Hear Jannatul Ferdous in her own words
If someone told Jannatul Ferdous in 1997 that she would be named to BBC’s list of top 100 women in 2023, make five short films, publish three books, and found her own disability rights organization, she wouldn’t have believed them. At the time, she didn’t even know the disability rights movement existed.
26 years ago, Ferdous survived a fire accident that burnt 60 percent of her body. “Within a moment, my life shifted into another world,” Ferdous said in an interview with IFES. “I had no idea about the disability movement.”
During her recovery, which has included over 50 surgeries, Ferdous longed for a support group of other burn-related survivors. She discovered the work of disability rights activists in the human rights space, so in 2005, she began her career at Action on Disability and Development in Bangladesh. Still, she realized that people were not aware of burns as a disability.
“When I needed longtime leave for medical treatment, organizations were not aware, they would ask me so many questions, why I need those surgeries,” she said. “Day by day, those experiences helped me realize that people are not aware about our needs.”
Filling the void that Jannatul and other burn-related victims felt, Ferdous founded Voices & Views, a human rights organization in Bangladesh that fights for the rights of women burn survivors.
Ferdous has grown Voice & Views to reach 300 burn-related survivors, with plans to expand its network. To train other women on how to influence disability rights policies and decision-making at the national and local levels, she participated in IFES’s Power to Persuade program, chosen through nominations from organizations and networks of persons with disabilities.
“When community representatives come and we deliver the trainings to them, and then they deliver the trainings in their communities, it is really working then,” Ferdous said. “It’s really about understanding disability in a flexible way, and we were really able to internalize and understand that [in the training].”
After nearly 20 years of being a disability rights activist, Ferdous said being in a room surrounded by other women with disabilities never gets any less awe-inspiring. Other women who have participated in the program have gone onto install ramps at buildings in their communities, organize advocacy meetings for employment-related issues, and raise awareness about inaccessible restrooms.
“When I learn from [these women], when I know their stories, it inspires me as well,” Jannatul said.
“Power to Persuade” is an advocacy program that equips women with disabilities with skills needed to influence policy and decision-making at national and local levels. The program has reached hundreds of women across Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, who have gone on to advocate for the rights of women and people with disabilities in their communities.
Power to Persuade is made possible by the Nagorik program, which is funded by USAID through the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS).