Visit to some gonogobeshona groups in the Hunger Project in Rangpur and Gaibandha-by Md. Anisur Rahman (26-28 May 2007)

June 30, 2018

Gonogobeshona in the Hunger project started in this area following participation in 2005 of 45 of its “Ujjibaks”1 in a three-day PAR workshop at Nilfamari given by Development Research Centre ) DRC. headed by Dr. Lenin Azad. More than 25 gonogobeshona groups have reportedly been formed in Rangpur following this workshop. The groups have been formed by voluntary ‘animators’ mobilized by the ‘ujjibaks’ who attended the PAR workshop. They do not keep contact with the DRC animators who are paid workers of the Centre purportedly working to promote DRC’s specific ‘ideology’.

Of these gonogobeshona (henceforth gg) groups, most are female groups with four male groups only. The reason of greater female interest in gonogobeshona is perhaps the greater sense of oppression for dual economic and cultural reasons, and less time spent in work by the women outside the household which facilitates their getting together.

The Chairman of the Kolkond Union Parishad, an Awami Leaguer, one of the more enlightened ones I have met, has himself taken the “ujjibak” training and is actively supporting the gonogobeshona groups in his Union, visiting them, encouraging them, advising them (sometimes over-advising, I was told, not unexpectedly as he is not indoctrinated in the philosophy of PAR!).

gg group in a ‘char’ area

The first gg group I visited was in a ‘char’, an island in Kolkond union where the inhabitants are constantly chased by the river eroding its bank breaking into their inhabitation and dislocating them, besides posing a great risk to their children disappearing suddenly if unattended. Most inhabitants are acutely income-poor; but still the basic ‘poverty’ of an unsettled and precarious life chased by the river affects all irrespective of income, and forges a solidarity to face this struggle together. A male leader of moderate means from the community became an ujjibak and attended the PAR workshop, after which he has initiated formation of an all-female gg group about one year old with 33/34 members. The group has started a saving fund

to help its members at times of dire distress, putting in taka 10/- per week each. Discussion on what can be done with the group fund, who amongst them need help from the fund most, the terms at which help is to be given, seemed to be the principal subject of discussion in the weekly group meetings. The sense of ‘gonogobeshona’ as a collective exploration of problems of all kinds affecting their lives has not yet taken root, and the male ‘animator’/ujjibak did much of the talking with us despite my repeated effort to stop him and let others speak. When stimulated some women showed potentials for leadership, and inspiring fighting spirit to face their hazardous life. They have accepted their life itself as one of constant hazard, fighting which, shifting their abodes from one place to another as the river breaks into their habitation and dislocates them, being the very meaning of life for them. No development theory is relevant for them, except perhaps improving their access to medical facilities in need, and any assistance that can be given toward their children’s education, besides giving them courage to keep fighting with the river, and the group formation is helping in this fight. The Hunger Project will do well to try calm the enthusiasm of the male animator/uzzibak to do most of the talking (and thinking) himself and stimulate democratization of the discussions and growth of leadership from among the women members of the group as well as wider participation in the group’s deliberations.

20 women from 4 gg groups

Back from the island we sat with 20 women who came from four gg groups in uttar kolkonda. Mostly low-income, with a few belonging to lower-middle class one of whom served us lunch in her house of moderate amenities.

Relatively recent gg groups, formed about two months back after they attended an “initiative fair” of a large number of gg groups end of last February. After formation of one group others followed and formed theirs. The respective groups have formed their organizations with a President, Secretary and Cashier in each. First activity the starting of group saving funds. They are in a planning phase, doing ‘gobeshona’ on what they will do with their savings and what other activities to initiate. Ideas include bulk purchase of rice when price is low, to sell when price goes up; the proceeds will help bring up their children; lend money from saving to members in need, with thinking of 50 % interest for business loans and no interest for distress loans; acquire sanitary latrines; have better medical care. Vocal about stopping child marriage and dowry. Will put collective pressure on local hospital for proper supply of medicines.

Following suggestion of the Union Council Chairman one group is starting a cooperative consumer store. The Chairman saw this model in Kerala in a visit there a couple of years back. All members of the group will buy from this store. One member of the group will manage the store and will keep

one-third of the profit. The rest of the profit will go to the group fund. An innovative idea that will both raise the group income as well as reduce the members’ expenses for essential consumables – poverty can be reduced both by increasing incomes and reducing expenses, a strategy generally missed in poverty alleviation discussions. The cooperative store was to start the following day. Its experience should be followed with great interest, and if successful the example will deserve to be spread to other low-income groups across the country.

Only a few of those present talked and others appeared shy, suggesting domination of a few in group discussions and decision making. Natural to start with, but wider participation should be actively encouraged with concern for development of personality and articulation of all. The office bearers have been elected for five years, and when questioned the idea of permanency of leadership was not seen to be considered undesirable. Again, understandable as an initial awareness when they have come together for the first time under positive leadership chosen by themselves. But the development of awareness toward broadening leadership skills and of wider sharing of responsibilities is important. I left this question with them, suggesting also that they could think of strategies toward development of leadership potentials of others like “today so and so, though not an office bearer of the organisation, will conduct our gg sesssion”.

The Union Council Chairman joined us in the discussion, and I was impressed by his very positive and supportive attitude toward gonogobeshona and group formation of the disadvantaged people.

An older group in south Kolkond

A women’s gg group of 40 members, 2 ½ years old. Organized. Saving at the rate of 5 Taka per member per week. Lending to members for small business like paddy husking, ‘pitha’ (rice cake). Weekly repayment (“kisti”) like the NGOs, but if some one gets into difficulty then the group discusses with her and relaxes repayment schedule – e.g. a loanee’s son got sick six months after taking loan, and the group allowed her to defer payment of kisti

for six months – kind of humane handling of repayments unheard of in the NGO-Grameen-micro-lending system.

The leader (President) of this group, interestingly, a member of the Union Council, a middle class woman.

The group has been very active resisting oppression on women. A husband used to beat his wife and took a second wife. This further increased beating of the first wife keeping her ill-fed as well. The group intervened and forced the husband to keep the two wives separate from each other ensuring care for the first wife. They have stopped three child marriages and one second marriage of a husband, and such instances are now stopping by themselves out of fear of resistance from the group. They are mobilizing against divorce and “hillah” (the fundamentalist practice of forcing a verbally divorced wife to take another “husband” for a night before the original husband takes her back). Internal harmony in the families is increasing with greater civil dialogues and less quarrels, abuse-hurling and beating. Wife-abuses are reported to the group which sends emissaries to the offending husband who admits mistake.

A new dimension of group activity – groups arrange for care of expectant mothers that husbands do not take care of such as arranging for blood group recording and taking body weight and blood pressure.

I raised the question in this group also of the need to develop alternative leadership, to which the leader of the group responded positively. A number of the group members other than the leader herself were quite vocal –the group is of course relatively older.

Another group in north kolkond

Fourteen months old group. 60 members with 59 women and one male. The male member, who initiated the group formation, is the President. Sub- groups in four paras (hamlets). 5 taka a week saving. Loans are given to members from group fund with the consent of the sub-group of the concerned para which supervises the loan and advises handling of repayment if the borrower gets into difficulty – as against the practice, as they said, of Grameen, BRAC and other NGOs to “come and shout in case of failure to pay kisti in time”.

They resist child marriage and dowry. A latest incident was a husband who married 10 years back without dowry and was now demanding dowry – the group went to the husband and pressured him to drop his demand. Now child marriage and dowry have virtually ceased as a result of the group’s vigilance. And status of the women in the family has risen.

I raised the question why the single male member was the President. It appeared that the decision had been taken impulsively as the male member had initiated the group formation, and no one raised the question of some woman member taking over from him. Some said that they had decided to change the President – this did not appear to be very convincing. I suggested that they should discuss this seriously in their group meeting in the presence of the male President without dishonouring him, and he should also agree to step down if he is committed to women’s empowerment.

a gg group in bharatkhali union, Gaibangha

Formed by a woman leader W from the very disadvantaged class who attended a PAR workshop in Nilfamari taken there by a local NGO three years back. Upon returning she shared her experience with other women of disadvantaged classes which resulted in the formation of a gg group of 25 women. W is exceptionally smart and courageous and smartly shook hands with me, the first such greeting from a woman gonogobeshok I got in this visit.

The group has the usual organizational structure and saving programme with 5 taka per week contribution per member. It meets once every week. W explained the objective of the group as empowerment of the members, wiping out all weaknesses and gaining maximum strength. They insure that government distribution of relief blankets is fair; there is no child marriage in the union; school teachers take their teaching duties seriously; elimination of dowry and physical oppression on women; practice of family planning among the women. They say they have become a “mukti fouj” (freedom squad). They have organized a “mothers’ assembly” against child marriage.

W keeps a mobile phone and phones the Union Council Chairman and the Police Station to stop cases of child marriage and other oppressions if local action by the group cannot tackle them. The chairman and police respect her for her outspokenness and courage and her appeal to law, and intervene when she phones them. One noteworthy achievement beside other more

usual types: 20-25 youth boys of the area kidnapped and brought a girl from Dhaka and were about to assault her when W mobilized women and rescued the girl under intimation to the police and Chairman, and the girl was given in marriage to a local boy to save her honour. W said she was scared if she could hold out.

W talked of the need for women to come out of their homes to overcome their shyness. She was outspoken against the hadith (life and teachings of Prophet Muhammad), saying that adherence to hadith will mean continuation of oppression on women – instead it is necessary to follow the Law, adding that following the hadith the moulanas are going for multiple wives and oppressing them.

