Photo Credit: Quamrul Abedin
A Dhaka Tribune article by Farhana Urmee
Where does happiness come from? Day labourers live hand to mouth, but I met one of them who felt empowered by earning for her family.
Women are coming out of their homes in droves - from all ages, from all classes, educated or uneducated, from urban or village homes. Of course, we have a long list of problems in our patriarchal society, and women still face discrimination.
Yet, engaging in work that is paid can bring her esteem and empowerment, and gives her the freedom from being enslaved by the traditional role for women. Work is her liberty.
Driving, Miss Khatun
Aklima Khatun is an unsual sight on Dhaka streets: a female chauffer.
She is also the ever-smiling woman. She smiles when she steers the wheel. She smiles because of the power she has gained through her work. Her smile conveys her happiness at having a job, after having been an impoverished divorcee and single mother at the age of 20.
“My life has changed after I found this work.”
Regarding people’s response to seeing her behind the wheel, Aklima says: “I clearly see appreciation in the eyes of female passers-by. The men do stare at me sceptically, with distrust or disregard, but that look makes me feel that yes, I am doing something that has not really been done, and I feel uplifted.”
How did she come to choose this unusual line of work, rather than working in the RMG sector like so many other young women in her position?
Luck and an enterprising spirit.
After her divorce, Aklima went to live with her sister in Goforgaon, Mymensingh. She was helpless, scared, and felt like a burden to her family. As an uneducated and unskilled women, she did not have the courage to come to Dhaka all alone to try to find a job.
Her sister happened to live next door to a Brac-funded school, which found her and began to offer her skills training and counselling. They helped her move to Dhaka, where she took a five-month training course at their driving school. It took two tries to get her driver’s license, but she stuck with it. And she passed the exam, they helped get her a job.
She now works for another working woman in the city, who wants to help women like her become self reliant.
Aklima feels fortunate to have had Brac’s support. Where once she couldn’t even talk to strangers, she is now a self-assured woman, who holds her car keys in her hand all the time, as if in a perpetual state of readiness to drive.
She takes pride in taking on a job that is mostly done by men.
“During the training programme, one day I drove to my home village in a training car. From their faces I could see that I was setting an example for other girls in my village, whereas before I had been living as a poor abandoned wife,” she beams.
A healthy mission
Gulshan Ara, another tough but smiling woman, has 10 years experience in her field. She works as a health visitor and service promoter for Surjer Hashi Chinhito Clinic in Dhaka.
Health visitors travel from place to place to convey healthcare information such as on birth control, prenatal care, child vaccinations. They also counsel people to encourage healthy behavioural changes.
“As a child, I always dreamed of becoming a doctor, but I could not make it. Still, I made my dream come true by serving people in a different way. I hope to raise my daughter with a good education, and perhaps she can become doctor one day,” Gulshan says.
She smiles because it helps her with the uphill job of motivating people who are mostly illiterate with a number of health problems, asking them to adopt new habits. She has to be friendly even in the face of their negative reactions, and display on understanding of their apprehensions.
The work is not without challenges.
“I really feel good about my job, even though it comes with a number of physical hazards that I have to cope with.” says Gulshan, who walks in sun and rain, trudging through muddy roads in bare feet to get to her destination. She often needs to deal with local goons to enter certain localities.
“I see people are listening to me and trusting me simply because I am female,” Gulshan says, since it allows her access to people’s homes despite being a stranger.
“I know some women face problems at their work, but in some professions, it helps being a woman.”
Constructing her own reality
Construction worker Johura’s weather beaten face does not fail to smile while speaking about her job. She did not seem to feel like a victim, but rather takes pleasure at the sight of her children playing nearby while she works.
I found Johura at a construction site in Bashundhara neighbourhood, loading construction materials into a cane basket and carrying them to the other site workers. She also breaks bricks.
She and her husband eat together. He is also a construction worker, often at the same site, so they take their breaks together. She had surprisingly few complaints about difficulties at her workplace, other than occasional disagreements on late wage payments with the contractor.
Regarding eve-teasing, Johura says: “Just let someone come here to harass us. All the women working here at the site will teach him a lesson.”
She hopes to give her three children an education, and continue her work as long she is physically capable. At the end of the day when she gets her wage; she goes back to her abode with a smile.
