Akshan de Alwis is a junior at Noble and Greenough School
August was the holy month of Ramadan, the mornings and evenings resonant with the call to prayer. When the fast is broken, a meal of dates, chickpeas fried in batter, and jelabis -- intertwined tubes of fried rice flour filled with honey -- is shared with families and those in need.
Ramadan brings a fresh focus on those most in need of food and security, the women and children of Bangladesh.
As an intern with the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association (BNWLA) I helped compile research on violence against women and children -- especially cruel acid attacks -- for a report to be submitted to the United Nations.
Acid attacks are one of the most dehumanizing crimes against women, recently profiled in the Oscar winning documentary Saving Face.
At a crisis center in the Chittagong Hospital, where many victims of acid attacks come to seek medical, psychological, and legal aid, a woman I will refer to as Sama had recently had acid thrown on her face while she slept.
Her nostrils were fused together and half of her face was erased. The BNWLA lawyer who represented her said that Sama could not leave her abusive husband because of her dependency on him. She suffered in silence until he attacked her with acid.
One of the reasons that women here are so deeply vulnerable to violence is their economic disempowerment. Women who have access to resources are less dependent on their husbands and male guardians and are able to leave abusive situations.
One path to independence is micro-credit, the lending of small amounts of money that allows women to start businesses of their own and gain financial freedom from abusers.
Dr. Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who founded the first micro credit enterprise in the world, Grameen Bank, has now expanded opportunities by harnessing the power of new technology through Grameen Telecom and Grameen Phone.
His idea is to link rural Bangladeshi villages to the marketplace of ideas and the marketplaces of the world.
In 1983, he founded Grameen Bank in Bangladesh to provide small loans to women who were not considered credit worthy by mainstream banks. Today, 90 percent of the millions of micro-credit borrowers around the world are women who receive money in exchange for promising to educate their daughters and delay their marriages.
Yunus is now promoting the concept of social businesses that value social benefits over profits. He points to a Grameen/Dannon partnership that supplies yogurt at 5 cents a cup to Bangladeshis as a way to address malnutrition.
The distributors are the women who have micro-credit loans from the Grameen Bank; the milk comes from cows owned by women with Grameen loans.
In a social business, according to the Yunus Centre website, investors/owners can gradually recoup the money they invested, but cannot take any dividend beyond that. The main purpose of the investment is to achieve one or more social objectives, such as health care, housing, or financial services for the poor, or nutrition for malnourished children.
Yunus said that the most effective way of fighting poverty is to strengthen the status of women and girls in their families so they can make better decisions about their family’s nutrition, health, and education.
I think of Sama and her inability to protect herself and I want do something to prevent others like Sama from experiencing her fate. I mention Yunus' program in the report that will be delivered to the UN and hope that in some small way it gives voice to women like Sama.To learn how to contribute to Passport, email Patricia Nealon at firstname.lastname@example.org.