The group has motivated and assisted women in 8/10 nearby villages to form their own gg groups and have given them, in their words, “training” to form and run gg groups.

W sometimes talked vigorously herself, sometimes she was absolutely quiet letting others talk. A number of others were quite vocal. The group of course is one of the oldest among gg groups, but obviously W has also helped other members to overcome their ‘shyness’ and encouraged development of their articulation and assertion.

Seeing the group more advanced than the others I visited, I invited it to take their “gobeshona” one step forward by way of initiating organized research (inquiry) on specific issues like collecting case histories on various instances of oppression on women, to develop their own organized knowledge as well for presenting such information to the wider society and authorities. The discussion converged to the suggestion that a high school going girl from among the group may undertake a systematic study of cases of oppression on women in the locality by means of a house-to-house survey. The girl I suggested agreed to do so over the coming months. Her study may thereafter be discussed in the group before finalizing. We should eagerly await the study, and hope that the Hunger Project will give necessary encouragement and facilities for the study by way of providing the girl with a pencil and notebook and visiting her from time to time to give her encouragement to complete the task and thus make a contribution to taking gg to a higher level in the country.

Meeting leaders of a number of gg groups

My last session was with leaders of about ten gg groups who assembled to meet me. W was also there, quiet unless specifically addressed to. A number of them also belonged to groups under a local NGO, “X”, which was talked of as being sympathetic to gg and against micro-credit type of lending.

When reporting to me of their activities I found them rather mixed up as between activities under the NGO with which they were associated from before they formed gg groups, and of their activities as gg groups. They also seemed more eager than the other gg groups I had met, to have “advice” from me, and this looked like an influence of “NGO culture”. I refused to give any advice, and challenged them to seek answers to their questions themselves. They also talked in languages like “we are the leaves and Hunger [Project] is the tree, our strength” (NGO-influenced thinking again!). To this I disagreed sharply and asked them to think of themselves as the main strength.

The discussion veered to the coming election of the Union Council and I asked if they were thinking of electing someone from among them to the Council, even to become the Chairman. Sadly, they replied in the negative, saying that they would stay out of the Union Council and would make demands to it, and that if they went in they could get corrupt! I disagreed sharply again – if they were not willing to take responsibility themselves they would continue to be exploited. There was uneasiness among them to what I was saying. I turned at W who had been quiet all along with her head bowed down. She shook her head firmly and said that they must capture the Union Council and they should work toward it. The others then slowly started repeating her, but obviously they lacked independent and clear thinking on this question.

overall reflections

The sample of gg groups under the Hunger Project that I visited is on the whole rather encouraging. A special feature of these groups is that they are not being ‘animated’ by any paid cadre whether from outside or from amongst them, so that the question of their sustaining depends on their internal dynamics and strength only. Apparently, their successes in stopping oppression on women plus the saving funds under their own control being used as a social security are strengthening their solidarity and contributing to sustaining their organisations and gonogobeshona discourses. However, the Hunger Project is in a position to influence their course and development as

these groups are growing under the ‘umbrella’ of this project. Assuming a commitment to empowerment of the disadvantaged the Hunger Project staff and ujjibaks who are being created in its programme may seek to collect their thoughts toward helping to advance the empowerment content of the gg groups and the overall gg movement it is promoting without imposing itself in any way upon the autonomy of the groups and the movement. This can be done by way of suggesting elements of advanced culture of gonogobeshona. Some such elements have been touched upon in presenting my experiences with groups that I visited , viz., widening the participatory culture in the groups and improving the articulation of individual group members, seeking to develop alternative leaderships so as to reduce dependence on a single set of leadership as well as broadening the leadership spectrum of the groups; seeking to foster a cautious attitude toward relation with NGOs rather than conceptually mixing up grouping under an NGO and self-grouping for gonogobeshona and self-empowerment; and guiding the groups toward higher forms of gonogobeshona by way of more systematic collective social inquiry rather than the present dialogical form of collective discussion only (examples of such higher forms of systematic collective inquiry by the disadvantaged abound in the PAR literature with which the concerned staff of Hunger project may wish to get familiar and which they may wish to bring to the attention of ujjibaks overseeing the gg groups as well). Attempt needs to be made also to generate greater clarity among the gg groups about the broader perspective of their movement in terms of the power balance in the society -i.e. the question of pressure group activities versus aiming to share or take over power at higher levels of social/national administration.

On such questions I have discerned a view among some animator quarters that it is not the function of external animators to raise such questions – they should only seek to stimulate the gg groups to get together and deliberate anything they want by themselves. This is an unfortunate position that denies the gg groups the benefit of interacting with knowledge, thinking and experience of others. The disadvantaged people have the right to access knowledge, thinking and experience of any quarter anywhere in the world to consider for their own development without being dominated by them. In this respect what is needed is not withholding such knowledge, thinking and experience from them but to be sensitive as to when these may be introduced to them for their consideration and in what manner, so as not to alienate or overpower them with apparent ‘superior’ wisdom but to help them develop their own position on concerned issues in full consideration of external

knowledge on the issues. On this task the words of Kahlil gibran on the ‘teacher’ (our word: the ‘animator’) cannot be surpassed:

“No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of your knowledge.

If he [the teacher/animator] is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind.” (The Prophet, on Teaching).

To develop the proper sensitivity on this question so as to judge the ‘threshold’ of the people’s mind for acquainting them with relevant outside wisdom and experience is the most important challenge for the (external) animator, on which his/her success in promoting true empowerment of the disadvantaged, developing their indigenous knowledge as well as absorbing and recreating knowledge generated elsewhere, depends.

In their bid to self-empowerment, struggle against oppression and assertion of their rights including right to rule over their own destiny, promotion of literacy is a very important need for enhancing their capability in many directions. For most disadvantaged people lack of literacy will remain a major handicap both for performing tasks they may be capable, if literate, of performing at their own levels as well as at higher levels that they may aim to capture, and also to communicate with and participate in a modern world of letters instead of ‘thumb-signing’ away their power and possessions. The gg movement will remain essentially handicapped unless the average ‘capability’ of the gonogobeshoks is raised by adult literacy measures. This I suggest should be seriously taken up by any ‘parent’ organisation which is seeking to promote gg of disadvantaged people.

The Peace Ambassador #1

May 26, 2018

May 2018 Newsletter of our peace-building work in Bangladesh

Peace Pressure Groups (PPGs) owe their origin to the People Against Violence in Elections (PAVE) project, which has been implemented by The Hunger Project since 2015. There are now 1,221 members in 58 PPGs in 58 upazilas. The PPG Program is supported by the Strengthening Political Landscape (SPL) project of Democracy International (DI)/U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the SPADE II project of International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES)/Department for International Development (DFID).

Included here are demonstrations of Peace Pressure Groups and Peace Ambassadors in action in their communities. They are using their new skills to resolve conflicts, gathering leaders across the political and cultural spectrum, and holding public events where leaders and communities are publicly demonstrating their commitment to social cohesion and peace — setting the foundation for a pluralistic, tolerant and inclusive Bangladesh.

Installation of ‘Code of Conduct’ Display Board Charghat, Rajshahi; 10 March 2017

The Charghat PPG has installed a billboard displaying the Code of Conduct (CoC) that was signed by the AL, BNP and JP political party leaders on June 30, 2016. ‘Dignity, Security and Diversity’ were the core values of the CoC, which form the basic requirements to establish a pluralistic, tolerant and inclusive society. The Code of Conduct includes commitments to:

  • Avoid violence and uphold democratic values and civic rights;
  • Be respectful of individual dignity and right of self-expression;
  • Recognize the existence of and be respectful of diversity and promote pluralism;
  • Resist ethnic or religious extremism and intolerance and Resolve conflicts through peaceful dialogue.
  • Resolve conflicts through peaceful dialogue.

Charghat PPG was the pioneer among the PPGs in convincing the political parties to come to an agreement for peace, harmony, and non-violence in their locality. The signing of the CoC on June 31, 2016 was lauded by the public authorities and by wider society as an unprecedented and unique milestone, given the prevailing confrontational politics and current toxic political environment.

With the national election approaching at the end of this year and recalling the trauma of 2014 atrocities, the Charghat PPG decided to remind all the leaders about their commitment to peace and non-violence. On 10 March 2018, the PPG held a rally that went from Charghat Bus Stand to Shaheed Minar, and which ended with formally installing the billboard in the presence of a mass gathering. A summary of the ‘Code of Conduct’now displays the commitment of local leaders on a billboard in front of the local Press Club. They plan to install similar billboards in public places in every Union of the Upazila and arrange social gatherings during the installation.

This pioneering initiative inspired political and civil society activists and generated collective hope of a peaceful future for Charghat. The PPG members thought that the billboard would not only provide a useful reminder to the politicians, but would also inspire and generate public opinion in favor of peace. Md. Saiful Islam Badsha, Peace Ambassador and Awami League leader said, “The display board of the Code of Conduct will be treated as a groundbreaking initiative for the peace movement in Charghat, Rajshahi. We believe that it will also be replicated in other parts of Bangladesh.”

Political Leaders signed Code of Conduct (CoC) at Puthia, Rajshahi 21 April 2018

The PPG in Puthia Upazila brought together all political party leaders to hold a dialogue on peace and social harmony during the upcoming elections. Leaders from Awami League, BNP and Jatiyo Party along with local civil society leaders attended the dialogue.

The participants agreed to work together to prevent electoral and political violence. Former MP and Member of BNP Central Committee Mr. Md. Abdus Sattar Mandal said, “The peace movement is badly needed to overcome challenges of the contemporary political situation.”

