Sandhya Roy – Bangladesh

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price.

She says: “I started my career with a dream-that I will work for the people and bring about a change in society. I still believe that change is possible. I work hard for that change” … and: “It was a new country. It was very important to build the nation. We wanted to do something important for the country,” … and: “A group of women will be trained in fixing electric wires, making doors and windows, operating water pumps, and building sanitary latrines. This group will go door-to-door, helping the people. The local people should not wait for the government or NGOs to come and help them”.

She says also: “Every man should think that every woman in society is the equal of his daughter, sister, or mother. If he wants to save his daughter, sister, or mother from injustice or oppression, he has to do the same for other women. Awareness changes a person’s attitude”.

JD800727 rogné redim 20p.JPG

Sorry, I can not get any photo of Sandhya Roy, Bangladesh (see also my comment ‘Brave women without photos‘).

Sandhya Roy was only 17 when she left home to help soldiers wounded in the 1971 Bangladesh war. The end of the war found Sandhya far too immersed in her work to return home. Instead, she joined Gonoshasthya Kendra (which means people’s health center-GK), an NGO working to establish a people-centered health system.

For more than 30 years now, she has been challenging gender stereotypes, fighting fundamentalists who wish to keep her down, and working toward her dream of a holistic health system.

Sandhya Roy was born in 1954 into a zamindar (landlord) family in Dhamrai, Dhaka. In 1947, when the subcontinent was partitioned, some of her family members relocated to India. But not Sandhya’s father. But, through the Enemy Property Act, much of the family’s property was appropriated by politically-powerful Muslims.

In 1971, when Sandhya was only 17, the Bangladesh war for liberation from Pakistan began. Sandhya’s family lived in a large house, and freedom-fighters would sometimes take shelter in it. “I tried to help the freedom-fighters,” she says.

“We helped them hide their arms. Sometimes, we supplied them with food also.” When the family’s resistance role was unearthed, they were forced to leave the house and live as refugees for some time.

The war saw doctors tending to the wounded and sick hopelessly outnumbered. They sent out an SOS to people to chip in with rescue and treatment operations. Sandhya responded, leaving home and school. She worked beside the doctors, helping however she could.

Once the war was over, Sandhya’s deep immersion in her work precluded the possibility of going back home or completing her studies. In 1972, Dr Zaffrullah Choudhury and some medical colleagues were set up the Gonoshasthya Kendra (GK: People’s Health Centre). The GK office was located close to where Sandhya stayed, and she heard about their activities.

Impressed by GK’s vision of a people-centered health system, Sandhya decided to join them. “It was a new country. It was very important to build the nation. We wanted to do something important for the country,” she says.

China apart, no country had made a serious effort to train paramedics. The GK team understood that training paramedics was imperative if there was to be any hope of reaching healthcare to a large number of people. Sandhya was part of the first batch to receive paramedical training.

GK is today one of the largest NGOs in Bangladesh. It has set a precedent in self-reliance and people-oriented development. Sandhya, one of the pillars of the organization, is virtually indistinguishable from GK’s many successes.

She worked at the grassroots for many years, providing health services. She then trained other paramedics and managed part of GK’s health program. As she gained experience, and GK grew larger, her responsibilities expanded to managing and directing the GK school, the GK printing press, and GK’s income-generation activities for adolescent girls and women. She developed innovative methods – person-to-person contact, information in print, visual aids, and advocacy – to reach out to people and communicate her ideas as she moved from task to task.

She is now trying to develop a program for coastal women, called the Women’s Disaster Preparedness Program. “A group of women will be trained in fixing electric wires, making doors and windows, operating water pumps, and building sanitary latrines,” says Sandhya. “This group will go door-to-door, helping the people. The local people should not wait for the government or NGOs to come and help them.”

Sandhya’s work with GK has been path-breaking in several ways: GK was the first in Bangladesh to say that women must be central to all development efforts, especially health and livelihood plans. Sandhya came up with the idea of training women in non-traditional jobs and vocations such as driving and operating broilers, thereby challenging traditional gender roles. GK pioneered in training women paramedics, drivers, welders, and carpenters.

