From a life in the shadows to a menstrual health and hygiene role model in her community

A woman with a disability is in a wheelchair, selling sanitary pads door to door to women in her community in Bangladesh

Abeda sells sanitary products to a woman in her community (World Vision Bangladesh / Jobayer Hossain (Water for Women in Bangladesh)

 

Today, Abeda Begum, 29, is a menstrual health and hygiene (MHH) entrepreneur, selling sanitary products from her house and throughout her community, educating women and girls about safe management of their period, proper disposal of pads, raising awareness on the importance of disability-friendly toilets and more recently, COVID-19 prevention.

 

It wasn’t always this way though, after typhoid left her disabled with a damaged spine, Abeda lost hope. She struggled with daily activities such as cleaning, cooking and going to the toilet.

 

"After becoming disabled, all of my hobbies died out. I couldn’t go out anywhere, even if I wanted to. Who would take me? I was stuck at home and a burden to family,” said Abeda.

 

The third of seven children, Abeda had also lost both her father, and her husband, so living in the family home, she depended on others to help her with many tasks.

 

Her situation was bleak until SHOMOTA - strengthening gender equality and social inclusion in WASH in Bangladesh, a five-year project to improve access to Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) for women and people with disabilities, started in the Goalerchar Union.

 

SHOMOTA is delivered by World Vision through Water for Women and supported by the Australian Government.

 

With support from disabled persons organisation (DPO) partner, Centre for Disability Development, a Self-Help Group (SHG) for people with disabilities was formed in her community and Abeda was encouraged to join. Through meetings, mentoring and engaging with her family, Abeda learned about leadership and rights of people with disabilities and was also given a wheelchair.

 

Abeda is now more independent, and more active. She has lobbied local government for rights and protections for people with disabilities, while urging non-government organisations to help flood-affected people. During the COVID-19 pandemic she went house-to-house encouraging people to take precautions to protect themselves from infection.

 

Today, she an inspiration to other SHG members, and valued by her family and the wider community. She has achieved the self-reliance she dreamed of, becoming a WASH entrepreneur selling MHH products from village to village. Abeda speaks to households and courtyard meetings to build awareness of the importance of disability friendly hygienic toilets, safe water and menstrual hygiene.

 

Suresh Bartlett, National Director, World Vision Bangladesh, said: “In Bangladesh, lack of access to WASH services is an everyday reality for women and people with disabilities. The SHOMOTA project is changing this by breaking down barriers and creating access for those who have been left behind.”

 

Poor menstrual health and hygiene caused by a lack of education, taboos and stigma, limited access to hygienic menstrual products, and poor sanitation infrastructure, undermines the education, health and social status of women and girls around the world.

 

The time is over for peripheral programming on menstrual health and hygiene (MHH) in WASH. It is now pivotal, particularly given the context of COVID-19 restrictions, which have exacerbated period poverty and decreased availability and access to hygienic facilities, sanitary products and information to support stigma-free safe and dignified menstruation.

 

The WASH sector has a central role to play in supporting the safe and dignified menstruation management to positively impact the life course of women of all ages and girls worldwide. 

 

Learn more about how Water for Women partners are making menstrual health and hygiene pivotal in their WASH projects.

 

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