Today marks International Women’s Day, a day highlighting the achievements of women across the globe. Here at Islamic Relief, we’re celebrating Marufa, an inspirational woman from Bangladesh.

Once struggling to feed her three children, she took part in our women’s empowerment project and is now a community leader and strong advocate for gender equality.

A difficult start

“I have had to bear a lot of hardship with my three children. I would always worry about how I would cover the cost of their education. But now I have overcome all my fears,” says 36 year old

Marufa lives in Haripur subdistrict, one of the most impoverished and remote areas in Bangladesh. With little experience in sewing, she earned a living as a tailor but had to stop working when her health deteriorated, leaving the family struggling to afford regular meals.

“I was losing hope,” she says. “I was not able to continue my education after I left school so I longed for my children to complete theirs. But I asked myself, how?”

Taking up a life changing opportunity

The answer lay in an Islamic Relief programme focused on promoting women’s empowerment, rights and economic development.

This project involves self-help groups in which women are trained on income generating activities, discuss various social issues and are offered an initial loan.

With her newly acquired skills and confidence, Marufa was selected as the treasurer of a self-help group that encourages group savings.

“At first I was shaky but others supported me,” she says. “There were 25 women in our group and I had to prepare all the accounts…slowly I picked things up and worked diligently.”

Becoming an inspiration to others

Marufa now supervises six self-help groups, leading 180 members. She also works in the fisheries department at Subdistrict Motsho Office. Advocating her community’s concerns in local government, she now has the social connections to champion their issues and make an impact.

Marufa tells others how the Islamic Relief training was key to unlocking her inner confidence and changing her life:

“Islamic Relief paved the way for me to connect with local government officials and get training,” she says. “That opportunity has helped make me resilient.”

As an influencer in her community, Marufa is encouraging girls to continue their education, and champions a change in attitudes towards early and forced marriage, domestic violence and gender equality. She has created a platform in the community for safeguarding women and children and has arranged counselling for teenagers who’ve dropped out of school – bringing them back into education.

Empowering women throughout the whole year

Marufa is one of many women across the world who have transformed their lives through our women’s empowerment projects. Females make up an astonishing 70% of the world’s poor people and we’re helping to lift them out of poverty by supporting them to forge lasting livelihoods and financial self-reliance.

Let’s not forget that International Women’s Day also marks a call for action for accelerating gender equality. By launching the world’s first Islamic Gender Justice Declaration, we’re presenting Islamic faith principles of justice and balance to challenge harmful cultural practices and social conditions.

Islamic Relief have also made commitments to change the way projects are conducted to make them increasingly gender sensitive. Such initiatives include giving women a voice in the design of the programme, allowing women to gain access to community decision making and consulting with women before introducing new technologies to ensure that their needs have been met. Find out more about these initiatives here.

Help us to continue our vital work to change the narrative around women’s empowerment and ensure vulnerable women can gain agency over their lives- please donate now.