After the discussion, a CoC was signed jointly by the Vice President of Puthia Upazila Awami League Mr. Kazi Sharif, Former MP and Member of BNP Central Committee Md. Abdus Sattar Mandal, and former MP and President of Jatiya Party Rajshahi District Committee Md. Abul Hossain.

PPG members bring all political leaders together to celebrate Bangla New Year at Naogaon 14 April 2018

While the country’s political leaders are divided with their political agendas and priorities, the Peace Pressure Groups (PPGs) at Naogaon have set an outstanding example by bringing all political leaders together to celebrate the Bangla New Year 1425. PPGs at Dhamuhat, Patnitala, Mahadevpur and Sapahar Upazila gathered 236 political leaders from all major political parties as well as civil society leaders. Some featured quotes are below:

Attending the event, Mr. Shahidul Islam, Secretary of the Dhamoirhat Upazila Awami League said, “We all have to act responsibly as we are the owners of Bangladesh. We should uphold the spirit of the War of Liberation.”

Mr. Mahfujur Rahman Jewel, Vice Chairperson of the Mahadevpur Upazila BNP said, “Today let’s make a unanimous decision that we will work together to maintain peace and harmony in our community.”

Mr. Bulbul Chowdhury, President of the Patnitala Press Club said, “Historically we have records of peaceful coexistence in Patnitala. However, in recent time we had some problems. Now is the right time to move forward forgetting our political vengeance.”

Mr. Kallyan Kumar of UNO, Sapahar said, “I thought that I was the only changemaker here. But, today I could see many changemakers working in Sapahar for the community. I am proud of all you.”

Youth Dialogue on Peace and Harmony Gurudaspur, Natore 19 April 2018

Youth Dialogue on Peace and Harmony Gurudaspur, Natore 19 April 2018
The dialogue’s objective was to educate and engage local youths for
peace-building and social harmony in their communities. A total of 50
students — 22 of them girls — from four local colleges attended the
event. A student, Ms. Sadia Afroz Mim, said about the event, “All
religions talk about peace and Peace Ambassadors Mr. Habibur
Rahman Jalal, Ms. Rokasana Parveen and Mr. Shahjahan Ali
together with Peace Coordinator Mr. Ekramul Hoque and the entire PPG
at Gurudaspur Upazila organized a daylong event titled “Youth
Dialogue on Peace and Social Harmony.”

harmony. Today, I came to realize
that we are moving towards an
unstable future. I will work with
my family and friends for
peacebuilding.”

Roundtable on “Citizen Responsibilities to Maintain Social Harmony” at Karimganj, Kishoreganj 10 April 2018

Peace Ambassadors Mr. Motiur Rahaman Bhuiyan and Mr. Sadek
Ahmed Swapan organized a roundtable on “Citizen Responsibilities to Maintain Social Harmony.” The participants were
political leaders, civil society members, teachers and students
from the local community. After event, the participants suggested
holding more such workshops and courtyard meetings at the community
level.

Mr. Azizur Rahman Dulai from BNP said, “We need to organize parent
meetings at schools and colleges to educate parents about early signs of radicalization.” Ms. Sharmin Sultana, UNO said, “Such harmony workshops should be organized at ward shavas in every Union Parishad.”

Roundtable on Free and Fair Elections at Khansama, Dinajpur 12 April 2018

Peace Ambassador Mr. Nurul Haque organized a roundtable on “Free
and Fair Elections.” A total of 53 participants, including
representatives from various political parties, government officers, civil
society members and teachers participated in this event. A keynote
paper on the subject was presented at the roundtable. In the end, all
political leaders took a pledge to work together for free, fair and
violence-free elections in the coming days. Some featured quotes are
below:

Mr. Shafiul Azam Chowdhury, Secretary, Khanshama Upazila Awami League said, “Violence was present in previous elections in Khansama. But today I promise that we will work together to
ensure that there will be no
violence in future elections.” Mr.
Sayed Ahmed Selim, Secretary,
Khanshama Upazila BNP said, “We
will hold a violence-free election
campaign during upcoming
elections.” Mr. Ahmed Mahbub Ul
Islam, Upazila Nirbahi Officer said,
”Candidates will have to put
posters at the designated places
during the election. Candidates
will also have to attend face-toface meetings to ensure free and
fair election.”

PAVE harmony workshop with community members Gopalpur, Tangail on 8 April 2018

Peace Ambassadors Ms. Anju
Anowara and Mr. Khariul Islam
conducted a PAVE harmony
workshop with 65 community
members, of which nine were firsttime voters. The workshop was
organized to maintain social
harmony and cohesion as part of
peacebuilding efforts at the
grassroots level.

Roundtable Discussion on “Fair and Violence-Free
Elections; Citizen Views” at Mymensingh Sadar
20 April 2018

Peace Ambassador Advocates
Shibbir Ahmed Liton and Mr.
Morshedul Alam Jahangir organized
a roundtable on “Fair and ViolenceFree Elections: Citizens’ Views”, in
Mymensingh Sadar Upazila.

The meeting included discussions
about the roles and responsibilities
of political parties and civil society
members for peaceful parliamentary
elections. A total of 68 participants
attended the meeting. Mr. Aminul
Islam from JSD said, “Election
commission officials should stop
taking bribes.”

Peace Ambassador and Union Parishad
Chairman Mr. Noor Sharifuddin Jewel mitigates
communal violence at Tarail, Kishorganj
April 2018

A group of youths from Bhaoal and
Kouli villages of Rauti Union of Tarail
Upazila engaged in a violent
confrontation over an issue of
controlling over a local cultural event.
Gradually, other villagers from these
two villages became engaged in the
confrontation. Police came to control
the situation. Unfortunately, 17
villagers were injured in the violent
confrontation, as were two
policemen. The situation became
worse when villagers planned to

The committee later heard the
arguments from both parties. Other
important community influencers
gave their opinions to establish continue the rivalry.

Peace Ambassador and Rauti Union
Chairman Noor Sharifuddin Jewel
intervened and resolved the conflict.
After first talking with the PPG
members of Tarail Upazila, he
contacted and spoke with local
political leaders. Everyone
responded positively. Mr. Jewel then
called a meeting between two
villagers, along with the Upazila
Chairman, several former Union
Parishad Chairmen and other
community leaders. The meeting
proposed a nine-member committee
to resolve the case.

peace and harmony.
Both the villagers signed a social
code of conduct, where they agreed
to:

  1. Nobody would make a physical
    attack in the future;
  2. Both sides will apologize
    publicly for attacking each
    other;
  3. There will be a five-member
    committee in each village, who
    will be active in the future to
    avoid conflict.

Peace Ambassador Md. Lokman Hossain mitigates
workers’ union clashes at Khalispur, Khulna
February 2018

Peace Ambassador Mr. Md. Lokman
Hossain is a member of a PPG and
a local businessman. Recently, he
mitigated a conflict between workers
and the owners of a local jute mill. In
February 2018, jute mills workers
organized a procession demanding
the formation of a wage commission

But the jute mills owners did not
agree. Unfortunately, Bangladesh
Jute Mills Corporation (BJMC)
officials and the administration took
the side of the owners. A conflict
developed. Considering the situation,
PPG member Mr. Lokman Hossain
intervened. He talked with the labor
union leaders and negotiated with
jute mills owners. Finally, they all
agreed to a settlement. Later, both
parties signed an agreement in
presence of the local administration
to avoid such conflicts in future.

More than 100 community philanthropists meet and share their groundbreaking stories

March 29, 2018

Abu Bakar Siddique Rubel
Mr. Motiur Rahman is a leading community philanthropist. He came from Kishoreganj to attend the Annual Conference on March 28, 2018 and shared his story with 130 philanthropists from across the country:

After receiving the leadership training on community philanthropy, I went back to my community. I learned that 100 acres of land of 115 marginalized farmers was useless. The land was underwater for months. A neighbor, Mr. Kebadur Rahman, created the problem because he raises the surface level by filling-up his  land with mud. With my fellow animators of the community, we decided to intervene. We sat with both parties and listened to them. Finally, we went to Mr. Kebadur and showed him how the community would benefit if we can convert these 100 acres of land into production. Mr. Kebadur agreed to release some part of his land to dig a canal for water release. Other villagers volunteered to dig the canal. This year (2017) we were able to produce 250 tones of rice from that land. We all have invested our money, labor and time to solve this long standing community problem.

Motiur’s story was echoed in other philanthropists’ voices. Mr. Santosh Datta from Tangail shared the story of getting electricity services to 9 disadvantages families. Ms Anju Anwara Moina from Tangail shared the story of livelihood support to poor women by giving them goats as his donation. Ms. Papia Rani Barman from Kishoreganj shared how she successfully negotiated with the government to include 15 vulnerable poor people into different social government safety-net schemes. Mr. Mozammel Haque of Meherpur shared how he raised one million taka through community philanthropy initiatives for the well-being of his fellow community members. 

These groundbreaking stories were the highlight of the conference at Gonosashthaya Kendra – our Dhaka storytellers reunion. One hundred and thirty community philanthropists from seven districts attended the conference. The Hunger Project’s country director Dr. Badiul Alam Majumdar, the Aga Khan Foundation’s representative Ms. Tania Sharmin and other dignitaries attended the  conference to join these storytellers.

One hundred and fifty community philanthropists have mobilized a total of BDT 3,797,695 from their communities to support the wellbeing of the most deprived in the community. In 2017, they have supported 16,764 people. In addition, these philanthropy leaders connected 347 deprived people with government safety-net schemes. The conference concluded with high expectations to achieve more in the coming days.

