Incredible Women


“Sometimes the strongest women are the ones who love beyond all faults, who cry behind closed doors, and who fight battles that nobody knows about. This blog post is dedicated to honouring women who are living at the edge of the society and who continue their fighting to earn food and dignity but who rarely ever come into the world’s limelight. Even the society in which they are living has never appreciated their bravery. I have met with many of them, discovering up close how women have worked for the greater good and have brought about change in their families and society. This is a way to pay tribute to a mother, sister, wife, daughter, friend and the many roles a woman plays in her life. These personalities have taught me that nothing can kill the spirit of a woman and that is what makes her so incredibly beautiful” – GMB Akash

I am sharing with you few heart-warming real-life stories of Women, Featured first on my Facebook page: GMB Akash

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‘We do everything a man does, our working hours are same. But when I went to take my wage the manager gave me 50 taka less than my male coworker. I asked what my mistake was. He shouted on me and said, ‘You did more job than him. But you don’t wear shirt. You are a woman. You will get always less.’ Next day I came to work by wearing a shirt. All man laughed at me. I ignored and asked him to pay me equal as I wore shirt after listening to him. I clearly saw he was hesitating and was afraid of my bravery. But again he said, ‘He will pay all women equal if all of us can wear shirt.’ He gave me a smile like a fox. I lost hope, knowing no one will wear a shirt. Next day when I arrived to field all women were wearing their husband’s shirt on the top of their saree. I never could imagine the manager would be this much afraid of seeing us together. He paid all women equal to men for the first time in his ten years of brick field’s history. From that day girls call me, ‘Hero’. I don’t mind!’

_ Taslima

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During my whole life I kept my mouth shut to be a good woman. I accepted my fate and all those abuses my entire life but I never could forgive myself. I was ashamed of myself but I couldn’t tell anyone; when at the age of 4 my mother’s own brother used to touch me in bad ways. My mother believed him and even gave me to him to take care of. I couldn’t fight back when my father’s cousin raped me while coming back from school at the age of 5. Crying in pain I told my elder sister. She said, “Do not tell anyone; people will call you a bad girl!” I couldn’t tell my father that the rickshaw puller he reserved for me for my safety to take me to school put his hands in the wrong places when he helped me to get down from the rickshaw. I Told my mother about it and my mother changed the rickshaw driver but she didn’t share it with my father and told me not to share it with anyone. She said, “People will call you bad!” I never could complain to anyone when my school teacher used to touch my back. I could never forget all the abuses that happened to me. I never used to go in front of my uncles when I became a young woman ever again. I was scared of every man in my life.

Every woman dreams about their wedding and their husband. I was also not different from them. But all my dreams were crushed badly as well as all my expectations when on my wedding night I got raped again by my own drunk husband. Even I couldn’t say anything when he brought his friend to my room one night for money. During my pregnancy I used to pray to God, “Please don’t give me a girl because I know she will have to go through all these things I have been tolerating my whole life. But I became the mother of a girl 10 years ago. I never let her hide from my eyes for a minute. I took her everywhere. But I couldn’t keep my mouth shut when that night my husband brought a man into my daughter’s room. I started yelling and screaming insanely. All my anger that I had been carrying my whole life came out as my greatest strength. I couldn’t control myself and took the dagger to stab my husband and the man. They both ran away. I complained to the police and for the last year my husband has been in jail. People call me a bad woman. They say that to me because I had my husband put in jail. I don’t feel shame, rather I feel good when they call me a bad woman. It took 32 years to gather the courage to become a bad woman and shout out for my respect and my dignity.

_Nazma Begum

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I started working as a labourer a year ago. Including me, there are only ten females working at this site. The constructor does not like to employ women. There are fifty men working besides us. They always get break times to drink tea or smoke cigarettes. But we, the female group never get any breaks. For almost a year, the strongest man of our group has been making fun of us every day. Sometimes he said, he can carry more buckets of stones than the women, even when he sleeps. The contractor laughed loudly at his jokes. And sometimes after transporting all the buckets of stones he showed us his muscle and the men laughed at us. A week ago I asked our contractor to give us at least a half an hour break. He mocked me, pointed to the macho man and openly declared that he would give women equal break time, if I or any other woman could beat the man the next day. I looked at our women’s group and they were looking at the ground. On my way back home, my little girl was warning me never to challenge a man. I asked her why, then my five-year-old girl fearfully showed me her muscle and told me, ‘We don’t have this.’ The next day, when I came to work I told them I was ready to take on the challenge. When I started carrying the buckets of stones beside our macho man, everyone stopped working and started clapping. It turned into some kind of game. I had no idea how time had passed. When the contractor asked me to stop I looked at the man beside me, he was lying on the ground, already very exhausted. Then I saw that I had transported fifty more buckets than him. When every woman was screaming with joy, I looked at my girl and she jumped into my arms. I did not say a word. I had to prove to my little girl that, women too have muscle but they do not like to show it off.


