Jesmin Ara, 26-years-old, already completed her graduation in social science under the national university of Bangladesh and she had a dream to be a government employee which is a lucrative job especially for women for a number of reasons in Bangladesh. In the competitive job market, she was unable to prepare herself while she has great potentiality. However, she is now a successful entrepreneur, producing low-cost sanitary napkins in her community.
Her entrepreneur’s journey was not so easy, but her determination helps her to reach today’s position. Jesmin’s father was unemployed due to physical problems and her mother worked in a private hospital as a low-paid employee that was the main source of income to her family. Her only younger brother who is now an undergraduate student worked as a part-time intern in a grocery shop to support his education. Jesmin sometimes did private tutoring to other students for arranging her education and partly ensuring family expenses as well.
Hope for the Poorest [a national NGO in Bangladesh that has a number of projects on Menstrual Health Management] has a project ‘WASH SDG’ [ funded by Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, administered by Simavi, a Dutch development partner] focusing on WASH entrepreneurship development at three urban cities [Satkhira, Kolaroa and Barguna southern municipalities of the country]. The project aims to develop water, sanitation & hygiene, and low-cost sanitary napkin entrepreneurs from low-income communities. Ms. Jesmin is being selected to be a sanitary napkin entrepreneur at Satkhira municipality. She is proactive and within a very short time, she learned how to run her sanitary napkin business.
Satkhira municipality, located in the southern part of the country, is quite conservative, where the community prevents women from earning. In the early days of her business, she faced obstacles from her family, especially her parents. They [parents] tried to convince her to give up this business because menstruation is a dirty thing in their society. They think [parents] if she continues this business, perhaps she will suffer to find a good individual to marry him. Parents advised her to help her parents to set up a grocery shop.
Jesmin was demotivated and stopped her communication with Hope for the Poorest (HP) team for establishing the business. After few weeks, the HP team contacted her again finding her problems why she is not interested to run the business. Firstly, she was not willing to say her actual problem. The team discussed how the business would change not only their family livelihood but also will increase good menstrual hygiene practice to menstruating women and girls in her community who are living with unhealthy practices.
To make her successful business another barrier came from her friends and relatives. They avoided her and sometimes they said if she continues her business, they would stop their communication with her even their relation will be closed forever which was painful to her. In addition, neighboring women and girls frequently teased her even they said Jesmin is a bad girl that’s why she wants to make a such business.
Jesmin had a bold character and was determined to change their mindset who had bad conception or gossip to her. She closely worked with the HP team for changing the people’s mindset and promoting her low-cost sanitary napkin “KISHORY” to last-mile customers.
Now she produces 250 to 300 packets per day while family members assist her to run the business effectively. Almost every day she goes to nearby slums, schools, shops, clinics, and communities to share menstrual knowledge and creates her product demand to the customers. In her own communities where she faced criticism now she is welcomed to sell her products.
Now she earns sufficient profits by her best efforts that definitely adds to her family economy. She is now one of the most influential family decision-makers and already helped her father to set up a grocery shop.
At the COVID pandemic, she produces low-cost facemasks and selling them to community people. She teaches clients how they maintain social distance, wearing facemasks, and keep continuing their handwashing practice.
Finally, the people who criticized her before now praise and tell her success story to others. Jesmin now scales up her business with new areas and gets support from all walks of life. She says, “Initially people don’t try to understand and even try to demotivate what you want to do. When they [people] see your good result, they will happy to talk with you. In the meantime, you need to keep patience and strong determination to reach your goal.”
This is our happiness to see such a success story that is encouraging others to come forward and will break the taboos around menstruation.
About the writer:
Mahiul Kadir, 36, is Executive Director at Hope for the Poorest, a not for a profit-making organization, working on social entrepreneurship business development in Bangladesh. She is a business graduate completed from a reputed public university in Bangladesh and has a number of certificates on entrepreneurship development from national and international institutions.
After graduation, he launched his career in the development sector where his specializations are in strategic management, resource mobilization, financial management, project design, implementation and evaluation, people management, and entrepreneurship development as well.
He eventually led a number of programs that mostly included the World Bank Group Sanitation Program in Bangladesh. Mr. Kadir is also a creative thinker and writing on social media and different national English dailies on socio-economic issues mostly women’s development and empowerment.
He already presented his research findings on many national and international seminars, including One Young World Summit, 2018, at Hague, The Netherlands, and World Water Week, 2019 in Stockholm, Sweden, was junior rapporteur to virtual World Water Week, 2021.