A woman with strong vision, a step towards a bright future
“If a woman is given a chance, she will do wonders […] it is the woman who runs the family and finally a society, so in order to maintain good families and a good society, we must uphold the rights of women […] we can only achieve women’s rights through giving women good education and good health,” said Ms. Ruseli Rahman Mahmud with her experienced, powerful voice.
Mahmud a working mother of two highly educated sons leads two organizations that aim to help the less privileged women and children through two main goals: providing good education, and good health. She is the President of the Inner Wheel Club of Chittagong and the President of Bangladesh Federation of University Women (BFUW) in Chittagong, Bangladesh.
“The challenges I faced as a woman fortunately are not many, but because of certain social restrictions I was never fully independent,” she said after being asked about the struggles she encountered in her life. “So, in my case the base of challenges was mainly the society.”
When Mahmud got married, instead of pursuing her long-term dream, her PhD, she stayed at home, “sacrificing” her life to nurture and educate her children, for whom now she is proud to be their mother. Like most women, in order to preserve the “peace” inside her house, she did not raise this issue or her objections; rather, she used her strengths as a woman, her patience, in order to maintain a peaceful and happy family.
Now, Mahmud’s organizations help women and children in two main ways, charitable assistance, and women’s empowerment through raising awareness. For instance, they donate money to the school, and have given money and some other items to hospitals, donated blood, and conduct seminars and lectures.
The school to which she donated money has around 180 students, who are taught from nursery till 5th grade. This school is not only a place for brightening the future of poor children, but also a place to heal sick women with free treatment. This is an extraordinary, multifunctional place, a free hospital and a free school.
Besides this, Mahmud has opened free clinics for poor women, has provided some female patients of the Ma-O-Shisho Hospital with medicine, clothing, and other required items, and has donated money for the treatment of children with cancer to the Center for Leukomia Assistance and Support (CLASS) every year.
Beyond her charitable work, Mahmud is first and foremost an optimistic change maker working with and for women. In response to the question about how she became a woman activist, she said that from her young age, she was a helping person, and it was her natural tendency to assist the poor. Even at times when there was any natural calamity, she would go to some organizations and ask them to voluntarily employ her in any goal they had for helping the poor people.
As with many other countries, Bangladesh has a male-dominated society, in which nowadays women are facing many problems such as violence against women including “eve-teasing, [gender-based harassment] acid-throwing, kidnapping and hijacking” (Women in Bangladesh: Country Briefing Paper 6), poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, and sexual abuse. Feeling of an inner responsibility to help women deal with these issues, Mahmud said that her main focus in doing social activities has been to support and strengthen women and children both physically and psychologically. Her charitable work, as mentioned above, such as donations of money for different hospitals to provide poor women with free treatment, indicates her aim to support and strengthen women physically.
In case of empowering women, she educates, trains, and raises awareness by conducting seminars and lectures on different issues such as gender-based harassment, cervical cancer and breast cancer, Drug Abuse and AIDS with the slogan “SAY NO TO DRUGS,” and even autism.
As Mahmud eloquently put it: “We [women] contribute the half of the population in every society, both ours and male’s responsibility is to uphold the rights of each other and maintain it especially the rights of women [as nowadays their rights are not completely maintained]; if we are left behind, then society will not develop at any point.”
By pointing out that women make up half part of the world’s population, she emphasized of the importance of maintaining and giving equal opportunities to women as men, because women, in most cases, are responsible for raising the future of a country: the children. Thus, for bringing out these solutions and making the society better, she believes that NGOs are very effective in terms of improving women’s status.
In addition, she urges transparency and visibility in the works of those women who are considered to be leaders. In doing so, she helps bring the openness of some educated, well-expressed and talented women to the common women in rural areas. Since transparency and visibility of women leaders can affect, inspire, and encourage other women to achieve their goals, she thinks it is necessary to encourage women leaders and make them visible to the public.
At last, she said that her goal for the future is to keep her organization growing, and to build a strong foundation for it in order to ensure its continuity in future. As well, she wants to continue her work independently and come up with new solutions in terms of improving women’s status. She thinks working independently or through an NGO makes it easier for her to understand and address women’s common issues. Therefore, through creating solutions to these issues, she will be able to help women improve their level of literacy and health, and ultimately inspire and empower them to bring about transformations.
Clearly, Mahmud is a helping person, she is a source of inspiration, and she will be a leader of the change in the future.
Mahmud, Ruseli Rahman. Woman Activist. Mursal Hamraz. 3 December 2010.
“Women in Bangladesh: Country Briefing Paper.” January 2001. ADB, Asian Development Bank. 6 December 2010 .
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.