When Rubina Yeasmin was 13, her father died of a heart attack. Her mother scraped together the money to keep her in school but finances became increasingly tight. “My uncle said I must leave school and get married.”
She grew up in Topshe village in Dinajpur district, in northern Bangladesh. According to a Unicef report published last year, 65 percent of girls in Bangladesh are married before the age of 18, and 29 percent before they are 15. For poor families, early marriage can ease financial pressure as it means one less mouth to feed. It can also negate the need for girls to be educated.
Yeasmin refused to marry and fought to be allowed to complete her education. Her family gave in and she stayed at school. On graduating, she moved to Dhaka, the capital, to work as a quality control inspector in one of the city’s many garment factories.
Her employer, the Ananta Group, makes clothes for H&M, Gap and Next. Yeasmin worked overtime, boosting her earnings to about Tk 10,000 (£91) a month and sending money home so her younger brother, Murad, could go to school too.
She could not imagine her situation improving, until she was called to a meeting at the factory and learned of a scheme – the first of its kind – launched by the Asian University for Women (AUW) to provide free university education to women working in Bangladesh’s garment factories.