Syeda Asma Rashida is based in Bangladesh, where she’s the project manager for Sightsavers’ inclusive eye health project in Bangladesh. Her work helps make sure everyone can access inclusive eye services.
Asma has been working at Sightsavers for 12 years and has been managing the £3.3 million Right to Health project since it began in 2018. In her role, she works to break down the barriers that prevent excluded communities in Bangladesh from accessing eye care services.
The project aims to reach marginalised groups and people who live in poverty, and Asma’s work involves providing eye care to as many people as possible. As part of this, she has led innovative responses in a push to reach more women and remove the barriers they face.
“We’ve had to consider the timeline for the women and which time is best for them,” Asma says. “Eye care camps usually start from 9.30am and continue until 2pm or 2.30pm. But when we focus on women, we start the programme after 1pm so that they can easily finish their work and household chores.”
Asma also ensures that people with disabilities can access the project’s services. Financial support is provided to the companions of people with disabilities, so they can accompany them to the eye camp. Patients with disabilities are also given assistive devices such as crutches and wheelchairs to improve their mobility and quality of life.
Asma has had to overcome discrimination in her own life. Her brother’s education was valued over hers by her family and she faced challenges early on in her career. “You know, women had to fit in everywhere. Women have to prove themselves in every single phase and show that ‘yes, I have the competency, I have the quality, I have these things. I can handle it.’ You have to prove every time to get opportunities.”
She used to feel nervous speaking up in professional settings, but over time she gained confidence and found her voice. Her advice? “Every woman needs to work hard and focus on their work and professionalism. Never compromise with your dignity. Whatever the situation, be strong about your dignity. Challenge will be everywhere, but you need to think in a different way and raise your voice properly.”
Asma credits her success to the support system of her close female friends who keep her smiling, and to the women she has met through the Right to Health project, who inspire her and have left a lasting impression.
“I had the opportunity to meet young women with disabilities who worked with us to advocate for themselves, and wanted to do good for others who don’t have access to existing information or health care,” she says. “They wanted to do their best for their community. I got lots of inspiration and confidence from these women. They might not have education, money or support from their friends and family, but leaving everything aside, they are still smiling and still wanted to do good for their community.”
Ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March, Asma shares her hopes for the future. “This is the one day where we celebrate and remember the day, but from my perspective every day is women’s day. We dream of equality for women. We’re all human beings.
“The ladies we work with through the project, some are doing great at home, not just in the workplace. Everywhere, women should be respected and acknowledged. Every day is women’s day when you cherish women’s dignity and respect.”