According to Bangladeshi authorities, nearly 50,000 female workers went to Saudi Arabia until the end of September this year [Mahmud Hossain Opu/Al Jazeera]

Dhaka, Bangladesh – Shirina Begum was no stranger to sleeping on an empty stomach. For days on end, she had to consume “bhater mar” (the starchy water poured off cooked rice) to quell her hunger after feeding her two children and ailing husband.

Growing up in the small Bangladeshi village of Namorikari in Lalmonirhat, which often faces seasonal famines, 29-year-old Begum struggled to make ends meet.

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With no cultivable land at her disposal and living in a house made of straw, she seemed destined to live her life on subsistence.

Then one day, she heard that one of her

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