Driving success: How a poor Bangladeshi woman became a community role model

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Swapna Rani carrying the passengers on the streets of her home town Kurigram district. (AN photo)
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Swapna Rani carrying the passengers on the streets of her home town Kurigram district. (AN photo)
Updated 13 January 2018
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Driving success: How a poor Bangladeshi woman became a community role model

BANGLADESH: In the highly conservative, poor district of Kurigram in northern Bangladesh, Swapna Rani, 32, has risen from poverty by becoming an auto-rickshaw driver.
“There was a time when I couldn’t even provide two meals a day for my children. For years, there were no new clothes for us. But now things have changed. Now I don’t need to fight poverty like that,” she told Arab News.
A mother of two, she got married at a very early age. Her husband Ratan Chandra Barman disappeared soon after the birth of their second child.
She now raises her 13-year-old daughter Radha Rani and 11-year-old son Hridoy Chandra Barman as a single parent.
“Although it was very tough, I was still optimistic that someday I’d come out of poverty,” Swapna said.
“I got the chance two years back when our local Union Parishad Chairman Aminul Huq offered the village women the opportunity to become auto-rickshaw drivers in the locality. I instantly took the offer, and now my monthly income is around 40,000 taka ($500),” she added.
“Initially, people were reluctant to sit in my three-wheeler since I’m a female driver. They feared an accident, thinking I might not be able to drive the rickshaw properly,” she said.
“I’d assure them that they’d experience a safe and comfortable ride with me. After a few days the locals felt confident, and now the commuters enjoy my driving.”
Swapna’s income covers her children’s education, which costs around 3,000 taka per month. Her daughter feels proud that her mother is a role model in the community.
“My mother initiated something extraordinary that other women couldn’t think of before her,” Radha said.
“Now she can provide us with proper food, education, clothes and medicines. This was unthinkable two years ago.”
Swapna’s mother Sabitri Rani, 70, said her daughter “has become an example in our society. Her unconventional efforts have given us a different identity and a very good source of income.”
When asked about future aspirations, Swapna replied: “My next plan is to buy a pick-up van since there are so many auto-rickshaws on the street nowadays.”
She added: “A pick-up van will increase my income, and I’ve decided to have a female helper from the community as my assistant.”
Huq said: “Swapna became an icon for our locality, inspiring others with her success. Now many women are planning to come out of their homes and take up this kind of income-generating activity.”
He added: “At the beginning, we marked Swapna’s auto-rickshaw as only for women passengers. That’s why society leaders didn’t react negatively. Later they got used to seeing a female driver, and now everyone is riding with her.”
Dr. ASM Amanullah, professor of sociology at Dhaka University, said: “It’s an example that if mainstream society helps, women in developing countries can elevate their position in their communities both financially and socially.
He added: “Women in rural areas of Bangladesh are more progressive than their counterparts in urban areas. We should ensure equal opportunities and extend our support, mostly financial, so they can initiate their own ventures.”
Amanullah said: “Swapna’s success shows that we can empower our 80 million womenfolk if we extend a little support to them.”


Thousands of British families homeless despite being in work

Updated 23 July 2018
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Thousands of British families homeless despite being in work

  • More than 33,000 working families do not have a stable place to live, a 73 percent rise from 2013
  • Overall, homelessness has risen in England for more than six years, with 80,000 families in temporary accommodation including more than 120,000 children

LONDON: More than half of homeless families in Britain now have at least one adult in work after a sharp rise in the number of employed people unable to afford a secure home, a leading homelessness charity said on Monday.

More than 33,000 working families do not have a stable place to live, a 73 percent rise from 2013, according to a study by Shelter’s social housing commission that blamed rising private rents, a freeze on benefits and a shortage of social housing.

“It’s disgraceful that even when families are working every hour they can, they’re still forced to live through the grim reality of homelessness,” said Shelter CEO Polly Neate in a statement.

“In many cases, these are parents who work all day or night before returning to a cramped hostel or B&B (bed and breakfast) where their whole family is forced to share a room.

“A room with no space for normal family life like cooking, playing or doing homework.”

Mary Smith, 47, works full time in retail and lives in a hostel near London with her three sons after she was evicted by her landlord and became unable to afford private rent.

“I was brought up by a very proud Irish woman, and taught that you don’t discuss things like your finances - so letting my colleagues at work know what’s happening is very hard,” said Smith in a statement.

“I’m not hopeful for our future. I think it’s going to be this constant, vicious circle of moving from temporary place to temporary place, when all my family want is to settle down.”

Overall, homelessness has risen in England for more than six years, with 80,000 families in temporary accommodation including more than 120,000 children, government data shows.

Losing a tenancy is now the single biggest cause of homelessness in Britain, accounting for 27 percent of all households accepted as homeless in the last year, said Shelter.

The proportion of working homeless families, from security guards to hotel workers, has increased at different rates across Britain, with the East Midlands and North West England faring the worst, the report found.

It defines working families as those where at least one adult is in work.

Despite this, homeless charity Crisis said last month that Britain could end homelessness within a decade if it invested more in social housing and welfare benefits.

Britain’s parliament last year passed the Homelessness Reduction Act, which was designed to ensure that local councils increased obligations towards homeless people.

The government has also set an ambitious target of building 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s.