Here are the tribal female heroes of Bangladesh

Seetashma Thapa
Jan 15, 2020 · 3 min read
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Nu Hai Marma is one of the women enrolled in WFP’s Livelihood Programme that empowers women. Credit: WFP Bangladesh/Mehedi Rahman

The Tribal Women of Bangladesh

The mountainous region in Southeastern Bangladesh, called the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), borders India and Myanmar and is home to more than 11 tribal groups. Compared to the Bengalis, the majority ethnic group of the country, people here pretty much different in every way: they have their own unique languages, culture, religions, architecture, farming methods and even physical appearance.

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A woman from the Chittagong Hill Tracts with her child at home. Credit: WFP Bangladesh/Mehedi Rahman

Tribal communities are largely matriarchal, and women have much more say at their homes compared to their peers in the rest of the country. However, decades of political strife have marred the region with poverty and made life a constant struggle. And it is women and children who have had to silently bear the brunt of internal conflict.

Moving away from traditional ways of life

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Subsistence farming in the Chittagong Hill Tracts . Credit: WFP Bangladesh/Mehedi Rahman

Locals from the CHT have traditionally practiced Jhum also known as swiden farming. In recent years, members of the tribes have been moving away from traditional farming methods, due to lack of land. However, there are still many people working as subsistence farmers, relying on rain-fed agriculture to provide for their families. In the recent years, excessive rain in the hills lead to soil erosion and landslides, creating chronic insecurity throughout the region.

“Every year, our crops are completely destroyed by rains and we barely have enough food for the year,” says Nu Hai Marma, an elderly woman. “We have to think about other ways to eat.”

Empowering women and changing lives

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Women enrolled in this programme attend financial training sessions and learn how to manage their businesses. Credit: WFP Bangladesh/Mehedi Rahman

The Enhancing Food Security and Nutrition (EFSN) programme provides support to approximately 2,000 women, giving them a monthly allowance of US$12 for a year to cover their immediate food needs, and an additional US$178 to kick start their businesses.

Women walk for hours and across harsh geographical terrain to attend this programme. Credit: WFP Bangladesh/Mehedi Rahman

“I walk for almost three hours to collect my monthly cash entitlement. With the money, I can buy enough food for my family of five,” says Marma.

With the business grant they receive, the women commonly get involved in cash crop cultivation, livestock rearing or start tailoring, handicrafts and other skill-based businesses.

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Today, Marma has her own goat and pig rearing business which helps support her family. Credit: WFP Bangladesh/Mehedi Rahman

“In the coming months, I can sell my goat in the local market and earn some money” she says. “This is the first time I am earning money on own.”

Female heroes in the making

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U Khing Nue and King Mong Sai run small businesses where they plant cash crops and sell it in the local market. Credit: WFP Bangladesh/Mehedi Rahman
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Prok Kra Marma is ready to sell her freshly grown ginger in the local market. Credit: WFP Bangladesh/Mehedi Rahman

U Khing Nue, King Mong Sai, and Marma are all tribal heroes of Bangladesh, who work hard to provide for their families, while contributing to the survival of their tribes through agricultural and entrepreneurship.

This programme is implemented by the Government of Bangladesh and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) with generous support from Canada.

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme

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