March 8, as we celebrate International Women's Day, I salute all women of Bangladesh from the garment workers, leaders in the corporate world, business entrepreneurs, school teachers, women in rural Bangladesh working their guts out and last but not the least home makers.
Women are leaders everywhere, from corporate offices, business organisations, and schools to the homemakers who raise their children and head the household. One cannot fathom a day without them, relentlessly working both on and behind the scene.
There was a survey done many years back which brought into light how much a homemaker was worth in terms of the number of hours she puts into cooking, cleaning, hosting dinners, looking after children etc. If she were to be given a salary for the hours put in, it would be a very respectable amount.
Over the last few years I have been training women in the financial institutions how to develop their leadership skills, to discover and tap their strengths, to set goals, to believe in themselves, to remain focused and never give up. I am heartened to see so many working women, some of them mothers with small children, having to manage a work life balance. When I joined ANZ Grindlays Bank in 1986, I was the first woman to be taken in as part of the management team; today, as women, we have come a long way.
The garment workers of Bangladesh are a living example of how women can help in improving the country's economy by contributing to the GDP. By joining the workforce, they have helped the economic growth to a much faster pace. More importantly they have become aware of their own status as working women, thereby also resulting in their contribution towards family planning.
It is essential to have your own identity, your own brand image and most importantly financial independence. There is nothing more important than having your own money and not having to ask your spouse for it however well to do he may be. Financial independence gives you a feeling of accomplishment, a feeling of happiness a feeling of peace and comfort and a great level of confidence.
We are all aware of women in the corporate and business world and in professions like law and medicine and their financial status. In many homes the women are the bigger bread earners, which sometimes results in men being a little insecure.
Homemakers can also start earning money, many do, but I would like to outline a few tips in general for women who have not yet thought about supplementing family income:
1. BECOME A TUTOR
If you know a child struggling at school, offer tutoring services to the family in an area of academics you are great in. You could offer to pick up the child from school and tutor them at your home until the parents get off work. Parents may go for this for many reasons — their children are getting extra educational help and have adult supervision from someone they trust. You can also tutor adults in learning spoken and written English or Bangla— whichever is your forte. There are many expatriate ladies eager to learn Bangla.
Are you skilled at singing, sewing, knitting, cooking, baking, decorating cakes or art? You can offer classes or private lessons at your home. If your children are on a naptime routine or schedule, this can be done. But, it means giving up your free leisure time to invest in earning income. Try it just a few days a week, and if you are able to, you can always increase it to 4 times per week later.
3. MAKE YOUR OWN PRODUCTS
I know a few women who are doing quite well catering, crocheting beautiful quilts, embroidering saris or dresses, designing jewellery, gift bags, and more items. It does take a while to build up, but if you invest your time, efforts and brain-power into some of your own products and marketing those products, you can have a home-based business to help support your family financially. You can advertise through Facebook or word of mouth. And don't worry, if starting your own business seems overwhelming, take the plunge. It is worth it when you see money flowing in.
4. OFFER OFFICE LUNCHES
This can be a major source of earning money. The demand for hygienically prepared meals for office goers is very much on the rise. This is mainly important for small offices that do not have their own canteens. You can invest in a good cook who can help you prepare these meals. Delivery boys often work on a commission basis.
5. ORGANISING DINNERS OR PARTIES
There is a huge clientele who have the money but not the time to organise dinners or parties in their homes. I know successful businesswomen who are already doing this, but you can start too, first on a small scale, but gradually taking a more ambitious role.
I know of a young woman who was working as a maid at a relative's home. She got married to a man from rural Bangladesh and eventually had to move to his village. She was smart, honest and had always wanted more out of life. With the money that she had saved earlier, she started a small business. She would buy grain or other non-perishable commodities when the price was low and sell them when the price would hike up. She also started fish farming – luckily they had a small pond so would she buy small fish at a low price and sell them when the fish reached maturity.
This goes to show that if you want to really want to do something there is nothing that should stop you.
As Michelle Obama said, "There is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish."