Building A Forum For Women In Bangladesh

First appeared on Ctrl.Alt.Shift on 31 January 2011

Discover how women in Bangladesh are learning more about their rights, their purpose and potential power in the home, government and society as a whole. Amy Hall reports…

Traditionally, women in Bangladesh are not encouraged to take part in public life and have less access to education; but increasingly Women’s Forums and savings schemes mean that groups of women have strong voices within their communities.

Christian Aid’s Gen Lomax recently visited Bangladesh and met women involved in groups that work with Christian Aid’s partner organisation CCDB. Perceptions of women’s equality have begun to change since these groups were set up and some Women’s Forums have received training in influencing politics. They have learnt about their rights, and are becoming increasingly demanding towards the local government ensuring that it is more accountable.

The women Gen spoke to found these groups valuable in increasing the voice of women within their community but also in gaining independence as individuals. Mononoma Kunda, 49, is a member of Bashundhara Forum and has been since 1985.

She has received training on rights and advocacy which she put to good use when a powerful neighbour occupied some of her land: “When I joined the forum, I raised my voice and we discussed this problem. We then took this to the local government and they measured the land, and now the man has left!”

Mononoma has not always had this independence though, “My husband did not want me to go to the forum because he wanted me to make meals and stay at home. Sometimes he was very angry. Now he always encourages me. He sees that now I am independent, I earn money and his opinion has changed…We have built faith, love, trust, and now we respect each other. Now I make joint decisions in my family. The forum is our pride.”

Another proud husband is Shakti Kirtoniya. His wife Monika Kirtoniya has received agricultural training via the Sonali Swapna Forum (Golden Dream Forum). “I feel happy that my wife is part of this forum.
Before she just worked at home. But now she has a business and works outside. She earns money which we can spend on our children, on our lives. Now she knows so many things, she has received so much training and is a skilled woman with experience.”

At 16 Nipa Mojumder is already part of the Sonali Swapna Forum. Nipa is not part of the forum, her mother is. Her parents are supportive of her activities and she says that their generation is beginning to change its perceptions. “It is not possible to develop our country if men and women don’t work together… My parent’s generation is very conservative, but now this is changing. They want women to work outside. Previously there were superstitions about everything, now this is changing.”

By organising together women all over the world are raising their voices and becoming active in public life. This empowerment has a positive affect on their families and people around them and seems to be the only way towards sustainable development.

Pakistan Floods: 6 Months On

First appeared on Ctrl.Alt.Shift on 27 January 2011

Amy Hall reports back on what is happening in Pakistan since the massive floods that hit the country six months ago and on what Christian Aid has been doing to help the people affected…

Six months ago Pakistan was hit with flooding which killed 2000 people and left a fifth of the country underwater.

Since then people have been trying to rebuild their communities in a recovery which has been predicted to takeyears. With food prices rising and mass unemployment, life has been hard for the 20 million people affected by the flooding.

Much of the world was slow to pick up on how much devastation the country was facing and some decided to focus on the negativity surrounding how the President was dealing with the situation. Instability caused by the flooding has also led to concerns about the already insecure situation in Pakistan. Despite the slow start however, Christian Aid’s Neill Garvie told us that NGO work in Pakistan has been well coordinated with effective communication mechanisms in place.

Christian Aid has been working with its partners in Pakistan as part of ACT Alliance, a group of 105 organisations working in humanitarian assistance and development worldwide. Christian Aid has raised £4.8million to help the victims of the flooding, and assifrom those funds has reached 15, 460 households so far.

Emily Reilly from Christian Aid visited Pakistan in the months following the floods. She spoke to women affected by the disaster who told her one of most useful things they had received were female specific hygiene kits and mobile medical units with female and male doctors. In the aftermath of the flooding, diseases associated with lack of hygiene became more prevalent as conditions were cramped and many people were living in makeshift shelters by the roadside. Women were suffering from hygine related diseases at a higher rate than men as, because of the conservative culture and lack of facilities, women could not find private spaces in which to wash and keep clean.
In the future, Christian Aid’s partners will keep up their efforts to provide food, shelter, water, sanitation and healthcare to people in the region, whilst also working on disaster risk reduction and helping people to have more secure livelihoods. If this strategy is continued, if Pakistan should face a similar disaster in the future, the devastation will be more manageable.