Her just desserts
Sheema Akter is a 21-year-old university student who sells ice cream at Bashundhara City.
She took the job to help her father during a family financial crisis by earning her own income. Although the hard times have now passed, Sheema continues to work, in addition to studying at Eden College, where she is majoring in psychology.
Sheema is a pretty girl, and she attracts both negative and positive attention from customers. She says some people buy from her and express support for her, but others make suggestive comments. She just ignores the lewd behaviour. “I simply give them a polite smile and hand them their ice-cream.”
Sheema is proud of her work, which is letting her become financially independent, and fills her with self-esteem.
A Boxscore News article
England women’s cricketers Heather Knight, Lydia Greenway and Tammy Beaumont met two female Bangladeshi cricketers and International Development Minister, Desmond Swayne at Lord’s today (Monday July 21) to discuss issues around sport, women’s empowerment and early forced marriage, ahead of the Prime Minister’s Girl Summit 2014.
Bangladesh-based charity BRAC has flown in the two young female cricketers, Mitu Roy and Tania Akter, from their Adolescent Development Programme, to take part in the UK’s Girl Summit, which takes place tomorrow (Tuesday July 22). The Summit aims to bring about action to end the practices of child, early & forced marriage (CEFM) and female genital mutilation (FGM) within a generation.
International Development Minister, Desmond Swayne, who was welcomed to Lord’s by Giles Clarke, the ECB Chairman, said: “Sport can make a real difference to the lives of girls in developing countries. It gives them a healthy, enjoyable past time, of course. Even more importantly it helps them to establish themselves in their community, raises their status and gives them control over their future.
“Too often girls around the world are robbed of a choice in life by being forced to marry early. It also puts them at risk of missing an education and dying young in childbirth.
“The UK will host the first Girl Summit, aimed at mobilising domestic and international efforts to end female genital mutilation and child marriage within a generation.”
England women’s cricketer, Heather Knight, added: “Meeting Mitu and Tania today and discussing some of the challenges that they face on a daily basis has been really thought provoking. It is shocking to hear that one in three girls in developing countries is married by the time they are 18, with some of those as young as eight. Charities like BRAC are doing wonderful work to try to address these issues, and I hope that the UK’s Girl Summit will generate the world wide support needed to inspire local and national efforts to end early forced marriage.”
BRAC Chairperson, Sir Fazle Ahbed, said: “BRAC ensures that Bangladeshi adolescents are fully equipped to face life and its challenges through its multiple and comprehensive interventions, including sport. Participating in sport empowers adolescents, especially girls. It builds their self-confidence, independence and the ability to take decisions that affect their lives."
Mitu Roy (20) and Tania Akter (21) are club leaders and cricket coaches from BRAC’s Adolescent Development Programme, which aims to help build confidence in adolescents.
Mitu said: “Through playing cricket in BRAC clubs I have gained the trust of my family as well as the community. Now they know that I can lead my team and solve my problems for myself.”
Tania added: “Playing sport has made me so confident that now I can talk freely about many other issues with many people and can encourage other girls to do the same.”
The event at Lord’s today follows a visit by members of the England women’s team to the Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) in Dhaka during the ICC Women’s World Twenty20 competition in March. At the ASF, the players got the opportunity to see how funding from the UK Department for International Development (DFID) has helped thousands of women and children who have been disfigured in acid attacks.
1. The Girl Summit 2014 will be hosted by Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening and Home Secretary Theresa May, alongside heads of state, domestic and international practitioners, survivors, charities, community groups and celebrities.
2. The Summit will aim to secure new commitments from the private sector, faith leaders, other civil society organisations and governments.
3. According to the Department for International Development, in developing countries, around 11 per cent of women are entered into marriage or union before they reach the age of 15, and nearly half of young women in South Asia are married by their 18th birthday. In countries like Bangladesh, sport is one way for young women to take control over their future and raise their status in society.
4. BRAC, based in Bangladesh, is one of the largest development NGOs in the world. Its Adolescent Development Programme (ADP) started in 1993. In order to retain the literacy rate and life skills that many girls lose after primary schooling, BRAC’s Education Programme opened Adolescent Clubs giving girls the chance to socialise, play indoor games, sing, dance and exchange views and experiences – all activities that were frowned upon in their homes.
