It was like a bolt out of the blue for Niva Rani when her husband suddenly died six years ago, leaving her alone with two infant sons to care for amid utter poverty. However, she did not give up.
Now, her elder son is working as an electronic mechanic in a local workshop and the younger one is a sixth grader, thanks to Ohi Jute Fibres Mill in the Bscic Industrial Park in Gaibandha. That is where Niva Rani has been working since her husband's death.
She joined the factory as a printing helper, but now she has been promoted to printing operator. In the meantime, her salary has also increased.
"My children and I are living happily together now. What can be greater happiness than to live a life by earning money with your own labour," she said.
As in Niva Rani's case, Ohi Jute Fibres Mill has also changed the life of many other women, its policy being to employ helpless and impoverished women in its factory. Currently, 80 of the factory's 100 employees happen to be women.
Shumi Khatun, from Tulshighat in Gaibandha sadar, has been working in this factory since its inception in 2007 as a printing operator.
"A woman who earns her own bread is respected everywhere. This factory has made me self-reliant," she said.
The factory, situated on 55 decimals of land, produces different types of sacks from jute fibre. It produces around 10,000 sacks and does printing work on around 20,000 sacks per day.
Most of the production work includes sewing, sack making and printing work done by female workers.
Shanthana Rani, who has been working here for five years, said, "My salary is Tk8,000 which I spend on my family. However, the factory is also like a second family to me. Ohi Jute Fibres Mill is proof that women can run a factory."
The raw materials for making sacks in the factory are mainly bought from the northern districts of the country and Narayanganj. It needs around 50,000 tonnes of raw materials every week.
Chameli Begum has been making sacks in the factory for 12 years. She said, "My husband is a farmer. I helped him take two bighas of land on lease for agriculture with the money that I earned working in this factory. We also have built a house in the village."
Not only in the production section, the factory has women workers in the managerial section too.
Tania Sultana Lithi, formerly a leading figure in a leftist political organisation who has also been involved in sports, is working as the manager of Ohi Jute Fibres Mill.
"Opportunities for women's employment in small towns are very limited. On top of that, many people do not support women's employment in our country. Despite all these obstacles, women have caused a revolution in our factory," she said.
"There are many benefits to working with women. They can be controlled easily. They work with diligence in the interest of the factory's making profits," she added.
Sudhir Chandra Sarkar, mechanical foreman of the factory, said, "I have been working here for 12 years. Male and female workers in this factory work like a family."
The factory went into operation in 2007 with only 35 workers. Abul Kashem Sabuj, the owner of Ohi Jute Fibers Mill, said, "We mainly produce and print sacks for the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. Earlier, I had a factory in Dhaka. I took a plot and set up this factory in the BSCIC Industrial Park in Gaibandha when I came here to visit my in-laws. I have tried to create work opportunities for the neglected women of this region in this factory."
Regarding hiring 80% women workers, he said, "Actually, women are more active than men at work. They are responsible too. They do not waste time in the name of tea and cigarette breaks. Overall development of the country is not possible if half of its population is left behind. This is the reason for giving priority to backward women workers."
He added that the factory will employ 40 more women soon as part of an expansion plan.
In the last two years during the Covid-19 period, the factory was closed only for 13 days. The women workers of the factory greatly contributed to the production of sacks for the country's food aid during the crisis.
Rabin Chandra Roy, assistant general manager of Gaibandha BSCIC, said, "This factory has done a great job by employing a lot of women workers. BSCIC is always ready to provide all kinds of help for such initiatives."