricks, slabs and pillars stacked on each other; spools of clothes and threads scattered everywhere. I was walking toward the back of the building for a closer view, when I suddenly fumbled and almost fell, seeing a woman on the ground, her head face down on the rubble. Her lower body was under a huge slab and the rescue workers were trying to pull her corpse from the rubble. I decided to call her Mohamaya, even though I didn’t see her bleeding, mutilated face. But ever since that day, I have trouble sleeping. The image of her blue, printed kameez and curly hair gives me shivers every night when I close my eyes.

Later, I went to the school field where the dead bodies were being kept. A woman was walking from one corpse to the next, removing the sheet to take a glimpse at each face. She was looking for her precious, baby girl. “I let my daughter come to Dhaka to earn for our entire family. The last time I saw her was eight months ago, during the Eid holidays,” she said. I watched as she checked each lifeless face and breathed a sigh of relief when she didn’t see a familiar one. But fate was not kind after all. Suddenly, she uncovered a body and closed her eyes. “At least I found her,” she said as tears rolled down her wrinkled dark skin. Pulling the corpse close to her chest, she kissed her daughter’s forehead and wailed loudly. I desperately wanted to run out of the place. The field smelled of rotten corpses and blood. There were hundreds of dead bodies, lined up for claim.

Even now, after a week, I hesitate to take a deep breath. I fear I might again smell the stench of the rotten corpses, see Mohamaya, or face the old lady looking for her daughter in the queue of the dead.

Bangladesh’s ready-made garment industry is vibrant, and is its biggest money-maker. Since the ‘70s, garment factory owners have generated employment for the poor and have given a much-needed lift to the entire economy. The industry also gave a boost to women’s empowerment and economic freedom, as almost 80 percent of the workers are female. Garment workers of Bangladesh are skilled and labor here is the cheapest. Thus big brands from around the globe get Bangladesh to make their 10-dollar shirts, paying each worker an average of 3,200 BDT. If only they put in some extra 10-15 cents, it would be financially feasible to run fire safety measures and training, maintain standard working conditions for workers and also increase their minimum wages.

After the Savar Tragedy, Robert Reich, an American political economist, professor, author and political commentator said, “Walmart buys more than $1 billion worth of apparel from Bangladesh each year, making it the second-largest global purchaser. In April 2011, after the Tazreen fire, major global retailers considered requiring their Bangladeshi suppliers to make safety improvements in a system they knew to be highly dangerous. The retailers would have to pay 10 cents more per garment to ensure factory safety. Two participants in the meeting told the New York Times that Walmart played the lead role in rejecting the effort on the grounds it was not “financially feasible.” Walmart’s profit that year was $15 billion. Does Walmart have any responsibility here? Would you be willing to pay an additional 10 or 15 cents per garment you buy from Walmart or any other big-box retailer to help assure factory safety around the world?”

Bangladesh exports mainly ready-made garments including knit wear and hosiery (75% of exports revenue). According to information published by the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB), Bangladesh garment exports increased by 8.8 percent over the year to US $1.36 billion in November 2012. Extracted woven garment exports earned US $71,004 million, while knits earned US $65,396 million. Bangladesh’s garment industry has developed due to enormous support from Western buyers in the US and Europe. The Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) from the European Commission and the quota from the US till 2004, gave this sector a huge boom. However, since the quota system was removed, Bangladesh is negotiating to gain the preferential tariff privilege from the United States. As the US still doesn’t allow these preferential tariff demands, we cannot afford a high mark up and thus, we push the variable cost factors down to the society and to the laborer.

I know it will be difficult to read through the lines. After all, at the end of the day in business, each dollar counts. No matter how much blood and flesh goes into building business empires, workers come in millions. If millions die, millions more will replace them. Few charity and eyewash social welfare agreements can save the image in the market.
But next time you buy a shirt from H&M or GAP worth 10 dollars, think well. Would you be willing to pay 10 cents more for that shirt? It just might save hundreds of workers from becoming faceless, rotten corpses.

আশেপাশের যাবতীয় দাবির মধ্যে আমারও কিছু দাবি আছে যা আমার মনে হয় এখন বলতেই হবে। আমি ধর্মপ্রান না নাস্তিক তার বিচার করার অধিকার কারো নাই। আমার মতে এই মুহুর্তে সরকারকে কঠিন হাতে এদের দমন করতে হবে। আমরা ঘরে বসে থেকে দেশকে আফগানিস্তানের পরিণতির দিকে ঠেলে দিতে পারি না। সময় এসেছে এদের দেশ থেকে চিরতরে ছুঁড়ে ফেলে দেবার। প্রত্যেকে ধর্মব্যবসায়ীদের বিরুদ্ধে প্রতিরোধ করি।