On 20 January, BRAC received the "Hall of Fame Award" for significant contributions to the sanitation sector in Bangladesh. The award was handed to Dr. Akramul Islam at the 14th World Toilet Summit 2015 in Delhi by Dr. Subramanian Swamy MP, Former Minister of India, and Jack Sim Founder of the World Toilet Organization. Minister Devendra Chaudhry, Special Secretary, Ministry of Power India, was also present at the occasion along with representatives from governments, donors, development partners, business sectors, NGOs and media.
Bangladesh has made remarkable progress in providing basic sanitation services to its people. It is now estimated that throughout Bangladesh, 57% use sanitary latrines. Open defecation has almost ended with only about 3% of the people not using toilets of any kind .
BRAC WASH and related programmes have made a substantial contribution to the nation's Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets for water, sanitation and health and will continue to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Over 8 years, the BRAC hygiene and sanitation programme reached more than 66 million people, about half of the rural population of Bangladesh. It has successfully worked to improve household sanitation by creating demand for hygienic latrines  while supporting an extensive supply chain and local businesses. Current coverage with hygienic and adequately maintained toilets is 82% in the 152 districts where BRAC has worked. All these successes have been underpinned by a strong provision of service to the poor and ultra-poor and by a unique hygiene promotion programme focusing on universal use and sustainability of services in communities, households and schools.
BRAC WASH success factors
Scale: significantly increasing access to sanitation services
Hygiene promotion is the critical factor in BRAC WASH success – it is the missing link in most other WASH programmes globally. Between 2006 and 2014 about 43 million people have participated in BRAC WASH hygiene promotion meetings at village level. As a result, 35.8 million people have gained access to clean toilets with the support of BRAC WASH, an un-paralleled achievement by an NGO.
Sustainability: focusing on how services are delivered and local partnerships
The most important factor is not so much what to deliver, but how to deliver it, while ensuring sustainability: delivery through the most appropriate channels. To be able to work effectively with village women and men, hygiene and sanitation promotion has been delivered by 7,602 health workers of which more than 50% are female and 5,000 are community members.
BRAC WASH facilitated and supported sanitation entrepreneurs to work in hard-to-reach areas. As the generated demand was huge, BRAC WASH trained 5,603 people on how to create sanitation demand and on materials and construction of low-cost sanitary toilets. Additionally, 213,520 poor families have been able to access BRAC loans to improve sanitation.
Impact on the poor, women and girls
BRAC WASH had a dramatic effect on equity. Before the programme it was rare for ultra-poor families to own a hygienic latrine. More than a million ultra-poor families (5 million people) have received subsidies for long-lasting and hygienic double-pit latrines. Local government provided substantial financial contributions for sanitation for ultra-poor families. Without the grant for latrine construction, twin pit latrines would not be affordable for the ultra-poor since they would need to spend almost 6% of their reported income.
IRC is proud to be a knowledge partner of BRAC WASH since 2005. Short-term, unsustainable projects must become a thing of the past. Everyone deserves water and sanitation services every day, every year, forever. IRC works with far-sighted organisations like BRAC that do not accept the status quo and are impatient for change. BRAC WASH has demonstrated that an integrated approach to hygiene, sanitation and water is the only one that can deliver long-term change – but it requires sustained and intensive engagement with communities, and a long term commitment to maintain and improve on gains already made. A strong commitment from the Government and the donor community has played a crucial role in gaining these achievements.
 WHO/UNICEF JMP, 2014. Bangladesh : estimates on the use of water sources and sanitation facilities (1980 - 2012). Available at: http://www.wssinfo.org/fileadmin/user_upload/resources/Bangladesh.xls
 Hygienic latrines separate faeces from the environment and seal the path between the squat hole and the pit to effectively block the pathways of bad smell, flies and other insect vectors thereby breaking the cycle of disease transmission.
The scale (covering half of the country, reaching 66 million people) and impact of the programme since the start of the first phase in 2006 were presented by the Vice Chairperson of BRAC, Dr Ahmed Musthaque Raza Chowdhury who chaired the event. Dr Chowdhury acknowledged that political commitment and government leadership are key for success. Thanks to the support and contribution of government, development partners and NGOs, BRAC WASH has been able to achieve all this.