Christian Aid have also joined in partnership with Muslim Hands, an organisation working to help rebuild a village made up of Hindus, Christians and Muslims, a circumstance unusual in Pakistan. The country is 95% Muslim, and most of the other 5% are Hindus and Christians.

“We’re really excited about this partnership,” Neill Garvie told us. “The aim of this project is about making sure people have somewhere to live, but if another outcome is that people share and participate with each other more across faiths then that’s great.”

“I think situations like this demonstrate that although you can have conflicts between religions, at the end of the day these kinds of disasters affect everyone equally. Whatever background you come from it doesn’t matter and it can bring people together.”

It is hoped that development and disaster reduction projects like this will not only help Pakistan recover from the devastation the flooding has caused, but also help to foster unity amongst its people and lay the foundations for a more stable future.

Bangladesh, And The Aftermath Of Cyclone Aila

First appeared on Ctrl.Alt.Shift on 26 January 2011

Amy Hall finds out from Christian Aid’s Gen Lomax how the nation is getting on after the devastation of Cyclone Aila in May 2009, as well as what help has been provided by our partner organisation, Shushilan…
When Cyclone Aila hit coastal areas of Bangladesh in May 2009 it caused massive devastation. Nearly 300 people were killed and thousands of others displaced in one of Bangladesh’s worst cyclones in recent years.

It is now nearly two years on and the affects are still being felt, including in one of the worst hit areas, the Satkhira district. Many people have had livelihoods disrupted or destroyed but some positive links have been formed as families try and pick up the pieces.

Gen Lomax is a Communications and Development Officer for Christian Aid and has recently visited Bangladesh talking to people in the Satkhira district, one of the areas worst affected by the cyclone. During her trip she learnt about the work of Christian Aid partner organisation Shushilan.

The cyclone, combined with issues like lack of infrastructure and increasing climate change, has had a profound affect on communities. In Bangladesh about 830, 000 hectares of cultivable land has been damaged by saline (salt) water intrusion. This is a problem which has been worsened by the cyclone and is linked to climate change.
However, crabs can survive in this kind of environment so Shushilan has been training people in crab rearing as a more sustainable way of supporting themselves and their families.

Asha (a name meaning hope) is 28. She and her husband, Shonteshi (35), work side by side fattening crabs. As well as helping them provide for their family Asha said that this work has also brought them closer together:
“Before Aila my husband was involved in crab fattening, but now I am involved more too. I feed the crabs, catch them and then sell them in the market.”

Mofazzal Kagzi is 69, in Bangladesh the life expectancy for a man is 67 I am using the figure 66 based on (UNSD, 2008). He is a fisherman but when Cyclone Aila hit his village his pond was destroyed and all his fish escaped. He has been supported in rebuilding his pond replenishing his stocks with fish better adapted to the highly salinated water.

Mofazzal is forward thinking. When asked about the changes he has seen in his lifetime he said, “The positive changes I have seen are in relation to women. Before women never used to go out. Now they go out, they ride bicycles, and they are able to work outside of the home.”

On the more negative side, Mofazzal has also noticed changes to the climate: “Before we used to have six seasons”, he explains. “Everything was going well. But now there are changes. Too much rain, then drought, then heat.”

Climate change continues to be one of the greatest threats the world faces and is particularly putting poor communities in countries like Bangladesh at risk. Scientists have linked more intense cyclones in the Bay of Bengal with warmer seas linked to global temperature rises. Many people, like those Gen met in Bangladesh, depend on the environment to support themselves and it is these people on the front line that are already hit worst.