ASIA/BANGLADESH - “The Jute Works”: Caritas Bangladesh has been promoting handicrafts and the emancipation of women for 50 years

Wednesday, 27 September 2023 caritas   women  

Dhaka (Agenzia Fides) - Antu Rani Sarkar was born into a needy family. Along the way, she had the opportunity to take part in a course run by the CORR-The Jute Works (CJW) initiative, where she learned how to make jute products. "Thanks to this vocational training, I was able to change my family's financial situation. My two sons received training and found good jobs. I bought land and built a house," 58-year-old Hindu Sarkar tells Fides. “If CJW had not offered me this opportunity, I would still be struggling with poverty to support my daily livelihood,” she says with a smile. Catholic Jenevy Mondol reports the same experience: "My husband is a construction worker. With his income we could not adequately support our family. I was trained at CJW in 1985. With the new activity, we have trained our three children and live well. I am respected because, as a woman, I make a contribution to my family and society.” Alya Akter, a Muslim, said her mother, who died in 2016, was at CJW for 30 years. Alya learned to make jute products from her mother and her current income allows her to care for her husband, who is ill due to a serious stroke. "My son is studying at university and my daughter is in the fifth grade. We make ends meet because I learned the profession from my mother and now work at CJW," she says gratefully. More than 6,000 Bangladeshi women of all religions like Antu, Jevevy and Alya are grateful to CJW that they can stand on their own two feet today. CJW is an organization founded in 1973 by Caritas Bangladesh, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in recent days with a congress in Dhaka attended by around a thousand people, including the Minister of Textiles and Jute, Golam Dastagir Gazi, and several Catholic bishops. "The Jute Works" was one of the pioneer organizations of the Fair Trade network in Bangladesh. It advocated for the development and dignity of the disadvantaged and excluded, especially women from indigenous communities. In addition to actual jute products, CJW also produces terracotta figurines, woven baskets, candles, rings, earrings, hand-painted bags and carpets, wooden trays and traditional clothing. Thanks to the Fair Trade network, jute products are exported to 40 countries, mainly European countries. "Jesus Christ taught us to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and clothe the unclothed," said Archbishop Bejoy N D'Cruze of Dhaka. "CJW gives dignity to women, develops their skills, and the empowered women make a decisive contribution to their families". The Minister of Textiles and Jute, Golam Dastagir Gazi, a former student of the Catholic institute Notre Dame College, also praised the CJW's activities: "The CJW has inspired Bangladeshi women to enter the workforce. Today, millions of women work in factories or textile workshops and contribute to the country's economy. The CJW has supported thousands of women over the last 50 years. I express my full gratitude to Caritas Bangladesh for this initiative." The organization, which has won national and international awards for its high-quality handicrafts over the years, employs around 6,000 artisans, almost exclusively women from rural areas. From the outset, the project was intended to contribute to the emancipation of women and improve their social and economic status through training and manual work. Bangladesh remains one of the most densely populated countries in the world with high poverty rates, where women live on the margins of society. Thanks to CJW's activities, there are more than 200 artisan cooperatives in Bangladesh, spread across 30 provinces, involving a total of almost 6,000 people. The artisan cooperatives are autonomous in the management of their activities, but can count on central support. CJW provides socio-economic support and complements the production and sale of handicrafts with programs to improve various aspects of life in rural villages. The craftswomen receive training in cooperative management (organization, administration, accounting). An important consideration is also protecting environmental resources while investing in medical care programs and services for indigenous communities.
The main element used in artisan work is jute, an ecological fibrea, economical, ductile and very versatile. Even though its use has shrunk significantly over the years in favor of synthetic products, the artisans of CJW have been able to enhance their role thanks to the production of original and ecological objects, which still attract interest on the international market. (PA/FC) (Agenzia Fides, 27/9/2023)