_Aklima

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My son, Sahed, continuously cries for milk, but I’m not able to breastfeed him. I have not eaten anything for three days. There is nothing coming from my breasts. I have survived only by drinking water from the roadside ponds.

I delivered my only child in the jungle three days ago. My pain started while fleeing from our house. Shouting from the pain, I collapsed by the roadside. Three women who were also running came forward to help me. They covered me with banana leaves and helped me to give birth to my baby.
For the past two days we have been sitting in a rough, muddy road that runs through a rice field. We become wet from the rain and dry by the hot sunlight of day. There are children and old people everywhere, screaming for food and water. There is nothing to eat. We’ve slept under the open sky for the last nine nights.

When our house was burned to ashes by the Myanmar military, I walked mile-after-mile with my nine-month pregnancy. Everything we carried was taken from us for the river crossing to Bangladesh.I lost track of my husband, Abdul Noor, when we fled. I have no idea if he is alive or not. Maybe he has already been killed by the Myanmar army and my son has already lost his father. Just like he has lost his country.

_Sajeda 25

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I gave birth to my youngest daughter eight hours ago. The only midwife on my island was away from our village to a faraway island for a couple of days. My husband spent hours at the midwife’s door in hope for her return. The weather was not good so he also asked for a boat from a neighbor just in case I had to go to hospital in an emergency. My husband started living in fear since I went to the maternity center for a vaccination. Vaccinations are very important for me, I vaccinated all my daughters. That day I also went for a free maternity checkup. I found out the baby is breech and I might need to have an operation. My husband was upset from that day on; even he dreamed many nights that my daughter and I died during her birth. My husband told me, ’You are not as strong as me. I will sell my fishing net and with the money I will arrange for an operation.’ We are very poor; I stopped him from selling the net which brings food for us. I remained calm, because I am stronger than my man, and I had faith in my power, not as woman, but as a mother. Yesterday morning my pain started, I did everything that I do every day. I sent my husband to work and asked him not to panic. I fed our cows, chickens and then I went to the river to get water. I cooked and did some housework. My husband did not return from work as usual though he was supposed to have reached here by that time. At evening time, I served dinner to my daughters and sat with them to explain that they needed to support me as their father had not arrived on time. It was raining heavily outside and my pain was going out of my control. I asked my elder daughter to pour more hot water in the bowl, as I prepared to have water birth. My daughters started crying while circling me, I told them, ‘If I die, tell everyone that your mother was strong enough to fight more than any man’. The midwife arrived just when my baby was crowning. After having brought the midwife, my husband stayed outside as he could not bear to see the pain I had. He entered when my daughter was placed onto my chest. My whole family cried while the new born was crying. We named her, ‘Sukhitan’. Maybe as a woman I cannot do what a man do, but women are not weak; we can do many things that a man cannot do.

_ Fuyara Begum.

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I move from place to place; from village to village. Everyone calls me beggar Kulsum. You can call me that too. No one knows from where I have come. I never tell anyone who I am. I had a mansion, surrounded by three ponds and four gardens. It was always hard to fall asleep because the smell of the flowers was so strong at night. Oftentimes I felt heaven was my home. And there was always my supportive husband. Every morning I prepared uncountable cakes for him and he never let me wear the same saree more than a few times. I never allowed my maids to clean inside our private rooms in the house; they were responsible for only other parts and outside buildings of the mansion. I had passed forty-seven years of our married life making cakes, watering trees and wakening up at nights alone when he left for business in faraway places. I got married when I was ten; my husband was the only friend I had. I had passed my married life by making cakes and wandering in our beautiful gardens. My husband never let me feel alone in our childless life. I remained happy in his light. One day I went to see one of my sick maids. There I accidently met a woman who was wearing the same wedding bangle I had. Eventually from my maid I found out that my husband kept his second marriage secret from me for twenty years. There he had two daughters and a son. I spent my nights by looking at his face and realized how much he had loved me. Maybe every day he thought about leaving me; maybe during every festival he wanted to spend his time with his new family; maybe he felt guilty when I put my right hand every night on his chest. Because he had loved me and I was his only friend too at one time, I wanted him to be happy without regret. I also wanted a happy memory of my very loving husband with our all ponds and gardens. I convinced one of my loyal maids to spread the news that I accidentally fell in the river and was swept away. She did it as an exchange for all my gold ornaments. You are talking to dead Umme Kulsum. She died twenty years ago. No one cried for her; neither did I. Sometimes people ask me what they should do when I will die and what my last wish is. I have told no one before you. If ever he arrives searching for me tell him I missed our home, gardens and him every single second of my life. But I wanted him to be free from my love. His happiness is what I wanted even if it required letting go of my former life. And I do not regret what I had done. Sometimes in love you have to leave.

