Khaleda is a strong and powerful advocate who has overcome many barriers in her life. One of the biggest barriers she has faced is the negative attitudes of others.
Growing up in Bangladesh, Khaleda contracted typhoid as a young girl. Due to a lack of health services in the area, Khaleda was not treated for her illness early, and became paralysed from the waist down.
From the time she was young, people in Khaleda’s community underestimated her. As Khaleda’s mother took her to school every day, she received taunting remarks from her neighbours. Khaleda’s neighbours saw her as nothing more than a curse on her family, saying she should be married off quickly, or given poison.
But Khaleda has gone on to defy the expectations of her community. Not only did she continue to attend school, but she’s now a leader in her community, fighting for the rights of others.
As part of the Promotion of Human Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Bangladesh project, supported by the Australian Government’s Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP), Khaleda undertook training in disability rights and leadership.
Soon after undertaking this training, Khaleda became the leader of a 20 member self-help group. She realised that “if I do not come forward my rights will not be established.”
But it was not easy to form a self-help group. People in her neighbourhood used to say “what will the persons with disabilities do by going out of home, as they can do nothing?” Today, those same neighbours come to her for assistance.
Khaleda now has the backing of her community and the necessary skills to powerfully advocate for the inclusion of people with disabilities and for the rights of women and girls, with and without disabilities. Khaleda is fighting to stop child marriage, to end violence against women and to end the dowry system.
Khaleda has also worked hard to become economically independent and to provide for her son. She earns an income through poultry farming and has a small sewing centre at her home where she makes products for the market. The sewing centre also benefits others in the community, with people with disabilities and other self-help group members receiving regular sewing training.
“I will help whoever I can,” she says. “People come to me for advice, and I try to help to the best of my ability.”
From a young girl taunted for her disability, to a leader and advocate, Khaleda has continued to defy the expectations of those around her, proving that with opportunities and the rights support systems in place, people with disabilities can reach their full potential and make valuable contributions to their communities.