This 4th of July, I was on a plane to Bangladesh, so I decided to celebrate Independence today instead. And there was no better way to do so than with the independent women of TARANGO, a women's economic development project in Dhaka.
Kohinoor Yeasmin, CEO of TARANGO, met Deni, myself, and Semonti, a Bangladeshi-American for UNFPA, at our hotel early this morning. On our way to her facilities, she explained the program's history as well as last year's International Women's Day event: an all-women's boat race. Despite resistance from some men (those who haven't yet realized that "throwing like a girl" is a compliment...), 165 women self-organized to race miles down a Kadambari river to prove the power of women. With men on the shore watching and teams of women in matching saris for uniforms, they made a bold statement: women can do anything, do it well, and do it fashionably!
As we toured the facilities, I met some of those very women and soon understood how they achieved such a feat. They worked hard in sewing, project design, weaving, and management. And they did so together: chit-chatting, laughing, assisting one another. And these women collaborated outside work as well. They counseled one another, opened savings accounts together, and often lived together. It's no wonder they could organize and train for Bangladesh's first all-women's boat race within such a short time!
After being inspired by the work of TARANGO and the community it creates, we decided to race ourselves...to shop! And it was shopping I could actually feel good—and not guilty—about. After all, the handicrafts were fair-trade, high quality, ecofriendly, and totally World Market material. The proceeds went to programs that teach illiterate women to run businesses, provide gender-sensitive marriage counseling, and ensure that all of its 12,000 working women and their children have access to education and adequate healthcare.
As Semonti spoke Bengali to the smiling women, I could tell they were tasting the fruits of freedom. When they called us "see-sters," they hit upon a truth we had not realized: ironically, our independence requires our dependence and mutual respect for one another. Visiting TARANGO and ASF has helped me to understand our connectedness, our joint struggles, and the simple support we can lend each other.
So tonight is my Independence Day. I am celebrating an American that supports UNFPA and its programs. I am celebrating the women whose large triceps put me to shame as they row powerfully down a river. And even as I do what Americans do best—shop—I am celebrating women's freedom and empowerment everywhere. Happy Independence Day!
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