_Umme Kulsum

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We five sisters are the heart of our father. I am the third child of my father and he thought I was very useless. But I know he loves me the most because I am very fond of him. After marrying off my two elder sisters, my father only had me to rely upon for keeping his money safe, preparing betel leaf for him, giving him the towel when he goes to the shower and every other household chore. My other two sisters were very young. My father used to search for me by calling out, “Where is my tail?” This is because he thought he is the ‘body’ and I was the unbreakable useless part of him, ‘the tail’.

But I had to leave my ‘body’ one day. That day, when I went to Dhaka in search of work and money, leaving ‘my body’, I didn’t cry at all. How could I cry? My responsibility was more important to me than crying.

I remembered that oftentimes in our family home before going to sleep in our room, I used to hear my father telling my mother with his mellow voice, “I wish we had a son then he could earn money for us. I am getting older and sicker day after day. Who will take care of you all?” One night he started crying loudly and said, “My daughters have become my pain and my main burden now. How will I arrange marriages for all of them? I am a poor farmer.” That night I cried the whole night; the whole night I could not sleep. I promised myself that I will take all the responsibilities of my family. I promised I will never get married before I arrange marriages for my sisters and give a better life to my parents.

I started working at Dhaka in a factory and sent money to my father every month for my family and tried to save some money. During those years my father tried to marry me off. He used to make up various issues to call me home. Every time before going home I used to shave my head so that the groom would not like me.

I left Dhaka after 3 years and bought three milking cows with baby calves and started farming at our house. In our village no girls herded cows or goats. Everyone started talking nonsense about me but I didn’t listen to anyone. Why should I stop? I promised myself that I will prove to my father that if you give opportunities and inspiration to a daughter, she can do anything that a son can do.
In the next four years from the six cows we then had 14 cows and 4 calves. I sell milk every day and cows every year during Eid season. My two younger sisters started working with me. On my farm now 3 other girls are also working from our village.

I built a new house for my parents. I took my mother to Dhaka for her eye operation.

My father is very proud of me nowadays. He always keeps telling everybody of our village “daughters are blessings. I am fortunate I have daughters. They are mothers in your old age. If you believe in your daughters, they can do anything. You don’t always need sons for being proud and privileged but you do need a daughter like my Rotna .”

_Rotna

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My sister is 3 years older than me and I fit into all her dresses. But she never allows me to wear her clothes or touch her creams, oils or makeup. However, last summer for my cousin’s wedding she gave her only new red dress to me to wear and she decorated my hair with her new ribbon that she had never used before. Because we had only one new dress for both of us, only I could attend the wedding.

My sister was always very suspicious about all my work! She always interfered in everything I did. I often used to hide myself from her and yelled at her whenever she wanted to know what I was doing or what was happening in my life! She thought that whenever I do something, I do it wrong. I was so disturbed by her behavior of interfering in my life that I used to pray for her to disappear off the face of the earth. My sister kept poking me about everything and I yelled at her silently.

This was the relationship between us before the day when I saw her cleaning the yard of our school. That day I felt so ashamed and humiliated in front of all my classmates. They were making fun of her and bullying her saying she is ‘a cleaner’ and I am a ‘cleaner’s sister’. I ran to the washroom to hide my tears and stayed there till school finished for that day.


That afternoon I went back home and very furiously asked my mother “why she suddenly started cleaning the school and why people are making fun of me?” My mother slapped me very hard and said, “She left her schooling for you and took the cleaner’s job at the school so that you can continue your education without paying any more. That moment when I felt the slap, it did not hurt me as much as those words did!

The next morning when I went to school, I saw she had started cleaning the yard. When my friends started making fun of her again, I went directly to the library room and took the extra broom and started cleaning the yard beside her! After that day I never cared about what people thought but I cared about my sister who cares so much about me.

