Happy International Women's Day!
Today is a day to celebrate women around the world, continue forging a path towards equality, and to focus on innovating change.
In honor of this holiday, we are sharing a personal story of one of our artisans and how working with 700 Rivers’ fair-trade partner, Sacred Mark Enterprise, has changed her life.
"I never knew my father. He left my mom when she was pregnant with me. Growing up, I always saw my mom struggling to put food on the table. When I was ten years old, my mom sent me off to work for a rich man in my neighborhood. I worked for him as a housemaid and earned 300-taka ($5) per month. I was a skinny child and lacked the strength to do heavy household works. So, quite often, the rich man’s wife would beat me for not doing my job properly. But I did not mind the beatings because they gave me free food and their daughter’s old clothes to wear, which back then seemed like a fair deal.
As I grew older, I learned that people didn’t respect my family that much—especially my mom—because she was an actress and people considered her to be a harlot. But I respected my mom because she was passionate about her work. I liked her costumes, make-ups, and fine jewelry. I would often dress up for her and ask her how I looked. I never knew that someday I would have to do the same for other men and sell my body for petty cash.
Like many of my co-workers here, I had an arranged marriage at a very young age. My husband did not treat me well. He drank too much and did not have a proper job. Many nights, he would come home drunk and beat me up for no reason. My mother-in-law was also a source of constant pain in my miserable life. She would often abuse me verbally and accuse me for my husband’s drinking. I did not know what to do to make my husband happy. So I did the only thing a poor, Bangladeshi woman can do to save her marriage: I conceived a baby.
But having a baby backfired on me. My husband became more violent afterwards, and one day his violent rage found its way to my son’s little, fragile body. That day I decided to leave him. I could not let my son suffer the same way I had. I wanted to go back to my mom. But I could not, because God had taken her to heaven during the second year of my marriage. (I was missing her so much during that time.) So, I rented a small apartment and started looking for a job as a housemaid in my neighborhood.
Unfortunately, my neighbors did not want to employ me because they thought I was like my mom—a harlot, a call girl. I did not know what to do or where to go. So, I went back to the place where my mom worked and asked them for a job. They asked me to be an actress. I didn’t know anything about acting, but I had to do something for my son, so I accepted their offer. Soon, I realized that most of the other actresses in my acting group were sleeping with men to earn extra cash after the shows. And, one day, they asked me to join them.
As an actress, I did not earn much. I could barely buy enough food for my son. I was three months behind on my rent, and the landlord had asked me several times to leave the apartment. So, back then, sleeping with other men to earn some extra cash seemed like an easy way out. At first, I hesitated, but people were already calling me a harlot, so eventually, I stopped caring and joined in with the other actresses in my group.
After working with that acting group for four years, I became sick and went to see a doctor, and there I learned that I had an STD. The doctor told me that I should stop working as a sex worker, or else, I would soon become really sick and could die. I got worried for my son. Who would look after him if I am gone? So, I started looking for a job again. And that time, I was a bit lucky because a friend of my mother who was also an ex-sex worker took me to see Deepa Apa, the manager of Sacred Mark Enterprise.
Deepa Apa listened to my story and gave me a job. I learned how to handmake soaps. I felt at home at Sacred Mark because all the other women working there were ex-sex workers like me. If they were able to move on from their past, I felt that I could too.
Now, I don’t work as a sex worker anymore. I have been given a new life. My son goes to school and is in the second grade. I am very proud of him. He tells me that someday he wants to join the Bangladesh army. He is often bullied at school for my dreadful past. But I always tell him to stay strong because I am going to do everything I can to make his dream come true.”
Unfortunately, many women in Bangladesh and all over the world are forced into human trafficking or are given so few options while living in poverty that they feel that they have no other choice but to do what they have to do to survive. It is a sad reality, but we are working hard every day to make a difference in our artisans’ lives. With your help, 700 Rivers helps 28 women just like Simu to keep steady employment by handcrafting our all-natural soaps. These are real women that are directly impacted every time you purchase a 700 Rivers soap. Through our fair-trade practices, our artisans are guaranteed a fair, living wage so that they can work with dignity and never have to repeat their pasts ever again.
Let’s focus on women’s empowerment around the globe today and every day!
Thank you for your extraordinary impact!
All my best,