Reconciliation and a New Beginning in Nasirnagar

March 27, 2018

October 30 2016, a Facebook post falsely accused a member of the Hindu community of defaming Islam in Nasirnagar upazila at Brahmanbaria. Vandalism and a series of attacks were carried out by religious fanatics and other miscreants in 15 temples and 300 homes in Hindu communities. There was widespread looting of valuables and burning of fishing nets – the only means of livelihood in these communities. The country’s leading english newspaper, The Daily Star, reported the next day: Mayhem in B’baria

As soon as the story broke out about the violence, the members of our nearest Peace Pressure Group (PPG), which is located 40 K.M. away in Brahmanbaria, intervened. The PPG members visited the affected area to show solidarity with the victims and speak with the leaders of the Muslim community to restrain them. Our Peace Ambassador Nisat Sultana, the elected Upazila Vice-chairperson and member of the ruling played a critically important role in bringing the two communities together and trying about a political settlement. The atrocities created deep wounds, and a sense of insecurity and alienation among Hindu communities, most of whom belong to very marginalized fishing communities.

In September 2017, in order to heal the wound and restore trust between Hindu and Muslim communities, The Hunger Project Bangladesh, the country’s largest volunteer based organization with over quarter of a million volunteers, intervened to empower communities to uphold the values of pluralism, tolerance and inclusion for redressing identity-based prejudice, and promoting social harmony and religious freedom with the support from Canadian High Commission.

A series of Activities were implemented to build community resilience to extremism and religious bigotry and trained 150 community people as volunteer catalyst. These volunteers mobilized the entire community with “peace building messages” and sensitized against identity-based prejudice, hate-speech and hate-crime. These very efforts produced very positive results to heal the wounds and bring the two communities together.

nasirnagar_img-2
Madhuri Chakrabarti, Animator, Nasirnagar, Brahmanbaria

In February 17 2018, with high enthusiasm and festivity, people of Nasirnagar spent a whole day for Interfaith Festival, which they describe as an event for reconciliation and a new beginning. A Local Hindu Priest and a Muslim Imam, inaugurated the interfaith festival by exchanging their holiest scriptures – the holy Quran and the holy Vagabat Gita. Exchange of their holy scriptures symbolized their willingness to eliminate the ignorance and prejudice towards each other. A colorful, grand rally marched around the Harinber Bazar chanting “Hindus and Muslims are brothers, and will live happily ever-after”. The rally attracted the whole community. This is the same Nasirnagar where community trust was deeply shaken and shattered by a series of heinous attacks in 2016.

On March 5 2018, Babu Bijoy Das, General Secretary of Bangladesh Awami League and Hazi Titan Ali Fakir, President of Bangladesh Nationalist Party of Haripur Union signed a Code of Conduct for peace and harmony. The Code of Conduct upholds the values of Dignity, Security and Diversity — all of which form the essential prerequisites of a pluralistic, tolerant and inclusive society.

We believe the effort of Nasirnagar will have a ripple effect to restore social harmony throughout the country.

Strengthening Local Governance

January 16, 2018

The Constitution of Bangladesh assigns virtually all public services most important to overcoming hunger and poverty to the level of government closest to the people – the Union Parishad (UP). The Hunger Project has made strengthening the effectiveness and responsiveness of UPs a cornerstone of its SDG Union Strategy and its policy advocacy.

“Governance” is not just government. Good local governance requires the partnership of three key groups:

  • democratically elected UP representatives,
  • government functionaries responsible for providing public services, devolved from the line ministries such as health, education and agriculture.
  • active citizens, who directly participate in setting priorities, planning, implementing and monitoring public services.

Despite the call for strong decentralization in the Constitution, the UPs have been very weak, with only a tiny share of public resources and little local autonomy in decision making. The Hunger Project strongly advocated for policy changes to strengthen the UPs, and in 2007 our country director was appointed to a task force to rewrite the law. Several innovations that we had pioneered in Unions where we worked were incorporated in the law:

  • Ward Shava (assemblies) for participatory priority setting
  • Creation of UP Five-Year Plans based on ward priorities
  • Publication of Annual Reports on progress against plans
  • Open Budget Meetings
  • Right to Information
  • Citizen Charter (publication of service standards and contact information
  • Citizen membership on UP Standing Committees for each public service.

Governments rarely voluntary implement participatory and social accountability measures. We made demonstrating their success central to our then-MDG now SDG Union Strategy. We developed transformative workshops and other activities for all three groups (Representatives, Functionaries, Active Citizens) to break the old Top-Down mindset and deepen democratic values. These include:

  • A 5-day UP Workshop for both representatives and functionaries, building on our Animator training and adding statutory information.
  • A 1-day Citizenship Workshop
  • A 2-day training for Right to Information Defenders.
  • Mobilizing participation in Ward Shava, Open Budget Meetings and other public forums.
  • Mobilizing Mass Action Campaigns to achieve priorities that can be met through “people-power” self-reliant efforts, such as repairing roads, improving sanitation and refurbishing classrooms.

 

Manjuma’s Story

February 16, 2017

“Maybe I am alone for me; I created my world myself, but I am happy. I am not dependent on anybody. I can fulfill my needs myself,” Manjuma said happily.

Manjuma became a “sinner” when she lost her second husband, Shafiullah. Shafiullah worked in Saudi Arabia as a physical laborer when he suffered a fatal heart attack. After losing a husband for the second time, neighbors started to treat her as a living curse. She lives in Chiloin village of the Ajgora union in the Laksam Upzila of Comilla district.

(more…)

Empowering Youth Champions for Increasing Tolerance and Social Harmony

February 15, 2017

The Hunger Project-Bangladesh is implementing a project called “Empowering Youth Champions for Increasing Tolerance and Social Harmony” across nine Unions (Nirmoil, Dibar, Akbarpur, Matindor, Krisnopur, Patichara, Patnitola, Amair, and Shihara) of Patnitala Upazila in the Naogaon District of Rajshahi Division, funded by The Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI) of the High Commission of Canada in Dhaka, Bangladesh this January 2017.

The objective of the project is to empower a group of youth champions to promote social harmony and tolerance in target areas.
(more…)

Local Government and Political Reform

February 1, 2010

A book of published essays by Prof. Badiul Alam Majumdar – a soft copy may be downloaded from this link: 2010 Majumdar Local Government and Political Reform.

People’s Empowerment, Poverty Eradication and Good Governance: A Vision for Development Strategy for Bangladesh

August 2, 2004

People’s Empowerment, Poverty Eradication and Good Governance: A Vision for Development Strategy for Bangladesh1

Afreen Alam
Master degree Candidate, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University
August 2004

To critique any country’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP), one must first and foremost concede to and understand one fundamental point: it is a strategy paper that does not envision eradication of poverty but rather asks the respective countries to limit their vision to the reduction of it. In essence, embedded within the approach are the acceptance, promotion and aspiration to strive towards a poverty level that is tolerable and ensure the perpetuity of the international economic order that has managed to keep the developing countries in their woeful conditions to begin with. PRSPs are written not out of aspirations indigenous to the local people but out of obligations to the World Bank and the IMF. Hence, to promote this as a country-owned, people driven initiative is not only fallacious but also absurd. While many contend this to be a useless attempt to alter the results of a game that has been fixed, there could be some value in understanding a document that bears the immediate future of a nation. Thus, we propose an alternative to the current I-PRSP that is based on the principle that abject poverty is a violation of human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes: ‘The right of all people to participate in government (Article 21), the right to health and well being (Article 25) and the right to education (Article 26). Bangladesh, as a signatory to the Declaration is obligated to fulfill its commitment towards attaining these goals. The foundation of this proposal is based on three points: 1. the definition and measurements of poverty as used by the multilateral organizations are limited and inadequate for strategies that are more appropriate and visionary for poverty eradication in Bangladesh, 2. it is critical to look inward to unleash the potential for eradicating poverty by focusing on people’s empowerment for a people centered PRSP and. 3. Unless there is political will, this, along with other development planning will he a meaningless exercise in futility.

The 1-PRSP of Bangladesh has been widely criticized for omitting components vital for people’s empowerment, lacking ownership and finally, for failing to go beyond the traditional path of neo-liberal economic agenda that is known to be inadequate in addressing development issues. The document which is currently titled “National Strategy for Economic Growth, Poverty and Social Development”, includes medium term plans for the country and contains popular rhetoric from mainstream developmental discourse, such as “pro-poor economic growth, “human development of the poor”, “to strike realistic balance between the livelihood requirements of the people and sound environmental management”, etc. Ultimately, the critics agree that it does not create a vision for eradicating or even reducing poverty but succeeds only in fulfilling an administrative requirement by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to receive concessional loans. It is contained within the vernacular of the elite donors and succeeds in flaunting goals without realistic implementation strategies. Contrary to what has been publicized it fails to illustrate the extent of the lack of political will, corruption and governance failure. There is also a disconnect between the priorities discussed and the policies recommended in the document. While the priorities represent to some degree, the outcome from a hasty consultative process, the recommendations do not. This paper will explore some of these issues while proposing alternatives.