আমার ব্যাক্তিগত দাবিঃ

১। সকল যুদ্ধাপরাধীদের সর্বোচ্চ শাস্তি নিশ্চিত করতে হবে।
২। জামাত ও সকল ধর্মীয় মৌলবাদী দল নিষিদ্ধ ঘোষনা করতে হবে।
৩। হেফাজতের ১৩ দফা দাবি নিষিদ্ধ করতে হবে।
৪। হেফাজত, আহলে সুন্নত, জামাত শিবির, জামাতে ইসলাম ও এই সকল দলকে বাংলাদেশের কোনো স্থানে সভা সমাবেশ করতে দেয়া হবে না।
৫। মাদ্রাসা শিক্ষা ব্যবস্থা বন্ধ করতে হবে। দেশে একটিমাত্র শিক্ষা ব্যবস্থা থাকবে, আধুনিক, বিজ্ঞানসম্মত শিক্ষা ব্যবস্থা। সরকারীভাবে পরিচালিত কিছু কাওমী মাদ্রাসা থাকবে, যারা কোরআন পড়তে চান তাদের জন্য।
৬। নারীনীতির বাস্তবায়ন করতে হবে।
৭। শ্রমিকের মজুরি বৃদ্ধি, তাদের কর্মক্ষেত্রের সার্বিক পরিবেশের উন্নয়ন, তাদের বিনামুল্যে শিক্ষা, চিকিৎসা সেবা নিশ্চিত করতে হবে।

First published: http://blogs.dw.de/womentalkonline/2013/04/30/shahina-a-fighter/
Date: 30.04.2013 | 15:24

Recently, an eight-storied garment factory collapsed in Bangladesh, leading to the death of several hundreds of workers. Many more are trapped inside the building even as rescue operations continue to remove those who are trapped under the rubble.

Womentalk blogger Aziza Ahmed related her own shocking experience.

I haven’t seen her, I never knew her until today. I don’t know how she looks, was she fair, with long black hair or big wide eyes? Despite her looks, I am sure of one thing, she was a brave human being who dreamt of a beautiful life for herself and her son. She is Shahina, a working in Bangladesh’s garment factory. She is the mother of a toddler and she is a fighter. She was one of the ill-fated ones who were trapped inside the collapsed building at Rana Plaza.

On the morning of April 24, the workers began their daily chores after a discussion with the owners and the owner of the building regarding a crack in one of the walls. The entire nine-storied building of Rana Plaza collapsed and came down to the level of a three-storied building. The pillars gave in and the ceilings fell crumbling on each other like slices of bread in a sandwich.

Roughly 3200 people were working there- the number varies from source to source. About 2500 people were saved alive from the rubble, some with their bodies fully intact while some needed to get their limbs amputated after they got stuck under heavy pillars.

After the fifth day the rescue team found Shahina alive, but she was trapped behind a heavy pillar which was impossible to break through. They supplied her with oxygen and fruit drinks to keep her alive. The collapsing of the building wasn’t the only thing that was bad for her, the worst was yet to come.

Suddenly the building was under fire because of the heavy drilling and after 107 hours of fighting, despite all her efforts, Shahina couldn’t be saved. Finally the rescue team could only rescue the dead body of their dead sister. Shahina had been crying to see her baby for one last time. The rescue workers, who were working relentlessly for over 18 hours to save her, broke into tears.

I went there two days back. The dead bodies were kept in line in a local school field. I walked down the corridor covering my nose to escape the stench of the rotten corpses, but I couldn’t stop crying looking at those bodies, which were waiting to be identified by their loved ones.

I met a mother who said she’d lost her only son in the catastrophe. She was reminiscing her son’s childhood and how sweet he was as a child. Around 383 dead people were pulled out of the rubble, even now several hundreds are missing.

The Bangladesh government, the army, the firefighters and above all citizen helpers have been working for over 144 hours to save each and every worker trapped in one of the most serious accidents of the century in Bangladesh.

Trained and untrained rescuers have risked their lives, they got inside the collapsed building and saved each of those 2500 workers. They got traumatized seeing groups of dead bodies scattered everywhere among the rubble. They became ill with suffocation and dehydration, but the rescue operations went on.

There were volunteer paramedics, civil engineers, doctors, nurses, construction workers, fellow garment workers and journalists. People who didn’t get inside the building stood in the sweltering heat with free water and watermelons to serve those who were working in the rescue team and people who went there to provide support.

Relief is pouring in in a big way. Money, food, medical supplies, clothes, medicine, construction materials everything was supplied by the people of Bangladesh. My friends and family kept sending me stuff as I am working with one of the relief team. Everyday we receive hundred of calls from all over the country and abroad, asking for ways to help the victims.

Just when I was getting impatient seeing the catastrophe, when I was numb in horror, sad and devastated to lose so many countrymen, I felt energized by the love of people, by the unity I see among us. We are a nation of hard working fighters who fight and live again to fight another day. I am proud to be a woman who is born of the same blood of Shahina, the epitome of perseverance, strength and zeal. She is not alive, but her baby is. He will grow up and be another fighter and another strong Bangladeshi.

Author: Aziza Ahmed

Editor: Manasi Gopalakrishnan

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