Stressing the importance of sensitizing men to women’s issues, Sandhya says, “Every man should think that every woman in society is the equal of his daughter, sister, or mother. If he wants to save his daughter, sister, or mother from injustice or oppression, he has to do the same for other women. Awareness changes a person’s attitude.”

The empowerment of people, rather than jut providing services to them, is central to GK’s philosophy. Its work, therefore, grew organically in collaboration with local people and in response to their changing needs. Sandhya and GK approach health in a holistic fashion: their work integrates health concerns with poverty alleviation, income generation, education for children and adults, natural disaster relief, communal harmony, and overall development.

GK has also been working to create a more involved flow of ideas – and regional and global networks for promoting people-centered development, particularly in healthcare – between Bangladesh and other countries in South Asia and elsewhere. The Global Health Assembly that GK organized was a step in this direction. As commendable are its efforts to foster peace and friendship between Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Sandhya’s work with GK is driven by her deep conviction that the impoverished and the disempowered can be agents of change, and not merely passive recipients of aid, for themselves and for the nation. GK’s work has already provided regular healthcare services, education, relief, cheaper medicines, and livelihood opportunities to several million in Bangladesh. The NGO has started a people’s university that will train pro-people medical professionals and social scientists. Its People’s Pharmaceuticals Company produces high quality medicines at a fraction of the going cost, making them accessible to the most disadvantaged.

While the decision on what kind of work she wished to do came easily enough to Sandhya, living the life she chose did not. A male paramedic colleague was murdered because their work exposed corruption. Sandhya also had to brave people’s prejudices against a single woman in a non-traditional profession. Religious leaders, for instance, were deathly opposed to women workers riding a bicycle, arguing that it was “un-Islamic”. In the villages, some people derided women workers as “prostitutes”. Government officials showed reluctance in giving women driving licenses. Sandhya had to battle the clergy, social leaders, and the State machinery to continue with her work.

Overwork has clearly caused her – one of the leading figures in healthcare in Bangladesh – to neglect her own health.

She has no regrets, though. “After independence, I started my career with a dream – that I will work for the people and bring about a change in society. I still believe that change is possible. I work hard for that change,” she says.
(1000PeaceWomen).

Women way beyond the “Purdah”, no authors listed, PIP: A case story on Gonoshasthya Kendra (GK) concerning gender equality from Bangladesh is presented. This organization is a movement with mass oriented participation redefining the concepts of community health care and social development. The GK project is aimed to change the status of women in the society. It promotes women empowerment and mobilization, enforce women’s rights, and spread education among people. GK has 30 primary schools that encourage enrollment of girls. In spite of all constraints, there has been some marginal improvement in the status of women. It started its public health service as a combination of preventive, curative and primitive care. It also provides health care under the health insurance system. (full text).
Read: Health financing reforms in Asia and the impact on reproductive and sexual health services.

She works for Gonoshasthya Kendra GK / people’s health center (has no own web, but named on:

  • Bangladesh Yellowpages;
  • on icdder,b;
  • on kabissa, PHA-exchange;
  • on OneWorldAction.org;
  • on the right livelihood.org;
  • on Novartis Foundation;
  • and in the following two excerpts: Gonoshasthya Kendra (GK) is a model that has been playing a successful role in providing health-care among the rural poor, at a per capita cost which is almost one-fourth of the cost of public health service delivery systems. Budgetary measures are needed to expand this type of cost-effective public-private partnership model beyond its current operation in 16 upazila in 11 districts. (full text);
  • For the first time in decades, health and non-health networks have come together to work on global solidarity issues in health. These networks include the International People’s Health Council (IPHC); Health Action International (HAI); Consumers International (CI); the Asian Community Health Action Network (ACHAN); the Third World Network (TWN); the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR); Gonoshasthya Kendra (GK) and the Dag Hammarskjold Foundation (DHF). In the last five years, new networks like the Global Equity Gauge Alliance (GEGA) and the Social Forum Network are further strengthening the Movement. (full text).

Sorry, I can get no other information in english of Sandhya Roy, Bangladesh, being certified it would be the wanted person.

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