August 11, 2017

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Rina Halim is in a rush today. Her husband is outside, waiting to take her to Dhaka. There she will be receiving the Mother Teresa Award for her social service, and for being an outstanding councilor.

Rina Halim is in a rush today. Her husband is outside, waiting to take her to Dhaka. There she will be receiving the Mother Teresa Award for her social service, and for being an outstanding councilor.

I watched her with curiosity as she breezed across the room, a vision in pink. She was clearly a people person, immersed in conversation with bright-eyed students and their parents.

Rina is a rising star in local government, and the councilor for three wards under Gazipur Sadar in central Bangladesh. She has already bagged a few recognitions to her name – the Kazi Nazrul Islam award, Begum Rokeya award and the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose award. She is now preparing again for the upcoming councilor elections.

Women like Rina are revolutionising local government as we know it. Women’s participation in local governance is essential for Bangladesh to achieve the global goals, particularly Goals 5 and 16; achieving gender equality, empowering women, and promoting societies with effective and inclusive institutions at all levels.

The government has measures in place; public representative bodies have a fixed number of seats reserved for women, at all levels of local and national governance. This is to ensure women’s empowerment through public representation. Despite these quotas, and the fact that our Prime Minister is a woman, various social factors continue to hold women back.

Rina defied the odds with a bit of luck and the right attitude. Amidst her busy schedule, she was eager to share her story and some words of wisdom.

It’s never too late to learn

Rina dropped out of school after Class 8 when she eloped with her husband.

“I always lamented the fact that I could not finish my studies despite being such a brilliant student. But I did not give up. I finished my intermediate studies in 2016 with a 4.45 GPA from the Open University, Bangladesh.”

Rina, late in the run, sat alongside her son for the intermediate examinations.

“My son was uncomfortable at first, but soon enough, both him and daughter were helping me prepare.”

Rina emphasises the value of education in everyone’s lives. A former teacher at a BRAC school, she takes pride in the fact that her students earned straights As in the national examinations.

“I was a homemaker then, and a school opened up nearby and I was asked if I wanted to teach. I was excited to be a teacher! My experience as a teacher and a student has helped me run for the election.”

She reveals that she plans on pursuing a law degree after the upcoming election is over.

Build your own support system

“I’ve been blessed with the best husband in the world!” she giggles, her eyes sparkling. “My children are beautiful, and my in-laws are extremely supportive. I don’t have to worry about cooking, or being at home. They support me in doing what I need to do. In fact, it was my husband who encouraged me to participate in the 2013 elections.”

Rina admits that she lucked out when it comes to family, and many do not have a strong support system like her. One of the main reasons why women cannot effectively participate in governance is due to the lack of support from their family.

“I believe that it is important for us all to take control of our support systems – be it your family or friends. We all need to help each other, and surround ourselves with people who help us grow stronger.”

Be patient and lead by example

“You must be passionate, keeping your values close to your heart,” Rina explains, “If you enjoy your work and have good ethics, it will show through. There is so much dirt associated with the image of politics and the people involved. I hope to change that by setting a good example to everyone around me.”

Rina understands the responsibility she is taking on by being a representative.

“People look up to me,” she says, “I refuse to be involved in any kind of corruption. Not now, not ever.”

When asked why she was not running for a bigger position, that of a mayor, she calmly responded, “I came into politics right out of the kitchen. It has only been two years. I need more time and experience to taken on a bigger role.”

Take care of yourself and smile! 

One of Rina’s defining characteristics is her heartwarming smile.

“You see, smiling keeps you young,” she beams, “So, smile and always make sure that you keep yourself happy! You must first take care of yourself before you take care of others.”






Sumaiya Haque is a communications specialist at BRAC.

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