This is a story of a bazaar located at Kristhapur in Mymensingh city, which was initiated and run by some marginalized women 30 years ago.
This 'Bou Bazaar' has changed the fate of more than one hundred women from low-income families who live in Malancha and Adarsha slums, set up on the land of the City Corporation and Bangladesh Railway.
As most of the slum residents are day laborers or rickshaw pullers; poverty, starvation, food shortage were everyday worries.
To find a way out of the distress, some women here came up with an extraordinary plan three decades ago. After a meeting amongst themselves, they decided to start a market in the slum area and were determined that all the traders would be women.
Starting with just five to six small shops, there are now 130 shops in the market. They still strictly maintain the founding vision of the business: all the shopkeepers are women, and they own the businesses.
Jahan Begum, 60, who started a business 30 years ago as a vegetable trader now runs a fish shop at the bazaar. She has daily sales of about Tk6,000. With profits accumulating slowly, she managed additional capital and opened a fish shop, discontinuing her vegetable business.
Halima Akther, a dry fish shop owner, started her business 10 years ago with an initial investment of only Tk300, despite her husband's objections. But she became a success, and now her husband helps out by collecting products from the wholesale market.
Mukta Akther started a grocery store a year ago with an initial investment of Tk20,000 and now sells products worth about Tk6,000-Tk7,000. She now earns a handsome net profit.
Following the death of her husband, Rashida Begum took over the reins of her family and started her business in the market eight years ago. With the income from her business, she bears the educational expenses of her son who studies at Mymensingh Commerce College. She is now financially solvent.
Harun Or Rashid who was taking care of his wife Halima's shop while she was ill, told The Business Standard that she had started the business with a loan of Tk5,000 from a local organisation. This business has transformed their lives. They recently arranged their daughter's wedding.
"This market has changed the fate of many women and their families," he said.
Hosna Akhter, a raw material trader in the market, said the market environment needs to be slightly improved, particularly with regards to the infrastructure of their shops. During the rainy season, some cracks developed on the roofs and the market turned into a muddy mess. If these issues are solved, market footfall will increase.
Shankar Saha, vice-president of Mymensingh Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the Bou Bazaar has been running for a while. Improvement in the market environment will increase business volume. This year, the market was leased by the women for Tk31,500.
He urged the City Corporation to come forward to solve the existing problems in the market.
Bou Bazaar that started 30 years ago has substantively changed the lives of many women. They have become self-reliant and take over the reins of their families, the MCCI vice president said.
Mymensingh City Mayor, Ekramul Haque Titu, said, "City Corporation is working on the structural development of the market. We have a plan to renovate other markets, including Bou Bazaar, with modern facilities."