Mashuda Khatun Shefali

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 1991
Nari Uddug Kendra (NUK)


This profile was prepared when Mashuda Khatun Shefali was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1991.
The New Idea
Over the last decade, urban export garment industries have mushroomed in Bangladesh. Young women from the villages constitute ninety percent of this workforce. Wages run from $10 to $20 a month including overtime hours, which extend the workday from seven a.m. until well after dark. Living conditions are harsh and the adjustments these young women must make are enormous and complex.Nonetheless, the emergence of this new group of urban migrant factory workers represents an unprecedented opportunity for women, especially poor women, to achieve independent lives. The chief alternative, being a maid, often offers only room and board. Prostitution has its own shackles. As a result of the garment factories, over 500,000 young women have left their villages and the often suffocating control of their families. They are being paid, but they have to make their own living arrangements.
Shefali understands the importance of this opportunity. She had to fight to escape the constraints of a woman's role in the village, and she has worked for ten years to give young village women a chance. She comments quietly: "I know many young girls who have cried when the social rules forced them to drop out of school while their brothers continued."
Yet if they do move to the city, their new environment is extremely harsh, even dangerous, not to mention unfamiliar.
Shefali set out to bring awareness and basic education to these young women. If she could help them, she felt she would be helping a new generation of more independent women emerge in the country.
To gain access to these women--a difficult problem, given their very long workdays and scattered housing--she has decided to create a series of self-sustaining safe residential hostels that will also provide food and a wide array of other services, ranging from education and health to counseling. She will be able to get other citizen organizations to provide most of these services because her hostels will give them the access to these women they too have previously found elusive.
Very importantly, the hostels will give these women a meeting place where they can share their problems and think through how to best respond together. The hostels will build unity and the women's self?confidence, the necessary precursors to change.
As these women's will to change grows, Shefali will be working to give them the tools they need. These tools include literacy, family life education, gender relations analysis, and support services from health to child care.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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