A key focus of the programme is to build the capacity of poor rural women. This is achieved by mobilising them to take collective action against exploitation and social injustice, gain better access to local government resources, address systemic inequalities, and play an active civic role in the public sphere. Since 1998, we have initiated more than 13,000 community-based organisations (CBO) called polli shomaj and union shomaj, concentrating in the poorest areas.
Polli shomaj and union shomaj
Polli shomaj is a ward-level institution for the poor, especially women. It serves as a forum through which the underserved people in the communities can raise their voice, claiming their rights and entitlements. There is a total of 12,350 such ward-level institutions in 55 districts, with an average of 55 members in each group. The union-level federation of polli shomaj groups are called union shomaj, which enable the rural poor to lobby directly with the union parishad (union council) and address issues that are beyond the capacity of polli shomaj to tackle. Union shomaj enhances the organisational strength of the groups and allows networking among different polli shomaj leaders. There are 1,215 union shomaj in 55 districts.
Broadly, polli shomaj and union shomaj are involved in four broad types of activities:
• Assisting the poor in their local communities to access government and non-governmental organisations' services and resources
• Securing position for women in rural power structures
• Participating in local government's development activities as well as in local social initiatives
• Preventing conflict and violence, particularly violence against women
We emphasise on structurally strengthening these CBOs so that they can gradually function as independent forums for the poor. We provide tailor-made capacity development support to polli shomaj leaders to strengthen grassroots democracy and leadership of women.
Partnership model union - a joint initiative of community and local government institutions
CEP's pilot initiative called ‘partnership for model union’ builds on the strength of bottom-up development initiatives led by polli shomaj in collaboration with the union parishad (also known as the union council). The main strategy of the project is to mobilise community and local government for collective action in meeting their local development needs by using the resources and services available to them. The process is led by the community through polli shomaj where CEP plays the role of a development facilitator. Sector-based indicators are decided by the community and they take collective action to meet the government’s targets with support from the UP. This pilot is a scale up of the ideal ward initiative developed by CEP field staff, which was successfully implemented in Boragari union under Domar sub-district in Nilphamari in 2012. Two union councils in Nilphamary and Mymensingh under this pilot initiative are expected to be declared as model unions by 2015.
Advocacy for access promotion of the ultra poor (APUP)
APUP, a joint project of BRAC’s advocacy programme and CEP mobilises relevant stakeholders to ensure regular attendance of the ultra poor children in primary education and to increase access to government services (eg, health, livestock and social safety net programmes). The project is being implemented at the grassroots level in 20 sub-districts of Rangpur, Khulna, Naogaon and Sunamganj. Launched in 2013, the project is set to continue till 2015. Under the project, CEP is carrying out grassroots mobilisation-related activities by engaging pollishomaj forums. The project focuses to make the local level duty bearers more responsive and accountable to ensure service delivery and protect the rights of the ultra poor.