Empowering Women and Transforming Communities: The Upliftment of Bou Bazar Market in Dinajpur

Over two decades, Dinajpur’s Bou Bazar market stood as an inspiration of women’s empowerment and community development. With around 90% of its sellers being women, this local market is a testament to the progress made in women empowerment in Bangladesh, where women have risen to prominent entrepreneurs. The market, initially home to just a handful of female entrepreneurs, has transformed over the years, offering hope, economic stability, and a brighter future.

Bou Bazar, Dinajpur, in its old days

In the early days, Bou Bazar was an unlikely place for women to start their businesses. It was located beside a pond near the Kanchan Coloni Shahi Mosque. The pond used to be used as a dumping ground for garbage. Nevertheless, driven by the necessity of survival, five to six determined women began their entrepreneurial journey in this challenging setting. They faced hardships but remained resolute. The turning point came when the mosque committee recognized the potential of this place and decided to convert it into a proper market. At this point, the mosque committee also instituted a rule that required each seller to contribute 10 Bangladeshi Taka (BDT; approx. $ 0.091) towards the welfare of the mosque per month. This decision paved the way for local women to engage as sellers and to earn income for their families. The market opened every morning, offering a vibrant array of colorful vegetables, fish, and meat, all managed by these women. As demand grew, the market extended its hours and attracted hundreds of buyers each day. Despite these improvements, the women sellers faced and still face ongoing challenges, primarily due to rising inflation and inadequate infrastructure. The prices of food items are high, and concerns about food safety and hygiene persist. The market lacks essential facilities of washrooms and drainage systems. During storms, the market stalls are vulnerable, and in the rainy season, sitting space becomes limited due to poor drainage. Repairing their stalls becomes an additional burden for the underprivileged women sellers, causing hardship to their families.

Bou Bazar during the renovation period

In 2022, NICE project started to support the underprivileged women sellers at Bou Bazar and formed City Food System Women and Youth Group (CFSWYG) in Dinajpur with 20-25 members in each group. Training sessions were conducted within these groups to tackle various issues concerning food, nutrition, health, and hygiene in the city. Members of the Bou Bazar market, all part of CFSWYG, gained insights into the significance of food and nutrition through this initiative. Subsequently, during meetings, the sellers collectively addressed concerns regarding the inadequate infrastructure. They advocated for a permanent solution to the infrastructure problems and appealed to the mosque committee to request the mayor of Dinajpur municipality for necessary action. Here, NICE came in again and, in collaboration with the municipality and the mosque committee, refurbished the infrastructure to improved market conditions. Prior to the renovation, the market had only 37 sellers, but post-renovation, the number of sellers increased to 46.

Initially, the women sellers at Bou Bazar had minimal revenues, with vegetable vendors earning 150-200 BDT (approx. $ 1-2) daily. Over time and thanks to the effectuated renovation work, the women sellers could increase their investments significantly, nowadays earning 400-500 BDT daily (approx. $ 4-5) daily: gradually, the demand for safe and nutritious vegetables is on increase in Bou Bazar as the customers are becoming aware about nutritious vegetables.

Refurbished Bou Bazar bustling with customers during its busiest time of the day

One of the female vegetable sellers at Bou Bazar, Rukhsana Begum, is happy about the renovation of “her” Bou Bazar. While her financial conditions improve slowly, the renovation has created a significant change. The customers are now finding it easier to buy and by being directly connected with a NICE Nutrition Farmers’ Hub for collecting safe and nutritious vegetables, Rukhsana Begum can provide produce of better quality with clearly traceable origin. This creates a staple customer base for her.

In terms of supply chain at Bou Bazar, while still most sellers bring the freshly produced vegetables from Bahadur bazar warehouse, some, as Rukhsana Begum, also collect the vegetables from NICE Nutrition Farmers’ Hub, namely Maljhar Farmer’s Hub and Dhighon Farmers’ Hub. Vegetables like tomato, papaya, chilli, brinjal, drumstick, bitter gourd, bottle gourd, snake gourd, beans, red amaranth, spinach, or pumpkin are the most sold items at Bou Bazar. The items collected from NICE Farmers’ Hubs have the additional advantage of being safe and nutritious hence the demand of these fresh vegetables is on increase. Also, some women sellers also show interest in starting and additional business and collecting fresh produces from the nutrition farmers’ hubs directly by themselves.

Besides only selling safe and nutritious vegetables, Mst Lutfa, another vegetables seller at Bou Bazar, also shares nutrition messages with her customers during selling activities. This created her a fixed customer base. Having the feeling of consuming safe vegetables hopefully resulting in better health in the long-term, customers even pay a slightly higher price. Since collecting her fresh vegetables from NICE Nutrition Farmers’ Hubs, Mst Lutfa could increase her daily income from previously BDT 1500-2000 (approx. $ 14-18) to BDT 2500-3000 (approx. $ 23-27). On weekends she can earn even more as the people flock to purchase safe and nutritious vegetables produced using agroecological practices.

Besides vegetables, also proteins in the form of meat are also sold at Bou Bazar. Meat seller Mst Moyna shares her story:

Previously, I was unable to afford a pair of sponge sandals, but now,I bought own land and could build up a small house. The infrastructure renovation at Bou Bazar has helped me to earn more: daily I can sell produce for 8000-10,000 BDT (approx. $ 73-91) and get profit of 1000-1200 BDT (approx. $ 9-18). On weekends I even sell for around 40000-45000 BDT (approx. $ 365-411) with profit of  4500 – 5000 BDT (approx. $ 41-45). Furthermore, knowing more about food and nutrition thanks to the capacity building sessions in the CFSWYG helped me to further attract customers.

Mst Lutfa, meat seller at Bou Bazar

All these stories from Bou Bazar in Dinajpur are a remarkable tale of women’s empowerment and community development, where progress and development continue to be the driving forces. As a thriving market, Bou Bazar is poised to become an even greater symbol of women’s empowerment and economic prosperity in Dinajpur.

The Bou Bazar market has been fully renovated and reopened, ready to serve the city’s residents to its fullest extent.