Shofika Begum is a Rohingya refugee living in the world’s largest refugee settlement in South Bangladesh. At only 22, she leads a group of around 70 Rohingya women tailors in the settlement. Under the co-operative Testimony Tailors, they hope the work they do can support their families and regain control of their lives.
All the women are victims of rape and had witnessed atrocities committed in their villages when the Myanmar security forces attacked in 2017. Shofika‘s husband and sister were shot dead, and she was raped multiple times. She managed to escape when her village was torched.
But unfortunately, for this group of women, their ordeal is not over. They now face a continuing resistance to women working and taking leadership roles in their conservative Islamic society. This is because the traditional Rohingya lifestyle in Myanmar was to leave the women at home and be separated from the men.
Women who defied this tradition regularly received death threats and warnings against breaking the Islamic norms. Some gave in but many like Shofika and her group of women tailors continued their work. Besides providing for their families, this was also a way for them to put their tragic past behind them and forge a way forward for their lives.
Shofika can stitch around eight to nine dresses a day. The dresses are sold on the Testimony Tailors website and the proceeds are donated to the refugees in the camp. The orders are coming from Canada, Britain and even Myanmar.
The future for Shofika and her group of women tailors are still uncertain. No one really knows whether they will be repatriated or be allowed to remain in South Bangladesh. The roles and expectations for women in their society are still traditionally rooted. But their perseverance and fortitude will for certain pave a new way forward one stitch at a time.
Photo credit: Thomson Reuters Foundation/Naimul Karim
Story taken from Thomson Reuters Foundation, published on the 27th of August 2019.
For the full story, please go to: https://news.trust.org/item/20190823233715-7voh9/