Gold Star Member (GSM)

Engaging Rural Women Entrepreneurs in Disseminating Public Health Messages

Engaging rural women as entrepreneurs in delivering health messages and selling public health products at the doorsteps of the community is one of the key components of community mobilization program of Social Marketing Company since 2013. Over the years, the women entrepreneurship network has become a vibrant platform for rural women opening up new avenues for them to grow as ‘entrepreneurs' in the community. It is evident from the studies that making public health products available at the household level through rural women entrepreneurs can significantly contribute to increased access to and utilization of public health products especially in the hard-to-reach areas. They disseminate reinforcing health/family planning (FP) messages and sell public health products at the household level. These women play an important role in the community in conducting courtyard meetings with married women of reproductive age, inter-personal communication and health education sessions at the schools in addition to their regular business. Thereby, they earn around Tk 3,000 to 5,000 profit per month from the sales. The idea of developing rural women as entrepreneurs was initiated by SMC in order to sustain the supply of public health commodities at community level engaging women entrepreneurs who seemed to be role model for many others in the community. Following successful implementation of the program, SMC has expanded this women entrepreneurship initiative in 93 upazilas (sub-districts) under 25 under-performing districts. Currently, 2700 rural women entrepreneurs have been branded as Gold Star Members (GSM) who are involved in disseminating health messages and selling priority health products at the household level.

It is evident from different studies that superstitions and misconceptions are comparatively higher in rural communities that limit adolescent girls' access to and understanding of the menstrual hygiene and self-care practices. School health program is one of the key interventions of SMC to educate adolescent girls and boys with proper knowledge of health and hygiene practices under school activation program, SMC organizes health education sessions for adolescent girls from grade seven to ten using enter-educate approach with special focus on sexual and reproductive health and menstrual hygiene issues including delaying marriage and first pregnancy. A recent study on the impact of adolescent health program of SMC reveals that majority (71%) of the school adolescent girls are currently using sanitary napkins in intervention schools. The health education equips and empowers the -girls with accurate knowledge about menstrual hygiene practices and self-care as well.

Depicting the experience of engagement with SMC network, Moriom Begum, one of the rural women entrepreneurs stated that she is now capitalizing her positive image being well accepted and popularly known as ‘doctor apa' (sister) among the adolescent girls and young women in her community. Talking about her position at family and community, she said, "I really enjoy my work and I receive cordial support from my husband and in-laws to continue my business. We jointly take decision about our family matters relating to child's health care and education which I couldn't do before. I love to serve the community and want to achieve further success in my business by expanding my product basket with SMC's public health products. Doing so, I also dream to be a role model in the community to inspire other women to join this platform." Moriom's story has again proved that no obstacle could stop a person if she/he aspires to make her/his dream a success.