Ovoya: The Fearless Struggle of a Needle Woman

Written by Nuzaba Tasannum

August 7, 2020

“How could you be so irresponsible?” these six words pierced Sabina’s self-respect like a prickle and persuaded her to use an old rag instead of a sanitary pad during her ‘untimely menstruation’. However, the spiteful memory of this incident initiated the idea of ‘Ovoya’ in her, a few years later.

Never forget your root, never be embarrassed about who you are and never stop believing in yourself, your abilities and your dreams. Only then will you be fearless.

After her father’s death in 2006, Sabina Yeasmin’s family turned into an all-female, ‘unsafe household’ according to the ‘patriarchal society of Bangladesh’. Due to the financial crisis, her three older sisters decided to give up studying and work to provide money for Sabina’s education. Although she knew about their economic struggle, Sabina’s sister never let her realize their sufferings while working in the garments industry. Years passed by, and Sabina became the first member of her family to pass the higher secondary level of education and eligible to study in a university. However, the ‘conservative and misogynistic system of Bangladesh’ obligated her older sisters to get married one by one, and when only one older sister of Sabina was left to get married other than her, she felt like a burden. Consequently, when she was sent to Dhaka to study at a university in 2016, she decided to join a garments factory as a part-time job to support her family and educational expense. Nevertheless, she missed multiple classes due to the long working hours in the factory and ultimately had to drop out of university. In the factory, she was appointed as a ‘needlewoman’, person-in-charge of the sewing department. During her time there, Sabina realized how much suffering her sisters went through after observing multiple wounds from the sewing machine in the other women’s hands. Subsequently, this led her to suffer from severe depression. After three months of joining the factory, Sabina had her period 15 days before the cycle. She was still new to the organization and became nervous. As a consequence, she immediately went to the health center and asked for a sanitary pad. Instead of helping her, the lady-in-charge blamed her for being negligent and told her to go to the ‘cutting section’ and use a cloth from there. Sabina was shocked because, despite her financial insolvency, she was never incapable of buying sanitary pads and since, she could not stop bleeding, she quickly went to that section ‘full of men’ and took an old rag ’embarrassingly’. As a result, she suffered from infection for a month. This incident further caused depression and left a harrowing mark in her life.

Months passed by, and one day, a miracle happened in Sabina’s life. A group from the Asian University for Women (AUW) came with an announcement, “We are accepting students from garments industries. They will be offered a full scholarship to study along with their salary from the factory.” Sabina ultimately earned a very high score in the entrance exam and fulfilled her dream to study at a renowned university in 2017.

Accordingly, Sabina could have stopped doing other things since she had already achieved her aspirations, but she is a ‘fearless girl who never forgot her root, the garments sector’. Therefore, with the help of her best friend, Samiksha Thapa from Nepal, she planned to donate sanitary pads to garments factories after recalling her traumatic experience during her ‘ill-timed period’. In addition, she was willing to give sanitary pads to some poor staff in AUW when they suggested that she donate some educational stationaries for their school-going children as well. As a result, the journey of ‘Ovoya’ began. Along with her salary from the garments factory and a part-time job in Chittagong, she aided to run her organization ‘Ovoya’. In 2019, ‘Ovoya’ became more familiar as a source for supporting women’s education and hygiene. At that time, Sabina met Sam Gillani, a businessman and currently Ovoya’s Advisor whom she refers to as her father, ‘Sam Baba’. He mentored her and many other AUW students and donated a massive amount of money and sanitary pads for ‘Ovoya’. Gradually, ‘Ovoya’ earned success in facilitating many women to accomplish their dreams.

However, since talking about menstruation hygiene is considered a taboo in the Indian sub-continent, Sabina received multiple threats from different fake accounts in her Facebook inbox. Although these forms of cyberbullying affected her mental health to a great extent, she is an ‘Ovoya’, a fearless individual herself, and continued her work, which ultimately stopped the harassment at a point.

Today, Sabina is successfully doing what society thought to be impossible for her. She also stated that she loves to travel, and with the help of her salaries, she had already visited Nepal, Bhutan, and India along with notable places in Bangladesh. Sabina is currently studying Politics, Philosophy, and Economics (PPE) in AUW and hopes to go back to her root, the garments industry, and work to create policies for the betterment of the workers. She aspires to one day register her organization in Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan and provide environment-friendly pads. Sabina is a source of inspiration on becoming fearless and, so, when asked about her role model, she claimed that she looks up to Rubana Huq, President of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) for motivation. Sabina has become an epitome of fearless, and her advice to other aspiring young people is, “Never forget your root, never be embarrassed about who you are and never stop believing in yourself, your abilities and your dreams. Only then will you be fearless.” We hope Sabina will keep motivating millions with her fearless story and reach the peak of her dream, centering ‘Ovoya’.


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