Future strategy for BRAC WASH 2016-2020
To gather sector feedback, the future strategy for the BRAC WASH programme was presented at a dissemination workshop on 14 January 2015 to more than 120 participants from governments, development partners and WASH sector practitioners. It is based on the successful interventions in rural areas over the past 10 years. Dr Akramul Islam explained: “BRAC WASH works towards a vision of Bangladesh with safe, sustained water supply and sanitation and hygiene for everyone, everywhere, all the time”. He stressed the importance of sustaining the gains, but also to address urgent challenges such as faecal sludge management, water security and quality, enhanced secondary school programmes and alternative sanitation technologies at scale.
In the coming years, BRAC WASH will continue to implement, but more focus will be put on advocacy and working in partnerships. BRAC WASH will expand its activities to critical areas in the country such as urban and coastal areas. The hundreds of small towns dotting the rural areas lack adequate waste disposal, safe sanitation and water services; and, they lack the organisation and expertise to address these needs. For coastal areas access to safe water is a huge challenge. In 2015 BRAC launched, with its own resources, a pilot in coastal areas giving greater emphasis to water provision and water resources. For BRAC WASH, this expansion to new areas also means more focus on collaboration, facilitation and advocacy rather than direct service delivery.
Ms Zuena Aziz, Additional Secretary and Director General, Local Government Division, Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives, Bangladesh, one of the distinguished guests, noted that Government and BRAC/NGO findings are the same. “This is a great achievement. Without the help from NGOs and other development partners this would not have been possible. We are aligned in our thinking.”
Distinguished guest Ms Martine van Hoogstraten, Deputy Head of Mission and Head of Development Cooperation, Economic Affairs and Trade, Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Dhaka, Bangladesh, highlighted the importance of an integrated approach to hygiene, sanitation and water. BRAC WASH demonstrated that such an approach can deliver long-term change. At the same time she also warned that it requires “sustained and intensive engagement with communities, and a long term commitment to maintain and improve on gains already made.”
In her speech Van Hoogstraten told the participants that the Dutch government has committed to contribute to the MDG WASH target by providing sustainable access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation for an additional 50 million people by 2015. The Netherlands Embassy’s support to the BRAC WASH programme, since its inception in May 2006, has significantly contributed to this commitment. She also stressed that “an important contribution to the programme has been the co-funding by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) since 2012, as well as the technical support by IRC since 2005.” More recently Charity Water (1 August 2014 – 31 August 2015) and Splash (1 October 2014 – 30 September 2015) have started supporting BRAC WASH.
Mr. Kazi Abdul Noor, Project Director (Joint Secretary) Policy Support Unit (PSU) Local Government Division, Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives, Bangladesh said “I believe the work is definitely going to be continued, since support to the sector was a part of the political manifesto as well as there is a high government commitment to carry out WASH related work. One fourth of the population of Bangladesh belongs to the hard to reach areas, and all the WASH sector players are heavily contributing to improve the situation which is very positive”.
Scale and impact of BRAC WASH over the past ten years
BRAC WASH covers 250 sub-districts which is 50% of all sub-districts in Bangladesh. Between 2003 and 2014 open defecation in BRAC WASH areas reduced from 42% to 3%.
Just over one in three households (33 %) had a hygienic toilet at the start of the programme according to an independent evaluation from the Research and Evaluation Department at BRAC. At the end of Phase I (2011) eight in ten households (83%) had a hygienic toilet. Over the same five years (2006-2011), waterborne diseases decreased by three-quarters (from 9.4 % to 2.3 %).
At the end of 2014 almost 36 million people gained access to sanitation and are actually using a toilet. This includes the ultra-poor of which 97% have a toilet in the BRAC WASH programme areas. More than 2 million people gained access to safe water and 66 million people have been targeted by hygiene promotion activities. More than 5,000 secondary schools shared costs with BRAC and built separate latrines for girls with menstrual hygiene management facilities.
One of the issues participants at the meeting have emphasised was the role of hygiene. “We have learned that hygiene is not a single initiative. BRAC can take the lead in developing and sharing what should be the indicators for hygiene promotion.”
