Survival saga of a female-headed family during pandemic

Asma Begum, a successful female farmer of Dhamrai upazila in Dhaka. Photo: Roton Malo

Roton Malo

Survival saga of a female-headed family during pandemicAshma Begum

Households in agriculture dominant rural economy in Bangladesh are mostly dominated by male but some exceptions are there like Ashma’s since her family survived and found hope thanks to her talent, conviction, affection and hardship during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ashma Begum, a 42-year-old woman with special need, lives at Mongolbari village under Baishakandi union in Dhamrai upazila about 40km away from the capital city of Dhaka. Some two decades earlier, Ashma lost her right eye in an accident and started living with that burden of disability.

However, Ashma never lost her hope of living and always thought of what she had as blessings from the creator Lord. She used to lead her family of three members happily without any complain before Covid-19 pandemic but the New Coronavirus brought her serious financial crises in April, 2020.

Ashma’s family was hit hard by the pandemic since her only hope, a cow, was sold out at low price for their survival of a three-member family. Ashma’s family income went down radically thanks to the movement restriction over Covid-19 in the country. She had no other way than spending money earned from selling the cow. She spent all of that within four months when the movement restrictions became stricter.

In dire straits, Ashma took out a loan of Tk 60,000 from a local cooperative hoping to start vegetable farming but the flood slammed her again for the second time that threw the family into another hole of dismay.

However, Ashma Begum, a mother, wife and the leader of a family can never bow to troubles. She has been trying hard to come back from that situation. The unwanted flood took away about half of the loan money, while Ashma spent a portion to meet family needs and she managed a small savings from that.

Asked about her husband’s help, Ashma Begum told, “Don’t tell about him, he is a complete vagabond.” However, “I’ve no complain about that, he is my soul mate.” Her husband, who’s only responsibility, is to sell vegetables and buy family needs from bazar, has been doing nothing to hold the family.

Meanwhile, Ashma’s only daughter and son-in-law came home in April and stayed about two months. Although it was a joy for a mother to get her daughter at home but was a burden as well since Ashma had to think of their daily food of two more people. Eventually, Ashma’s daughter and son-in-law went back home a few days earlier releasing the family from financial crises.

However, Ashma Begum has been leading her family with strong conviction until now although the Covid-19 pandemic is still putting various restrictions to the family.

The only son of Ashma went to Dhaka for a company job and earning only his living. Ashma is now living with her husband by selling vegetables from her homestead Malabar spinach garden. She spends only Tk 1,000 for food a month, earned from selling vegetable.

“I’ve been taking less amount of protein intake thinking of reducing family cost,” said Ashma when asked about the way she was tackling her family during pandemic. “I bought only two eggs instead of a dozen in a month and ate vegetable and rice only when I had no work and the vegetable garden went down into flood water,” she said.

“I need a piece of land since I don’t own it personally and take land on lease for vegetable farming,” said Ashma when asked about her needs, and added that her son will help her regarding this.

In Bangladesh, generally a rural woman is thought as well as expected by society to be a housewife and caring mother to her kids at home only, but days have changed, and minds too, women like Ashma are tackling their families in diverse situations now.

Women now are coming forward and getting all scopes to use their talents for their own development as well as for the state.

The writer is a freelance journalist and currently attached with an international organization in Bangladesh .