SUS starts in the front room

1986.  Photo: Private

15 women in our small front room 

In SUS’ early days all activities took place in the house of Rokeya’s mother where Rokeya lived together with her siblings and daughter. ”We crowded 15 women and sewing machines into our front room”, she writes in her book:

My aim was to break the chain of a thousand year curse on the women around me, to give them power to come out and become self-confident. That power would give a language to the silent tongues of those women to protest against their oppression which they have tolerated too long.

Observing women’s life in the villages helped me to deeply know  and understand the life of rural women. These experiences afterwards helped me to outline the dream in my mind – formed in the darkness of night. Sometimes I drowned in frustration. The stories of women’s lives never get any attention among the public, especially not among men. This perception of women at that time was deeply rooted.

Frankly speaking, I was completely unaware about NGO-work. My mind was only engaged with one issue: how to improve the status of women. So I took permission from my mother to use the front room of our house as a working place for the organization.

After I took delivery of the sewing machines it created trouble for all of us to have 15 women working together in our small front room. Being a common middle class family, it was out of the question to have any better place than this. Anyhow, in the rest of the house our eight member family was living in two and half rooms. If my mother with four sisters and one brother hadn’t allowed me to use the front room, it would have been impossible to run the organization. So I feel unlimited gratitude to all of my family members.

I must mention that we had only one toilet in the whole house. Although the toilet had to be used by everyone, I never saw any gloomy faces from anyone in my family. During that time except for my second sister, who was already married, the rest of my sisters and my brother were all studying in schools and colleges. My youngest daughter was also in the school.

To make me happy all of them used to sit and study on the bed or on the mat on the floor. Thinking about my hardship, they never complained about being uncomfortable. By the grace of the Almighty, there was surplus of food from our own agricultural land, which fulfilled our needs for the whole year.

Sometimes I observed my mother listening to the stories of the poor women’s needs and sorrows while she was sitting beside them. Moreover, according to her ability she tried to entertain them or to give them help for the time being.

If any of our many casual guests would come for a visit to our home, my mother narrated the importance of my work. She willingly accepted the disadvantages of this temporary arrangement.

If my mother had not appreciated my work and extended her support, it would have been impossible for me to continue to proceed to where we are today. I feel proud for way my mother and all my family cooperated.


These historical snapshots commemorate 30 years of SUS
and the life of founder Rokeya Begum, based on her book
“My way to freedom through the light of experience” and
other background documents. We are publishing snapshots
before and after the 30 years’ ceremony to be held in
Netrakona, Bangladesh, on the 2 January 2017.

”My mind was only engaged with one issue: how to improve the status of women.”










”Although the toilet had to be used by everyone, I never saw any gloomy faces from anyone in my family.”