I-PRSP Fallacies: Issues of Participation, Definition and Measurement of Poverty, Inequality and Economic Growth

Participation:

The document opens with the proof of ownership and states, “Consultations with different stakeholders has been a key element for ensuring right priorities on competing claims .” It further claims that recommended policies and strategies incorporated suggestions and views expressed in dialogues with various civil society groups. A well-known NGO Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAG) was hired by the Government of Bangladesh to hold a total of 20 consultative workshops in a very short period of time for the

first stage of consultation. The consultation was organized in three levels: Upazila, Divisional and National. Below are some vital statistics of the this consultation:

Total # of participants’617
Rural Poor (excludes extreme poor)153
Urban poor29
Average male to female ratio among the poor40:60
Literacy rate among the poor64.3%

Each workshop was moderated by one of the members from the Core PRSP team who initiated and led discussions on the following themes:

  1. Areas of improvements in the last 5-7 years
  2. Areas of Deterioration in the last 5-7 years
  3. Identifying pressing problems in the specific areas
  4. Recommendations

The areas of achievement revealed in these discussions included education enrollment, access. to credit, increased wage employment opportunities and goods and service delivery through the NGOs. Most pressing of the issues were deteriorating law and order situation including rampant corruption and increasing incidents of violence and crime. Connection of the political powers with the criminals deterring law enforcement and justice significantly added to the vulnerability of the poor. People were also frustrated with the deprivations they suffered due to government’s failure in delivering services such as health facilities, ensuring quality of education, developing new and maintaining existing infrastructures such as roads, electricity and water supply and its inability to assist the poor during crises. Concerns abound regarding growing regional inequality, depleting employment opportunities, especially for the educated youth, urban migration and overall moral degradation of the society. Subsequently, the recommendations focused on effective law enforcement, functioning government institutions especially local governance instruments and essential facilities that are accessible by the poor.

The consultative process was very hasty as BRAC had to organize 20 workshops in 2 weeks. While 617 is not a representative sample in a country of 13 crore people, it was a commendable effort reflecting a set of valid recommendations. Further consultations took place at the ministerial level in the second round of the 1-PRSP consultation.

Unfortunately even though the law and order situation was the most pressing issue and the document recognizes it to be a growing concern, the recommendations to address it is formulaic and not nearly as forceful as the situation. There are no concrete plans laid out to combat proposed steps such as “Educational institutions will be Jived from violence and disorder” or “Actions will be taken to introduce the legal system through implementation of World Bank TA Project”.[4] Furthermore, measures such as ” steps to remove undue political and other interference in performance of duties that are complex and links most of functionaries of the administration and thus calls for a drastic overhaul of the entire bureaucracy are not elaborated further. In other words, while the recognition of perhaps what is currently the leading challenge for the country exists, the document lacks specificity to powerfully address this issue. This is another telling indication of the lack of political will necessary for bold institutional reforms.

Similarly, priorities are set for good governance and they include important measures such as strengthening the Parliamentary Committees, separating the three branches of the government especially the judiciary from the executive, creation of a Citizen’s Charter for protection and dissemination of information on citizen’s rights, establishing the office of the Ombudsperson and Anti Corruption Commission for a competent public administration, decentralization and strengthening local government, etc. Each of these reforms is included in the Medium term agenda as well. The proposed recommendations do not address the more complex picture of strong political interests vested in obstructing the implementation of these reforms. Implementation of any of these reforms will require intense and intelligent political negotiations and support from the bureaucracy and political parties and significant maneuvering of the tangled web of vested interests and “lobby” groups. None of these are mentioned in the IPRSP and hence there exists a disconnect between the indicated priorities and the proposed policies.

Poverty, Inequality and GDP Growth:

The vision of the current I-PRSP in terms of defining poverty eradication strategy is rather limited. The first priority, as stated in the document is “Remove the ‘ugly faces’ of poverty by eradicating hunger, chronic food insecurity and extreme destitution”. It adheres to the poverty line of US$1/day, corresponding to 2112 calories per person per day, using the fixed-bundle approach. Human poverty is measured in deprivations in three areas: health, education and nutrition and uses the Head Count Index for poverty reduction target setting. These approaches are problematic in several fronts, the most glaring being its inability to capture the essence of deprivation suffered by millions of Bangladeshis and undermining their rights to a life that is beyond the minimum physical sustenance. A poignant anecdote from a rural area in Bangladesh goes something like this: once a destitute beggar was asked what he would do if he was given a donation that significantly increased his income for the day; would he buy more food, clothes, save for the rainy day or do something else. He desired none of the above. Instead he wished to spend a few paisas to go listen to some music. This captures the heart of what the development discourse followed in the I-PRSP lacks– that material poverty as defined by the economists is not the only deprivation that people suffer from and that people have a need for social, intellectual and spiritual nourishment and the right to a life of dignity. In fact, no consultation took place with poor persons, the people who are supposed to be benefiting from this paper the most, if and why they consider themselves poor and what poverty entails for them. Such an incomplete measure of poverty and hence poverty reduction is the Achilles Heels of the current I-PRSP.

There is some debate about the validity of the 2110 caloric standard as well. This is a higher standard than other South Asian countries and some argue that it potentially overestimates poverty trend (World Bank 2002a). Bangladesh Nutritional Council on the other hand recommends a higher caloric standard of 2280 with higher proportion of protein and micronutrient requirements (BIDS 2001). Many argue that 2110 caloric norm equates poverty with malnutrition and is inadequate in measuring deprivation of the poor.8 In addition, changes in activity level, tastes and preferences call for a revision of the current caloric norm, which has not changed in the 25 years, to be adjusted to the national age-sex-activity. The Head count Index (HI) tells the percentage of the population that live in households with per capita consumption below the poverty line of US$1 a day. While this is a methodologically convenient a measure, it does not reveal anything qualitative about the incidence of poverty. To further probe the measurement issue ideologically, the question arises about not why the poverty line is set at US SI/day but why it is not measured in deprivations suffered by the millions. Additionally, why isn’t the investigation of deprivation look beyond that of health and education as measured by the Human Poverty Index (HPI) and also look into quality of life?

It is a well known fact that poverty in Bangladesh, as in many developing countries, is multidimensional and the poor in Bangladesh is not as homogeneous a group as the conventional approach of poverty measurement implies. Poverty in Bangladesh constitutes vulnerabilities and a wide range of deprivations that are both qualitative and quantitative and have both income and non-income attributes. Most importantly, the goal of poverty reduction should not be limited to decreasing the number of people living under poverty line by 50% but increasing the number of people that live a quality life. Quality of life should be measured not only by access to the basic.needs but also by the extent of how much the goods and service delivery are demand driven, how many people have the opportunity to lead a life to their full potential and have the freedom to make choices for themselves. Finally there exists poverty of political will and the right kind of international assistance that are not captured in the poverty measurement or the I-PRSP.

Attaining macroeconomic targets, GDP growth in particular, drives the poverty reduction agenda in the I-PRSP. In order to reduce the incidence of poverty by half by 2015 (as set by the Millennium Development Goals), the paper targets a rate of 7% GDP growth over the next 11 years. This translates to accelerating GDP growth from 1.5% per year as seen in the 1990s to 3.3% per year for 2000-2015. This is calculated by taking into consideration the relevant elasticity coefficients, measuring the responsiveness of poverty reduction to GDP growth. The idea behind this is that macroeconomic policies that increase investments will spur GDP growth and hence should be the policy objective. Privatization and liberalization for increased efficacy in productive sectors also follow the same line of argument of stimulating GDP growth. However, thirty years of worldwide experience has proven that there is no guarantee that high GDP growth will stimulate poverty reduction. Empirical evidence has shown that high poverty reduction rate has followed both moderate and high GDP growth rates and it fluctuates in various periods within the same country depending on the policies pursued.` Bangladesh experienced higher degree of poverty reduction rate, (51.7%) as calculated by percentage of population living below the poverty line during 1986-1991 when GDP growth rate was reported at 2.46% per annum. In contrast, the 1996-01 period reported a lower incidence of poverty reduction rate (49.8%) when GDP growth rate was 5.29% per annum. Similarly Ethiopia reported moderate growth rate with low poverty reduction rate while Indonesia before the financial crisis reported slower rate of poverty reduction accompanied by decline in growth and elasticity of employment.[10] This indicates that poverty reducing impact of growth will depend on characteristics of growth patterns. Degree of employment generation, the ability of the poor to benefit from these opportunities and establishing strong linkages between farm and non-farm sectors are especially important in reaping the poverty reduction benefits of growth.[11]

This has significant policy implications when combined with growing income inequality between farm and non-farm sectors. To fight incidence of higher poverty rate in agricultural sector while creating and stabilizing more accessible wage earning job opportunities there needs to be a systematic structural change in both agricultural and manufacturing sectors. Thus simply concentrating on GDP growth without robustly considering distributive aspects is ineffective and imprudent.

