To celebrate the first anniversary of our publication, we at the business standard have decided to recognise the contribution of various individuals in different fields during the last year. Rina Akter, a former sex worker turned a rights activist for sex workers, is The Business Standard’s (TBS) changemaker in the humanitarian work category
Assuring her family that she would be employed as a maid in Dhaka, brokers from Rina's village took her away and sold her to a brothel. She was only 10.
Nearly 20 years since then, Akter has become a go-to-figure among sex workers in Dhaka, serving hundreds of meals to the women she calls her sisters, as the coronavirus pandemic left many struggling to buy enough to eat, while customers stayed home.
"The coronavirus has hit my sisters hard. Their earnings have reduced a lot... they can barely eat one meal a day," said Akter, 33, in an interview with Reuters.
Rina Akter works for the Durjoy Nari Shongho, a group that supports street sex workers in Bangladesh. She and her team of helpers have been preparing about 400 hot meals, including rice, vegetables, egg and meat, every week since the pandemic began.
Among the two Bangladeshis in BBC's official 100 Women, and also honoured by Reuters for her remarkable contributions, Rina has facilitated support for sex worker communities in Dhaka.
Notably, she has built an essential network of doctors, pharmacists, NGO officials and donors to support her former colleagues – leaving no one behind in her battle to shed light on the predicament of sex workers.
She is also designing a programme to teach older sex workers how to sew, so they can work at small factories, and earn a living without having to resort to begging.