Four female readymade garment industry workers were among the graduating students who were conferred degrees at the eighth convocation of Asian University for Women (AUW) held virtually on 16 December.
The workers are: Shathy Halder, Shahnaz Ara Khanam, Sadeka Zaman, and Yeasmin Akhter Urmy.
They were part of "Pathways for Promise" programme, jointly introduced by the AUW and the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) Dr Rubana Huq, President of BGMEA, five years ago.
The programme is designed to help prepare women from the most oppressed communities that suffer from inadequate secondary education facilities to prepare for entry into the AUW, through preparatory courses in English and Mathematics, for up to two years.
This year, 120 students of the batch of 2020, from 12 different countries – Nepal, India, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Syria, Myanmar, Pakistan, Indonesia – attended the convocation ceremony.
Due to the pandemic, the ceremony was held virtually and was aired live from the AUW Facebook page.
The speakers at the ceremony included Cherie Blair, chancellor of the Asian University of Women, Education Minister Dr Dipu Moni, who is the Board of Trustee chair of the university, Kamal Ahmed, founder of the AUW, and Professor Nirmala Rao, vice-chancellor of the AUW.
BGMEA President Dr Rubana Huq and Executive Director of Unicef Henrietta Fore joined the ceremony as commencement speakers.
RMG worker and graduating student Sadeka Begum said, "My relatives were forcing my parents to marry me off as they felt that I was a burden on them. But I was a girl with a dream – a dream to be empowered and become an independent woman. And Pathways for Promise and the AUW made it possible for me to pursue this dream and make it a reality."
Sadeka wants to pursue her masters and is applying to Cambridge University. Fellow RMG worker Yesmin Akhter Urmy has been offered to join IPDC as a junior relationship manager. Shathy is currently working in Mohammadi Group in the compliance department. Shehnaz is looking for jobs in international NGOs.
Dr Rubana Huq said, "I stand before you all to tell you that it is okay to change courses, it is okay to manage expectations; it is okay to make the most of what you have – just be the best at what you do."
"It is not your major or minor that will get success knocking on your door. It is your passion to ace that will lead you to the next step of your life," she added.
The ceremony started with a Robindro Sangeet by a group of students of the AUW. The main part of the ceremony was moderated by Core Programme Associate Dean of the AUW Dr Tiffany Cone.
Chancellor of the AUW Cherie Blair said, "It has been the most challenging year – a global pandemic, civil unrest and climate disasters all around the world have threatened the health safety and economic livelihood of billions of people. Now is the time that desperately requires leadership, courage and ingenuity. And if anyone is up to the challenge – it is the class of 2020 of the AUW."
Dr Dipu Moni said, "Five years ago when you decided to join the AUW you were asked to describe your courage, empathy and sense of outrage at injustice in your application, those special characteristics that signalled your potential for leadership. Five years later, you are now part of an international community of strong emboldened women who will be the drivers of progress in the region. Indeed, you have shown there is no room or intolerance within the fight for women's empowerment and equity."
Later founder of the AUW Mr Kamal Ahmed, vice-chancellor of AUW Professor Nirmala Rao and Executive Director of Unicef Henrietta Fore congratulated the graduating students and wished them good luck for their future.
The AUW choir presented a musical piece as part of the convocation ceremony. The ceremony ended with the thoughts of former student government of AUW Umme Humaira and one of the former RMG workers Sadeka Begum who also graduated this year with the class of 2020.
AUW is an independent, international university for women in Asia. It is situated in Chattogram in Bangladesh.