The bright side of women's participation in Bangladesh

The following article is from World Vision Bangladesh

By Jonathan Gomes, World Vision Bangladesh communications

In male dominated communities of Bangladesh, the participation of women in making decisions and bringing change and development is becoming more and more of a reality. Although change happens slowly, gradually these communities are acknowledging that there is a bright side to the active participation of women in every sphere of life.

The area of Savar, approximately 35 kilometres northwest of the capital city of Dhaka, is one region of Bangladesh where life has become brighter for girls and women. Over the course of more than 15 years, World Vision has been working with communities through a variety of development activities which have empowered women and reduced gender discrimination. Today, girls attend school, women earn and save money, and men have begun to pay attention.

When World Vision’s Savar Area Development Programme began working in Ghashmohol Village the situation was very different. There was no local school, few girls were educated because parents would not send their daughters to a school far way, and most girls were married as early as finishing grade five.

In 1993, World Vision started working with Ghashmohol’s women and girls. World Vision began development groups to provide functional education classes, leadership training, and practical trainings on health and human rights to women, and also established a local school to ensure that primary education was accessible to girls.

“In the early stages of the programme, many people used to talk bad about the women who would go outside their houses or attending meetings,” explained Saidunnahar, a 34 year old mother of three from Ghashmohol. “Now, most of the villagers recognise the development that has come through this the work, and most people, including the elderly, would deny any such criticism for women.”

In addition to educating women, community development groups helped women practically by enabling them to takes loans for income generating activities and providing a place to deposit monthly savings.

Saidunnahar started saving 10 Taka each month with the development group back in 1993. Now she deposits 100 Taka each month and her savings has built up to an amount of 21,000 Taka (304 USD). “I took a loan of 5,000 Taka and gave the money to my husband to use it to start a fruit business,” says Saidunnahar.

Saidunnahar’s husband Shahidul Islam (37) used to work as a labourer when they got married twenty years ago. Now Shahidul owns a fashionable clothing shop and a fruit business. “After taking several consecutive loans and timely paying them back, I took my last loan of 30,000 Taka last year. We used the money for buying clothes items for my husband’s shop. We have already paid back the loan,” Saidunnahar says with satisfaction.

In 2007, ten women’s development groups were registered as a forum – a government recognised body formed with the community people for savings, credit facilities, income generation and other development activities. Saidunnahar is one of the 327 women in this forum whose members have an accumulated savings of 2.7 million Taka (USD 39,130).

In contrast to the way things used to be, women today are contributing economically to their families and also say that now they and their husbands together take their family decisions.

“The things that I learn from various meetings and gatherings, I share them with my family,” says Saidunnahar. “I express my opinion at home, take part in decision making, and only after both husband and wife agree on a certain issue we decide to do it.”

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