Observing International Women's Day 2022, BRAC Bangladesh organised a dialogue on ‘Reporting and referral for gender-based violence: Lessons from the AR NA pilot project and Shongjog service mapping’ on 7 March 2022, at the capital’s BRAC Centre.
Gender-based violence is a key driver of gender inequality. Seven out of 10 married women in Bangladesh face some sort of intimate partner violence. The type of support that these survivors most commonly need are legal support, social protection and psychosocial counselling. In a country of almost 80 million women and 65 million children, this support is inadequate. To address this gap, BRAC launched two initiatives during the event.
The Shongjog mobile application connects survivors of gender-based violence with support services through a digital platform. Another mobile application, under the AR NA project, has digitised the reporting mechanism that connects case managers with survivors.
HE Robert Chatterton Dickson, British High Commissioner in Bangladesh, said, "We have to increasingly use modern technology to tackle violence against women. It certainly brings a positive note as the government, NGOs and women rights activists meet today to discuss these issues. We had worked together in the past and we are pledged to continue doing so in the future to tackle this challenge.”
Kate Sangster, First Secretary, High Commision of Australia, stressed the importance of combating gender-based violence as a development priority for Australia’s strategic partnership with BRAC.
Asif Saleh, Executive Director of BRAC, stressed the importance of developing integrated support services and collaboration between the government and non-governmental actors to aid the survivors of violence to recover from trauma. “It’s imperative to have correct databases and information on gender-based violence. The picture of violence that our army of field-level staff have gathered is worrying. We have to provide all the necessary support to the survivors of violence.”
Nobonita Chowdhury, Director of BRAC’s gender justice and diversity programme and preventing violence against women initiative, said “Through the AR NA pilot project, BRAC trained over 800 frontline workers in northern Bangladesh, to digitally report incidents of violence against women and girls through the AR NA web app. Once a report is filed, a team of case managers connect the survivors with required support services through a referral mechanism.”
Jenefa Jabbar, Director of BRAC’s safeguarding unit, briefed on Shongjog, a user-friendly web app BRAC has developed to provide comprehensive information of state and non-state support services for survivors of gender-based violence. The platform was built following a service mapping initiative in 61 districts, covering 435 sub-districts in Bangladesh. One can find support services down to the sub-district level in various categories, including, healthcare, legal aid, psychosocial support, safe/shelter homes and police stations.
Taqbir Huda, Advocacy Lead, GJD, BRAC highlighted the lessons from the cases reported through the AR NA pilot project. “Although the required support services are available for free, survivors often do not have the means to afford the transportation cost needed to reach the service provider. For this reason, survivors need an efficient social protection mechanism which supports them with immediate cash transfers in the short term, while providing them with means of economic empowerment in the long term.”
Dr Azmeri Haque Badhan, actor, emphasised the need for support for survivors of gender-based violence, particularly from their own family. She shared her own experience as a survivor of domestic abuse, and the critical role a prize money from a beauty pageant had played in helping her re-enrol in university and reconstruct her life.
Kollol Nag, Member of BRAC Technology, highlighted the inclusion of Shongjog under the ‘Suggestions’ tab of bKash mobile app, so existing users of bKash can have direct access to a mobile-friendly version of the app.
Shireen Huq, leading women’s rights activist and member of Naripokkho, said, “The survivors should never lose their mental strength and continue their fight. We appreciate BRAC for its effort to collect information from the grassroots level, and for the services it provides.”
Dr Sheikh Muslima Moon, Additional Director (Deputy Director), Department of Women’s Affairs, Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, discussed the government’s role in supporting the rehabilitation and social reintegration of survivors of violence. Mohammad Kamrul Islam Chowdhury, Director (Institution), Department of Social Services, Ministry of Social Welfare, discussed the existing social safety nets for women facing gender-based violence. AKM Mofizul Islam, Director (Poverty Alleviation), Department of Youth Development, Ministry of Youth and Sports, spoke about the scope of skills training for young women and girls facing gender-based violence.