The importance of including the poor was stressed several times. “Partnerships should be inclusive, not only public and private, but also with the poor as participants (PPP-P) and women as the first care takers”. This PPP-P should be the anchor for the project implementation.
Another issue that was raised: Emphasis on sustainability at all levels is really important. There was an immense push for the MDGs and we don’t want to go back after we have reported on all the achievements. There is a real risk of slippage.
Role of IRC in the BRAC WASH programme
IRC works with BRAC WASH as a ‘knowledge partner’ since 2005 when the programme was designed.
Mrs Ingeborg Krukkert from IRC highlighted the main outcomes of six action research projects funded by the Dutch Government to address the key WASH challenges identified in the first years of the programme.
These challenges are safe drinking water in areas with arsenic contamination or salt intrusion; sanitation technologies in areas with high-water tables; finding marketable and safe solutions for all the human waste now that toilets are filling up; how to make access to information and the whole monitoring process easier and more user-friendly.
In addition, some innovative approaches taken up by the programme after the first phase were highlighted: qualitative monitoring shows what people do with their facilities; what behaviours they adopt; social marketing approach for more effective behavioural change communication; and costing studies to compare costs with the level of services provided at household level, schools and in piped water supply.
The Inquirer article by Julie S. Alipala and Karlos Manlupig
11th November, 2014
BONGAO, Tawi-Tawi—By learning how to count, Arabella Giya, 8, and her brother Adrian, 7, now know how to price their fish catch.
“My kids are learning not only words and numbers but also how to do business like selling fish. They know how many fish is equivalent to a certain price,” Panaglasa Sahiduan Giya said.
Arabella and Adrian are among 30 pupils of a school boat operated by the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) Floating Learning Center in Barangay (village) Lamion here.
Panaglasa Sahiduan, a Badjao, said her children usually got shortchanged when they sold fresh catch in the neighborhood and at the public market.
Herman Melhan used to be a shy 8-year-old Badjao boy. Six months after enrolling at the school, he can now recite, dance and even teach fellow children about numbers.
“I know now how to draw, read and count,” he proudly told the Inquirer.
Jennilyn Jumdani, the school teacher, acknowledged that her students were being discriminated by other tribes. “Many of the Badjao are … bullied, that is why many of them are afraid to enroll in regular schools or to venture outside their communities,” she said.
They, too, have rights, she added.
The BRAC Floating Learning Center was established in June with the help of Australian aid through Basic Education Assistance for Mindanao (BEAM) and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s Department of Education (DepEd).
BRAC Philippines is implementing the Alternative Delivery Model project component of the Australian government-funded BEAM for Muslim Mindanao.
The ARMM, the DepEd and BRAC Philippines delivered a fleet of seven floating schools, hoping that this would help address the education gap in the region. These were brought to seven villages in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi provinces, and would cater to the needs of at least 200 Badjao and Sama children this school year.
Jumdani’s classroom is a pink vessel moored at the small Badjao community in Lamion.
BRAC Philippines country representative Nazrul Islam explained that the floating school model was adopted from the “boat school” project implemented by his organization’s head office in Bangladesh.
The model is more suited for the culture of the Badjao and Sama people, who are “mostly reluctant to mingle with people belonging to other, more dominant Moro tribes,” he said.
Jumdani said teachers in the floating schools had to handle multigrade pupils.
She has one appeal to the parents—spare her pupils from fishing.
“Fishing is a family affair for the Badjao. Everyone contributes. They have respective roles like preparing nets, ensuring the fishing boats are in good condition, food, fishing and selling, and kids are the ones tapped to peddle their catch. These affect their class attendance,” she said.
Still, Jumdani said she was happy to hear stories of empowerment on how her little wards were able to raise the sales of their fish catch “because they know now how to count.”
Through its visionary moves, BRAC has made a huge contribution to social change in Bangladesh and abroad.
The billion dollars in microloans that BRAC extends each year to poor people is just the beginning of the story of this remarkable organisation.
BRAC is the most astounding social enterprise in the world.
[Sir Fazle Hasan] Abed’s story proves just how much people with vision and commitment can change the world.
BRAC has done what few others have. They have achieved success on a massive scale, bringing life-saving health programmes to millions of the world’s poorest people.