When Begum Sheikh Hasina was 18 she was married off to a man chosen by her parents, as is often the case in rural Bangladesh. She and her husband opened a bread shop, but vandals from the local political party would often attack it. One day one of Hasina’s children was abused by these men, and when Hasina protested, four men picked her up, took her to a sandbank and gang-raped her.
Hasina closed the shop and went back home in shame—but her family found out what had happened and kicked her out of the house because of the social stigma associated with rape. Meanwhile, her husband was in Dhaka for work. He didn’t return or send money for two years.
Hasina resorted to sex work, but not out of choice. “I’d only take the work if I was really desperate for money, and my children needed food. This is the worst career you can have. In the hope of getting one customer, at least ten will rape you. It is better to beg in the streets.”
Her husband eventually returned, and Hasina became pregnant again. However, he gave little support and she struggled to raise four children by managing a tea stall.
Through serving tea to customers, Hasina came to meet staff from CARE’s Protirodh project, which supports migratory sex workers. She joined the local Priotirodh self-help group, and with the support of others in the group began to change her fortunes.
Hasina explains: “Dada from Protirodh rescued me by giving me 1500 taka. Even if that does not seem to be sufficient, I was part of a Shomiti (union) where I saved what CARE gave me. I eventually made 5000 taka. Then I took a 7000 taka loan and built my shop. Now I make at least 100 taka profit every day selling tea, cigarettes, bananas, biscuits, and cakes.”
Hasina still faced huge challenges. Local villains vandalised her shop, tortured her son, and beat her unconscious, accusing her of running a “whore-house”.
Hasina decided enough was enough. She contacted a local politician who intervened, working alongside the Protirodh project to improve Hasina’s situation.
Hasina said, “I have been told by many sex worker women that they are inspired by what I have done. They are proud that after such hardship and violence, I have stepped forward. All of the women in my group are my examples and strengths.”