Now every day for the last six months I help my sister to clean the school yard. So it takes less time to finish the work and when she finishes she can help my mother. I started to work here six months ago in the brickfield with my father but only on the weekends. And I don’t give a single taka to my parents. Everyone asks what I will do with this money. I don’t answer. Please don’t share this with my sister; I am accumulating this money to buy a red beautiful saree for her wedding. She is my biggest enemy but the one enemy I can’t live without.

_ Nilufa

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Prostitutes don’t expect love in return from anyone. I also don’t expect it. From the very beginning of this life we learn how to live life without being loved back. But for the last 14 days I have been feeling very compassionate for this sick monkey…. I feel that he is far better than any social human being I ever met. This innocent creature even understands love and compassion and can love you back.

I bought this monkey from a street magician two weeks ago because he was looking so sick and the magician was forcefully making him dance and play. It was hurting me so badly that I started quarrelling with that man and wanted to buy his monkey. He was not agreeing to sell his money-making monkey. But I was also not a girl to let the poor monkey suffer. So the man asked for a big amount of money and he thought it would make me leave him because I am a poor prostitute. I told him to sit for a minute and without thinking for a second, I took all my money from my trunk which I had accumulated in the last 3 years making my blood into sweat so that I could get rid of this hell.

I finally could save my baby monkey. Everyone laughed at me and called me crazy but no one will ever understand the satisfaction that I feel. I am feeding him healthily and taking care of him for the last 14 days to make him well. I decided I will leave him in a jungle far from this concrete jungle. I know a prostitute can never be free and live her life in the society of the good people but I believe this monkey can live happily in his jungle

_ Beauty

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When my son brought Sultana home, everyone was angry. No one was ready to accept her. I looked at the face of my daughter-in-law and saw she had no innocence; there was maturity and bravery. My daughters, husband and everyone of my place started warning me how dangerous the girl can be. The day she arrived at home, my kitchen caught on fire because my saree fell into the stove. Everyone was screaming when Sultana brought sand in a bucket and threw it all over the place. She slightly burned her hands but stopped the fire. My daughters were telling me it was a bad omen; they said the new bride created the fire. I stopped them and explained how bravely she saved us. She won my heart in the first place. But no one liked her because Sultana came from the kind of family who can count how many times they eat fish or meat in a year. My husband told me what a loss it was to get a daughter-in-law whose parents could never feed us even once. I asked him why he always dislikes her. He told me because she is black and poor. I told him I am black and my own family is still poor. I asked him if he also thinks I am worthless. I did not listen to anyone because there she was with all her heart and labour pouring happiness into my house.

But after three years there was no child. Everyone had a valid reason to send her off to her parents’ house. But I was there, standing in front of her so no criticism nor bad talk could affect her. But I saw she was suffering badly because of the need for a child. She stopped smiling. One day I called her in the morning and we got ready together and told everyone we were going to my sister’s place. I lied to everyone. We went to the community clinic, and there she received treatment. After six months my daughter-in-law conceived. When my grandson was about to be born my daughter-in-law told me if something happened to her, I should never let the child be given to any other woman. I was there beside her the entire time; I did not say a word without praying. My daughter-in-law survived bravely and gifted me this beautiful grandson.

It’s been forty years that I’ve been working and every inch of my body hurts every minute. But the money I earn is important for my sick husband and family. I hardly have time to play with any of my grandchildren. Some days ago Sultana told me she got a new job for me and for her. I asked her what they were. She handed over my grandson to me and told me that looking after him and playing with him is my new job. I smiled and said, we need money to run our family. And then she showed me a card. I cannot read as I never went to school so she explained to me that she took a job in a garments factory and now I can retire. It’s been a few days since she started working. Yesterday I resigned from my labourer job. From early morning I have been feeling like a child as I do not know how this long day will pass. Whenever my grandson is laughing and playing with me, this brings tears to my eyes. I needed this rest; I badly needed to take a break. And no one understood it except my daughter-in-law who is worthless in everyone’s eyes but mine. She is becoming like my mother.

_Momena (60)

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‘I lost many things in my life and by standing at the end of my life, now I can tell you, how I gained everything what I had lost.

