DHAKA: When Shiuli Khatun completes her daily household chores, she joins other women in Kashiabala, a northern Bangladeshi village, as they sit around baskets filled with yarn and begin to knit prayer caps — their region’s main export, and a source of female financial self-reliance.
Khatun, 35, learnt the craft from her mother when she was 15. The side job allows her to earn about $50 a month.
“Women in every house of this locality are engaged in prayer cap production, as it offers them a big opportunity to earn,” she told Arab News.
“Now I can fulfill all my little wishes with my earnings. I don’t need to ask my husband.”
She and her neighbors in Kashiabala are among hundreds of thousands of women in Bogura district involved in making the Muslim skullcaps known in Bengali as tupi.
Jewel Akand, president of the Bangladesh Jali Tupi Association, estimates that the district contributes about a third of the whole country’s production.
“In Bogura region only, around 250,000 to 300,000 village women are engaged in cap production, while this handicraft industry engages around 800,000 to 1 million (women) across the country,” he said.
The industry has been blooming since producers began to export the caps to Gulf countries in the 2000s.
Akand’s own company, Jewel Cap Depo, is one of about 150 in Bogura and exports 250,000 prayer caps a month to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, India and Pakistan.
“It changed the fate of many of the village women,” he told Arab News. “Our demand in the export market is increasing year by year. It happened due to the high quality of our handmade prayer caps. If the current trend continues, we will employ more and more women to produce the caps.”
Farida Parveen, 30, began to knit when she was six years old, learning the craft from other women in Kashiabala.
“I have acquired this skill from my neighbors, as I used to watch them, sitting beside them, as they (knitted) the caps. It’s not very tough. But one needs to have patience,” she told Arab News.
Now she is often accompanied by her six-year-old daughter.
“We all make these handmade caps along with our regular (work),” she said. “As a village woman, I look after around a dozen cattle every day. Besides that, we rear poultry and pigeons at our home. After doing all these jobs, I spend my time on making caps.”
Parveen, a mother of three, can earn between $0.17-0.27 per cap.
“I would earn $50 to $60 per month from selling the caps to wholesale buyers,” she said. “This little extra earning helps me a lot in spending on children’s education.”