The current document reports poverty trends in terms of income and human poverty. For income poverty measurement, consumption expenditure is used and defended as a better indicator of permanent income status. Based on this, it reports a faster rate of poverty reduction in the nineties compared to the eighties, a trend attributable to increase in consumption expenditures. It also reports a rise in inequality that is comparatively higher in the urban areas than in rural. Rural inequality is driven by rise in non-farm enterprises, property income, earnings from non-farm employments (most disequalizing), and remittances from abroad. All of these are highly GDP elastic. On the contrary, factors that are equalizing and GDP inelastic include farm wages (most equalizing) and non-farm wages (although the latter is relatively small in proportion of total income). Sources of urban inequality are income from non-farm employment, income from rent of land and other assets, non-farm enterprises and income transfers in the forms of gifts and remittances. Equalizing factors include wage income, farm income, agricultural wages and rent from housing. Additionally, the poverty trend shows a 1% reduction in income poverty per year between 1991/92-2000 and a 2.1% rise in inequality per year in the nineties. Per capita GDP growth doubled in the nineties, increasing from an average of 1.57% to 1.01%.13

Since a tremendous amount of emphasis is given on GDP growth strategies, a discussion on the rising inequality is unavoidable. As mentioned in the document, the rise in inequality in the nineties was markedly higher than in the eighties with urban inequality rising at a considerably higher rate than rural. This inevitably offsets the achievements gained through GDP growth and poverty reduction rate and given the past performance and targeted GDP growth rate of about 7%, the number of poor people will actually increase. Kuznet’s theory on inequality is used to justify the rise of inequality during a period of accelerated growth and the manufacturing sector is given policy preference for stimulating GDP growth despite its disequalizing attributes. Nonetheless, the I-PRSP bears only an anticipatory tone in regards to combating inequality. The appropriate alternative would be to adopt a redistributive fiscal policy that emphasizes equalizing factors instead of the disequalizing factors for the sake of GDP growth. For example, non-farm enterprises could be made labor intensive, especially unskilled labor and shares of employment and wages can be increased in agricultural sectors particularly by redistributing resources among the small farmers. Non-farm economic activities are critical

in generating growth but establishing strong linkages between large and medium scale enterprises with small and informal enterprises can minimize their inequality generating attributes. Furthermore, if access of the low-income group to rural non-farm employment opportunities is ensured and prices of agricultural production is stabilized in favor of the small producers, the effect of GDP growth will be more fairly shared: “…Emphasis should be on the expansion of wage-employment and sell-employment. Widening access to should accompany the development of skill-intensive activities which are socially profitable”. 1 4

Alternatives

The proposed alternatives are based on organizational experience, empirical evidence and dialogue with eminent political scientists, economists, politicians, and academics.b The focus is on capacity building and ownership of development process and is based on the principles of rights, entitlements and freedoms. They fall under three major categories:

  1. People’s Empowerment
  2. Good Governance, including economic governance
  3. Demand driven quality services for the people

People’s Empowerment

This is the fundamental principle of the proposed alternatives and is the guiding element for implementation strategies. People must believe that they are the ultimate authority in determining their development destinies and they have the right as well as the power to enforce that authority. They have unlimited potential as human beings, which if nurtured will lead to enormous achievements for the nation. Decades of charity assistance and donor driven development agenda have stunted the growth of such potential by paralyzing the minds of Bangladeshis. Dependence on donation has become ingrained in the culture and people have lost faith in their own abilities. This is intrinsically linked with the most challenging problem of corruption facing the country today. When people are empowered and have ownership of the development process, they will be accountable to each other and their actions will be governed by social and moral responsibilities, which is the ultimate antidote for corruption. Thus. the nation needs to be reawakened, reminded, empowered and transformed into people who take charge of the country’s problem and solutions through creating a vision of their own. In order to depart from the traditional development paradigm, local knowledge, resources and creativity need to be capitalized and incorporated in the development strategies. Thus, for a development strategy to be truly effective and sustainable, it must emphasize on people’s empowerment and include policies that prioritize an enabling environment where they can thrive. “A person (or a group of who is (are) committed to create his/her (their) own destiny on the basis of
his/her (their) realization about latent potential can proceed to equip and enrich himself/herself (themselves) through consciously selecting the areas of action and experience in order to create ,space, for entitlement and empowerment.”16 Such a process can become self-generating and can expand into designing services that are demand driven and high in quality.

Recommended Strategies:

A.1 Incorporating Empowerment Training Program: A training program that will challenge the mindset of donor dependency through consciousness raising, confidence building and critical thinking of the self and the society need to be designed and implemented at a large scale. This program wilt be based on people’s empowerment and social responsibility and focus on their capacities and unleashing their potential as nation builders. Such program should be designed so that it is relevant and specific for people of all socioeconomic status and education levels and launched in a massive scale. It can become a standard practice in all types of civil service and government training programs as well.

Implementation: Such a program can be designed by taking best practice cases from the organizations that use such paradigms. Incorporating organizations active in different levels of the society can make the program more accessible and relevant to a wider range of people.

A.2 Informing people of their constitutional rights: People of Bangladesh are entitled to quality lives and ensured by the Constitution the rights to food, quality education, safety and well-being. This should be widely publicized and people need to be educated in citizens’ rights so that they become household information to be empowered by. This can help mobilize people to demand for fair distribution of resources and services as well as organize to take charge of their development destinies.

Implementation: Using local government institutions such as the UP will be critical for this strategy. Print and electronic media will be a powerful and necessary tool. Finally, l’or rights based approach to be fully manipulated to secure people’s access to the basic necessities. the constitutional rights, the citizen’s rights as well as the judicial and legislative mandates should become part of the standard curriculum in the educational institutions starting at an early level (primary) and gradually expanding in the subsequent stages.

A.3 Encouraging and Enabling sustainable self-employment opportunities: This should start at the union level by creating enabling institutions at the local level and including providing market access to sustain these employMents. Collective action for community improvement and development can be encouraged through the self-help group mechanism that can also generate income.

Implementation: Local government functionaries can be used to promote the idea of self-employment as well as creating an enabling environment. They can be the conduits for delivering the resources necessary for encouraging and sustaining these practices. Finally, these self-employment opportunities need to be well documented in order to strengthen and further these practices.

A .4 Overcoming Gender Injustice: Women suffer from severe discrimination, violence and abuse in Bangladesh and this is one of the key vehicles through which poverty and malnourishment is transmitted through the generations. They are marginalized as producers despite playing critical roles in both the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. It is a widely recognized fact that even though women bear equal, if not the majority share of caregiving responsibilities while actively participating in income generating activities, they receive far less than equal share of the welfare and benefits. Bangladeshi women are prime examples of feminization of poverty brought on particularly by the current global trade regime. As the major part of the labor force in the Ready Made Garments (RMG) sector, they will be affected directly once the Multi Fibre Agreement expires in 2005. Their access to education, health, credit and legal services and ability to participate in community life are also more limited than men and positively correlated with their social status. They are targets of physical and sexual violence and abuse at every level of the society and at every stage of life. Thus overcoming gender injustice and inequality requires a multi-prong, multifaceted and simultaneous strategizing. Gender sensitive strategizing is especially important for a patriarchal and religious country like Bangladesh where women bear the brunt of fundamentalism and traditional gender roles.

Implementation: Emphasis on women’s access to education, health care and credit services need to continue. Local government functionaries can play a key role in ensuring and delivering these services. While the priorities set in the I-PRSP regarding combating gender inequality are clear, there needs to be much stronger implementation of each of these priorities. For example, enforcement of the verdicts in cases of violence against women and girl children need to be speedy and forceful. In particular punishments for rape and violence against girl children need to be swift, severe and precedence setting to reduce the rapid escalation of these crimes. Recruiting more women in the police force is also very important in this regard.

In order to institutionalize gender respectful environment, remove discrimination in employment and economic opportunities and implement affirmative actions at various levels to compensate for the opportunities lost in decades of discrimination, the Judiciary and the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs need to become more proactive. They need to foster an environment of social movement to create awareness for women’s equal rights and prevention of violence against them.

Women need to be targeted for skills training that will enhance and formalize their income generating opportunities. Retraining the RMG sector workers is especially important at this point. Labor laws need to be strengthened further to ensure business practices that are gender sensitive. Finally women need to have fair and direct market access since they often work from home through middlemen.

A .5 Strengthening Women’s leadership: Women’s political representation is of critical importance in attaining women’s empowerment. In order to increase women’s political participation. reforms at every level of legislature need to occur. Political parties should also be required to cultivate women leadership within their parties.

Implementation: There needs to be more reserved seats in the parliament for women. Direct elections for women candidates from political parties should be gradually instituted. The reservation of one third of the seats for women in local government is a good beginning, but they are yet to be allowed effective voices in the decision-making processes. In most cases they are “show pieces” and are excluded from full participation in regular local government activities. Thus the legal provision for women’s reservation must be strengthened, and extended to include reservations in the chairs of elected bodies. One idea is.to rotate Women’s seats on the basis of a lottery. Political parties should be required to take active roles in recruiting and encouraging women candidates to run for elections for public offices as well as within the parties.

Good Governance

Good governance is the anchor of all development activities and the lack of it is the greatest challenge facing the nation today. Governance failure has created a predatory environment penalizing those with lower means. With rampant corruption, increasing violence. break down of law and order and severe lack of political will to fight these maladies are leading the country towards a failed state. To attain an onerous goal of good governance, strategy needs to be multi-prong. The following are necessary:

Recommended Strategies:

B 1 Strong Local Democracy: Due to the closest proximity to the people, only local government institutions. especially of the lowest echelon, can be the conduits for participatory democracy at the grassroots. They must be the focal point for empowering and mobilizing people while delivering critical resources needed for an enabling environment. Government resources, power, authority and accountability must be transferred to locally accountable bodies to expand and meet the entitlements of individual agencies. NGOs and GOs should coordinate their work with such local bodies. A multi-tier system of democratic local government, designed on the principle of subsidiarity – enshrined in the United Nations World Charter of Local Self-Government where the maximum authority is vested at the lowest level must be instituted. The system should be designed to facilitate effective participation of the people in decisions that affect them. The primary responsibility of the local governance institution needs to be to awaken, mobilize and empower people for self-reliant actions using their own creativity and initially their own resources.

Implementation: The primary and most autonomous governance entity in the multi-tier system will be the Union Parishads for rural areas consisting of 5 Wards and Pauroshovas for urban areas consisting of 10 Wards. The second tier ought to be at the Upazila level consisting of 10 Unions or the District level consisting 100-150 Unions. In addition, the voters will be included in every Ward for important decision- making processes in the form of Village Forums. This Forum will meet at least once in every 3 months and will be organized by the UP. Local priorities and plan of actions will be determined and decided upon at these meetings. In addition, this will be the space for open dialogue on budget, accounting, thus ensuring accountability and transparency. The UPs will be responsible for ensuring the following:

  • Primary health care
  • Primary and secondary schools
  • Safe water
  • Sanitation
  • Skills training for income generating employment
  • Equal rights
  • Public safety.
  • Infrastructure development and communication
  • People’s participation and accountability

In addition to the above the Pauroshavas or the Municipality will be responsible for environmental conservation and parks and recreation facilities.