My husband died when during flood, a tree had fallen on him. I was standing just ten feet away from him in water. That night, I was seven months pregnant. After losing my husband, my house and everything I had, I felt to commit suicide. But I became mother after waiting for twelve years for a child. I had to survive for my child, so I came to city to search for work. After so many struggles I gave birth to my son, midwife told me, my son had problem and asked me to be prepared for his death. When he died after seven days, I had no one beside me and had no money. Even if you die you need money but no one came forward to help me. Only some orphan-street children gave me money, so I could do his last work. After buried him when I return to my hut, I didn’t cry. From that day, I no longer look behind what I had lost. Since the day, for thirty years, I had feed one orphan each day from my food. I lost my child but I kept giving the portion of his love to every miserable child I met on my way.

Last five years, I am suffering from tuberculosis and heart problems. Now all those orphan children grew up and taking care of me. I lost one child but now I have hundred’

_Maa Asha

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It took two days to give birth to my son. After his birth, the midwife told me my boy was dead. I could not let her take my baby. I was holding him to my chest and after a few minutes he started to cry. I named him Ibrahim. He was born after my fifth stillbirth. I never let him go out of my sight for a moment. I took his promise every night before he went to sleep: a promise that he would always enable me to hold my head up. When he was fifteen, he started writing poetry secretly. I do not know how to read or write. But a mother does not need to read anything; I could see by his eyes that he was in love. I wanted him to settle soon; wanted to see a house full of my grandchildren. Then the war started. I did not let my son leave me alone for a moment. I wanted to go somewhere where no military could come. That day when we were about to leave our village, I was finishing my prayers.

My son left me without saying anything. I quickly checked his poetry book and saw that it was missing. He was gone with his poems. For four months, I waited in my empty house for his return. People advised me to leave with my life. The whole village left without me. I did not escape. A mother of a freedom fighter cannot be weak. I knew he had to come back to me. Because I had no one other than him. Because he had to write more poetry for the girl who I knew nothing about. I inhaled the odor of my son’s shirt and keep waiting for him. Then one night, a young fighter came with Ibrahim’s poetry book. Ibrahim had died willingly while enabling their bravest fighters escape. His last operation was not successful, and a bomb took his life. They did not get any parts of his body. His friend handed me that diary which he left in the shelter. It had blood in the corner. I inhaled the smell of the blood of my son. I opened and touched a few pages. I did not cry at that moment; I did not want the freedom fighter who stood beside me to think I was weak. I requested him to read the last page of the diary. He read slowly, ‘Maa, I will never cause you to put your head down, I promise.’

_Jebunessa Begum

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My husband was an angel to me! He brought me here 50 years ago to avoid the bad mouthing I had to listen from the villagers every day!

I have no one in this world. My husband was everything to me. Before his death, he always used to ask me, “What would you do after my death? How you will live?” I never realized how much I had to suffer when he is no longer here. Now, I understand, how he had protected me like an umbrella my whole life! Even the day before his death he worked because of me!

Death is what sets my 50 years of love and relationship apart! Many people advise me to beg, so I can easily earn much more money than I earn working here so hard every day.

I begged my whole life! When my parents died and I had to live with my uncle, I used to beg to God to release me from my uncle’s house! I had to beg my husband to resist my mother-in-law when she wanted to re-marry my husband because of my childlessness!

I had to beg my whole life! I begged for a husband, I begged for children, I begged for safety and I begged for my dignity!
But I cannot beg for money! No no, I cannot hold my head up with my hands out! Hard work does not give me pain but indignity does!

I got married at a very young age! I could not learn anything from my family but I learned everything from my husband! He was a very enlightened man with unlimited love and respect for me. I learned from him how to hold my head high.

While other young women who work beside me can carry 12 bricks at a time, I can hardly carry 6 or even 4. But I am grateful to Allah that he still gives me strength to work so I can feed myself. I can earn money to survive and I don’t have to beg!

If my husband had been able to work until the day before his death, then I can too!
I get strength from my husband and respect, love and dignity from my hard work, some things which begging for money never can give me!

_Banu_65

 

International Women’s Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.

——————-

GMB Akash 

Photojournalist and Profile Photographer at Panos Pictures, London

Founder of GMB Akash Institute of Photography, Dhaka

TEDxHyderabad:https://youtu.be/sXbmBCzgy8A

TEDxYouth:https://youtu.be/rLG7sPs6MkU

Website: www.gmb-akash.com

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4 thoughts on “Incredible Women

  1. Thank you so much, Akash Your stories are always making me cry and smile at the same time. Thank you so much!

    Mit freundlichen Grüßen Georgia Stoinski Herforder Straße 15 50737 Köln

    TEL. 0171 6068 355 E-Mail-Adresse gstoins@yahoo.de

    >

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