Hosne Ara Begum
This profile was prepared when Hosne Ara Begum was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1989.
The New Idea
Keenly aware of the enormous difficulties poor Bangladeshi women face, Hosne Ara has committed herself to changing how both men and women perceive women and also the behavior of men toward women that both now accept.Her central idea is quite simple: the mass of poor, almost entirely illiterate Bangladeshi women must take it upon themselves to change the situation. They have to be the main force for change. Nothing else will be sufficient.To do so, they must first unite--to encourage one another as they face up to their situation, as they change their perceptions, and, especially, as they confront a society unwilling to listen and press steadily for basic change.For this to be possible these women must control their own organizations. If they cannot do that, how can they do so many more difficult things?Consequently, Hosne Ara is launching the country's grassroots-run movement of, not just for, poor women. She founded the Thengamala Mohila Sabut Sangha to provide the organizational framework for such a movement and over the last decade has learned how systematically to make such a grassroots-run movement work practically. It works powerfully because it releases and then serves as a channel for the energy and motivation of women who have been terribly victimized.The movement is creative as well as powerful because it draws ideas, strategies, and programs directly from its members. For example, a suggestion from one of the local chapters led the Sangha to press the government and finally win the right to take full responsibility for building some of the local roads. Suddenly poor women were managing--skillfully, honestly, and at low cost--significant local public works. So much for the accepted image of women relegated to carrying earth on their heads or sitting on top of a pile of stones patiently breaking them into gravel with a hammer!The leadership, which comes from the local women, is very strong and resilient. Rather than hire professionals to train local women as paraprofessionals, Hosne Ara identifies talented local members and develops their own leadership capacity. This strategy leaves a base of local leadership in place, and does not build in any dependence on the so-called professionals.Hosne Ara has a vision that one day men and women will work together as equal partners, sharing responsibilities and burdens. Consequently, she includes men, albeit only a few, in the education and development process.