Our production partner, Basha, began in one little office in Dhaka, Bangladesh — the most densely populated city in the world. Over the many years they have been in business, creating kantha textiles & jewelry, they have expanded: both in number of staff, and also locations.
It was helpful for some women to leave the norm of their old life environment, to get away, to start fresh in a new city. So, Basha created different offices in varied locations. They established a girls' home to safely house daughters & other vulnerable young women as they come of age.
As Basha has continued to identify the great need of women in Bangladesh, there is another area they have expanded: actively seeking women in brothels & whispering the potential of a new life.
Basha used to hire women once they had completed training programs run by other NGOs and mission organizations. But with such a great need, Basha's team found themselves developing their own training (through Friends of Basha), and pursuing women to join it.
But, there is so much distrust. Many of the women in the brothels were promised something — "a good job" in a factory, or as a housekeeper... only to be sold to a brothel. Basha is working with an organization that works closely with the brothels, hoping that over time they will build trust and raise awareness that the work at Basha isn't another lie, a false hope.
Robin, Basha's Director of Operations, writes:
I have never met anyone who chose the brothel, who thought it sounded like a good life. But it’s not easy to escape. Many women have brokers, madams, pimps. By the time a woman is independent, she has often given up hope of any different kind of future. Brothels have their own culture, their own freedoms, their own community. To take a giant leap into the unknown is terrifying.
She shares stories of some recent encounters with women she met in brothels (names have been changed):
I met Nasrin, a beautiful, warm person. She came from a family known well in the brothels, but she was able to marry and escape that life… until her husband found out about her family history and deserted her and their two daughters. She sent her daughters to an Islamic school. She doesn’t want them to ever find out how she earns the money to provide for them.
The theme of International Women's Day 2019 was "Balance for Better". Robin writes, "We can’t erase the horrors of years spent being prostituted, but we can promise to walk alongside any woman who is able to take that brave step to freedom. We can promise to fight not one day a year, but every day, to Balance for Better."
To support the outreach funds necessary — to do outreach to brothel women, to host drop in events, to build relationships, and to provide support and services — for those interested in starting a journey to a new life, you can donate today to Friends of Basha.
Purchasing kantha blankets, made by Basha & sold by dignify, provides the ongoing, sustaining work (with dignity!) for women who have transitioned into a new life of safe, healthy, loving employment.
All photos are by Allison Joyce, prize-nominated (pending) photojournalist. You can see more of her photos, along with in-depth journalism into brothels in Bangladesh, in these long-form articles for The Telegraph and Elle.