The Upazila Parishad will be responsible for helping the UPs execute their responsibilities. provide technical assistance, arrange for trainings for the officers and members of the UPs, conduct relief and emergency rescue operations manage Upzila hospitals and provide general assistance to the UP.

B .2 True local autonomy: Each level of local government must be free from interference from the “above,” reflecting the constitutional commitment to make elected local bodies autonomous and self-governing (Articles 9, I I, 59 and 60). As long as local government bodies are meeting basic requirements of transparency and financial accountability, they must be free to make their own decisions without interference from the bureaucracy or the Members of the Parliament (MPs). The authority of the MPs must be limited to their national legislative role, as specified in Article 65 of the Constitution, to allow true local democracy to flourish.

Implementation: Documentation, record keeping and transparency are of critical importance in ensuring insulation of the UP from the MPs. There needs to be serious punitive repercussions in the event of undue interference and violation of the Articles 9, I I, 59 or 60.

B .3 Devolution of functions and resources: A dramatic reallocation of functions and resources should be made to move them out of the central government and into the hands of local government. Funds to the local bodies should be untied and on the basis of a constitutionally mandated, predetermined formula, administered by an Independent Finance Commission.

Implementation: One bold suggestion is to allocate 40% all central revenues to the Unions, 30% to the Upazilas/District, and 30% to the Central Government. The allocation should be from a single source rather than from many Ministries, as is practice now. Funds can also be transferred to trusts set up for each local body and the access to the trust funds can be made contingent upon meeting specific transparency and accountability criterion.

A formula for transferring funds from the Center must be created taking the following four factors into account: (a) level of deprivation in the Union, (b) level of integrity of the elected leaders as determined by public accountability and expenditures, (c) funds mobilized locally, (d) a baseline minimum based on people’s rights to access to public funds.

B .4 Local tax authority and Public accountability: Unions, Paurashavas and Upazilas/Districts should have distinct authorities for levying taxes appropriate for implementing local services and development initiatives, and the Central Government should have no authority over the utilization of these funds. The local government system must be made more transparent and accountable to the people through a strong freedom of information act covering all aspects of budgeting and expenditure and requirements for quarterly public assemblies

Implementation: Open budget meetings should be held regularly where people can participate directly and exercise democratic principles in determining expenditures. Similarly, regular public forums should be held to determine priority areas and plan of actions. Taxation rates and mechanism should also be determined and exercised locally through open public meetings and should be subject to annual reviews by the same body. Each level of government will be subject to publicly disclosed independent audits supervised by an Independent Finance Commission.

B .5 Economic Governance: Good economic governance requires allocation of resources based on policy-directed priorities rather than on whims of policymakers or to provide patronage to the vested interest. Thus, in order to successfully reduce poverty the priorities set under the PRSP must be translated into actual allocations of funds.

Implementation: The best way for fair economic governance is decentralized allocation of resources based on needs and performance. At the grassroots, the UPs will receive a federal budget to run its programs and administration as determined by the people. Similarly, the Upazilas or the districts will receive adequate funds to run bigger facilities, etc.

B .6 Coordination of NGO action: All NGOs will be encouraged to make the local bodies the locus of leadership for mobilization and action to empower the people including encouraging to do everything they can to strengthen the capacities of local government institutions.

Implementation: All local government bodies will be encouraged to provide a forum for civil society organizations and coordinate their activities.

B .7 Establishing Rule of law: Good governance requires rule of law and equality of opportunities for all, especially for the less privileged. Rule of law includes but not limited to ensuring personal safety and freedom and enabling people to pursue their visions and aspirations. Absence or lack of proper enforcement of the law tends to favor the rich and the powerful and marginalize the resource poor population the most. Unfortunately, neither transition from autocracy to democracy nor changes in regimes have brought about qualitative changes in governance in our country.I7 Thus the establishment of rule of law must become one of the highest priorities of the proposed strategy.

Corruption is the most persistent challenge facing the country today. Transparency International has ranked Bangladesh as the most corrupt country in the world, three years in a row. Corruption undermines democracy and hinders economic growth. Democracy cannot thrive without effective mechanisms to remove and prevent corruption. The persistence of corruption reinforces a feudal, anti-democratic mindset and erodes confidence in state institutions. Corruption also leads to distorted allocation of resources and waste of material resources hindering economic growth. According to some estimates, elimination of corruption could add 2-3 percent to Bangladesh’s GDP growth. The World Bank reported that every year the country loses $500 million in revenue income, $100 million in power sector and Tk. 30-45 crores in public procurement due to corruption. Cost of doing business is high due to informal tolls collected at various levels and by various people, as well as the extensive bureaucratic red-tape that requires bribes and extortions to hoop through.

Corruption also discriminates against the less privileged. Owing to corruption and inefficiency, costs of basic services to the less privileged in many cases are higher than that for the rich. For example, according to a recent survey, slum dwellers in some areas of Dhaka get access to illegally supplied electricity from evening until 5 AM at a monthly cost of Tk. 50 per bulb, whereas the people living in the affluent neighborhoods such as Gulshan residents pay Tk. 13-15 for the same service but for 24 hours. Similarly. slum dweller without regular and legal water connections pay Tk. 2 for each bucket of water while the rich in Baridhara pay only Tk. 4.33 per 1,000 litres.” Gas prices for the fiscal year 2003-2004 was also increase indiscriminately. The rates are based on the number of burners reported by the households. In essence a restaurant that uses a two-burner stove all day will pay the same price as a low-income family that turns on their two-burner stove once a day. Thus elimination of corruption in the policy making process must be of high priority if we are to be serious about eradicating poverty.

Implementation: An Independent Anti-Corruption Commission and Appointment of an Ombudsman with direct access to the judiciary for rapid review and action against any acts of corruption. They should be insulated from political influences and strictly protected from private interests. It must be pointed out that the appointment of an Ombudsman is a constitutional mandate. There should be transparency of income sources of government officials to reveal and prevent corrupt practices. Finally, decentralization and devolution of the bureaucracy with direct accountability to the immediate constituency will help check corruption.

B .8 The Parliament must be mademore effective: Vigorous Parliamentary oversight is needed to combat many of the ills that engulf our structure and process of governance. The MPs need to concentrate on their legislative duties instead of getting involved themselves in political mudslinging.

Implementation: The Parliament can be made more effective by forming Parliamentary Standing Committees and arming the legislators with the necessary training and required facilities. Again. an independent judiciary is critical so that the MPs can be held accountable to their constitutional mandates and penalized when they are not.

B .9 Separation of Powers and Reform in the three branches of the government: The three branches of the government need to be separated immediately. Although prioritized in the PRSP, the separation of the Judiciary is yet to be pursued in a meaningful way. The latter is of utmost importance in attaining an activist court system necessary for combating corruption and holding government officials and public servants accountable.

Implementation: An independent Judiciary is of urgent necessity for the country. There needs to be powerful Parliamentary Standing Committees in order to hold the Executive branch accountable. The legislators need to be trained/re-trained of their obligations and constitutional mandates. Punishment for violation of the rules of conduct should be serious. Finally the MPs should be obligated to reveal their assets and income sources every year.

B .10 Electoral Reform: Although Bangladesh has held regular elections at different levels, there were political manipulation, extortion, corruption and violence in almost each of them. The recent public assassination of popular MP Mr. Ahsanullah Master during his election campaign is a prime example of complete anarchy that sometimes pervades in the politics today. There are critical reforms necessary to ensure free and fair elections.

Implementation: The Election Commission needs to be strengthened first and foremost. It should have financial and personnel independence and have complete insulation from partisan politics. They should be given the authority to dispatch law enforcement troupes during elections, designating specific duties.

Candidates running for offices should be required to reveal information on their assets. sources of income, criminal records and qualifications. This should be widely disseminated before the elections so that the electorates can make informed decisions. The list of their assets should be updated annually. Candidates with previous criminal records should be prohibited from running for public offices. India has set a remarkable precedence in this regard by requiring information of candidates to be made public before the elections. It is currently investigating its ministers and MPs and persecuting the officials with criminal records and/or allegations.

Political party registration is another necessity to ensure against graft and corruption. Every political party should be registered and the renewal of their registration should be contingent upon satisfactory performance annually. Their performance will include audit reports showing their finances, sources of income and expenditures and the quality, of elections within the parties. The Election Commission can be in charge of overseeing this annual registration procedure.

Finally, women’s representation needs to be increased at the local governmental level as well as in the parliament. All the strategies outlined in the I-PRSP to make women’s representation meaningful need to be strongly enforced. Reserved Parliamentary seats need to be increased for women and direct elections should be an important goal to work towards.

B .11 Reform of the law enforcement agencies: Law enforcement agencies are known to be corrupt and inefficient in Bangladesh with direct political patronage. As a result, there is very little public safety and injustice is rampant. The Judicial reforms can be effective only when its enforcement arm is honest and bold. The magnitude of corruption in the police force is severe and demands immediate reforms.

Implementation: The system of law enforcement must be reformed to increase the local accountability and supervision of the police by locally elected civil authorities, per Article 59 (2) of the Constitution. The quality of training, both in police work and in the understanding of the role of the police in a democratic society based on human rights must be enhanced. The law enforcement agencies should be insulated from any political manipulation and be allowed to pursue criminals without any hesitations.

Community policing should be encouraged. A locally owned and managed group that oversees public safety is an innovative way to provide public safety for a community. This entity can be accountable to the residents of the UP or the Municipality it is located in and will he linked but remain separate from the police precinct.

There should also be good rehabilitation programs for people released from the prisons as well as employment opportunities for “economic criminals”.

B.12 Re-education of the Civil Service Personnel: In order to catalyze true devolution of the bureaucracy, the civil service officers need to be shifted to different roles. Hence, they need to be retrained and a large number of Dhaka-based civil servants will have to be absorbed by the local government.

Demand driven quality services for the people

Education, health care, credit access, skills training, infrastructure development and market access should be demand driven and not designed by the elite government officials and academics only. Needs assessment should be a regular component of annual budget, review and evaluation of programs and services provided by the government. Currently the critical services where the government plays indispensable roles are of very poor quality if not at the brink of collapse. These include but not limited to public health, public education, environmental management, transportation and postal services.

Recommended Strategies:

C .1 Primary and secondary education: Rural education system has been collapsing rapidly as the quality and administration have been deteriorating. The schools in the rural areas receive very little resources and the teachers are often very poorly trained. The teachers take on the role of administrators and bureaucrats and they are not accountable to the local people but to the education ministries. The Madrasa curriculum is isolated and antiquated, depriving and paralyzing the minds of thousands of children. The standard of Bengali medium school is very poor and inadequate to meet the demands and challenges of the twenty first century. There needs to be an overhaul of the curriculum, harmonization of the curriculum of different types of education, i.e., Madrasa. English and Bengali mediums and enforcement of local accountability.

Implementation: Placing greater resources for education and increased local accountability in the hands of local government will greatly improve the quality of rural education. Special training materials should be provided to Upazila/District level Education Boards to support them set standards and enhance the quality of primary and secondary education.

Parent-Teacher Associations (PTA) need to be instituted at every school so that the parents can be an active component of their children’s education. The teachers need to be prevented from playing administrative roles and be accountable to•the local School governing body and the PTA.

An Institute of Excellence needs to be created for higher education to ensure quality at the University level as well as identify, reward and foster well functioning, successful educational institutions. The curriculum of the public school system needs to undergo serious review to raise standards of education at each level. Currently the pedagogy encourages rote learning and offers no room for critical thinking. It is far behind in science and technology instruction. Vocational education needs to be mainstreamed and should be one of the choices available starting at the secondary level. Technical educational institutions should be as attractive an option as any other mediums if the trainings are relevant and demand driven and job placement opportunities are provided

C .2 Primary health: A good public health care system is the best insurance against health related vulnerabilities that the poor people suffer from. A diverse range of preventative and curative health care measures are necessary to address Bangladesh’s public health needs. As with education, greater local accountability and more resources under the control of local bodies are critical to improving the quality of health care. Central government should set standards and provide resources to ensure delivery of the primary and emergency care. The spread of H1V/AIDS is a growing concern as the country is very ill equipped in dealing with this dangerous disease. There needs to be large-scale public awareness campaign to prevent the transmission of the virus. Currently there is no serious public health policy regarding the prevention of a disease that can easily turn into an epidemic.

Implementation: Again, the UPS can be critical in ensuring quality public health and delivering services to people. Decentralization of resources should be contingent upon the UPs fulfilling requirement that they establish and supervise a Health and Family Welfare Center and that every Upazila/Zila establishes and supervises a Health Complex. Publicly employed medical professionals must be prohibited from private pracitces, and Upazila/Zila-level inspectors must be held publicly accountable to ensure these regulations and the enforcement of standards. Unions and Upazila/Zila Parishads can be encouraged to contract with NGOs and other civil service organizations for the provision of health and educational services through a publicly transparent cost/benefit decision process.

C .3 Efficient development and utilization of infrastructure facilities: Impact of infrastructure development on poverty is well documented. Investments in roads and electricity will be beneficial at many levels. For example electricity helps reduce irrigation costs, modernize rural industries, and contribute to more efficient work hours in commercial enterprises. The poultry sector especially benefited from electricity expansion in the nineties. Thus electrification of the country needs to be prioritized especially in the areas where roads are developed in order to promote market access, facilitate trade and strengthen urban-rural linkages. Improved road access can increase the diversification of product cultivation as better transport can contribute to the trading of perishable items. In addition, we need to efficiently use some of the existing infrastructure facilities. Currently many of those facilities are serious drains on the national exchequer. For example, because of the mismanagement of Chittagong port, the country loses about $900 million a year, which is nearly 14% of our yearly proceeds from exports.

Implementation: Whether it is constructing Upazila/District-wide storage facilities. feeder roads, or rail and water transport Upazila/Zila Parishads should be given the authority to form Development Commissions to optimize infrastructure development for maXimum economic growth. Emphasis must be given to higher-level infrastructure such as electricity and information technology rather than the traditional wheat-based brickwork and earth \\ ork. Upazila/Zila Parishads should have the authority to issue interest-bearing Upazila/Zila Development Bonds supported by tax levies as a vehicle for mobilizing local savings and foreign remittances for development.

C .4 Universal access to rural banking services: Rural people can only generate wealth when they are supported by reliable facilities for savings and credit. Microcredit facilities need to be improved to reach the extreme poor and the programs need to be checked against illegal, abusive and manipulative business practices.

Implementation: Microcredit institutions should publish public annual reports stating their income, business practices and policies. Small-scale urban enterprises can especially benefit from microenterprise loans which can also help reduce urban-rural inequality by generating wage employment. The Finance Ministry and the Bangladesh Bank must specify a pathway by which grassroots people and/or local government structures can establish informal village banking structures and then develop them over time into formally recognized banks. Finally, the larger banking institutions can widen their lending program by adopting microcredit programs. This will help broaden credit access to the population yet to benefit from microcredit facilities, vis a vis the extreme poor .

C .5 Communication/Information technology: Better access to marketing and trading opportunities and information is critical especially for the rural population. Technology is needed to integrate local economy with the national economy and the international market. Finally Bangladesh is in dire need of research and development in developing better quality seeds, labor-intensive manufacturing with backward linkages, and prevention of common infectious diseases.

Implementation: A Task Force must be convened to adopt public standards for Bangla on the internet. Universities and colleges must be encouraged to bring information technology to the people. Business houses must be encouraged for establishing Bangla-language trading sites. Rural people must be educated in computer operations and be given easy access to computers and the information superhighway.

C .6 Sustainable use of natural resources and Environmental Management: The link between poverty and environmental degradation is a direct one. It is no surprise that Bangladesh is experiencing rapid environmental degradation ranging from severe air, water and noise pollution to erosion, deforestation, depletion of the mangrove forests in the Sundarban•. severe sedimentation of the rivers and river basins, etc. The damages caused by floods are becoming increasingly extensive as the rivers and flood plains are not managed and taken care of properly.

Additionally, the river tributaries in the urban areas are being filled up and developed, sometimes illegally by the real estate developers, blocking off all the water outlets. All of these threaten public health and the sheer existence of the country. Therefore, the conservation policy is of utmost urgency.

Implementation: Experiences in South Asia and elsewhere show that when natural resources like the forests and water are better used and protected when managed by local people and user groups. Local committees of people who are most directly affected by the depletion of these natural resources must be given the rights, responsibilities and necessary support for their management. The vast amount of water resources can be used creatively to generate energy, income-generating opportunities and provide better irrigation system especially during the dry season and in the northern areas. The National Environmental Management Plan (NEMAP) needs to incorporate measures to prevent dangerous and illegal occupation of water bodies by businesses and prioritize a permanent solution to floods by using local experiences and knowledge. Bilateral negotiations with India are also very important for water management.

Summary of Alternative ,Strategies

StrategiesActionsOutcomes
PEOPLE’S EMPOWERMENT
IncorporatingEmpowerment Training Programs.Compiling strategies from Best Practice cases from organizations involved in people’s empowerment initiatives to design acomprehensive program-Overcoming the sense of dependency and resignation and develop a sense of social responsibility-To generate socialmobilization based on rights and entitlements-Create a populace educated in their constitutional rights and responsibilities-Collective actions for community betterment through self reliant and sustainable employment creationA broad based campaign to create awareness to transform the conditions of women
Incorporate these trainings at various governmental, non- governmental and private training programs
Massive implementation using local government institutions
Informing people of their constitutional rightsIncorporate information on Constitutionally mandated rights in the curriculum of the public school system
Use local government institutions to inform people of their rights and responsibilities
Use print and electronic media for massive dissemination of information on rights and responsibilities of the State and the citizen
Encouraging and enabling sustainable self-employment opportunities.Organize and enable people to identify income generating opportunities in their own communities
Use the UPs to help mobilize resources for starting localbusinesses which should include facilitating fair credit access and market access to make these businesses sustainable
Publication of Union-wise periodic list of individuals and groups creating income generating self-employment and self-help groups
Strategies Overcoming Gender Injustice.ActionsCreation of a strong Affirmative Action program to ensure • preferential access to healthservices. education andemployment for women. This should include a quota system at higher education opportunities and employment in both public and private sectors
Expeditious enforcement of the Speedy Trial Act for violenceagainst women and children need to be more expedient and thepunishments severe. The families of the victims who often suffer threats from the perpetrators also need to be protected
Expeditious enforcement of the verdicts of these trials
Strengthening Women’s leadershipIncreasing women’s reserved seats in the Parliament
Requiring nominations of women candidates by the political parties in party elections to encourage women’s leaderships
Work towards direct elections of women representatives
GOOD GOVERNANCE
Strong Local Democracy –Passage of a comprehensive local government law incorporating a bold program for decentralization and devolution of authorities and functions. public accountability, strengthening the system ofwomen’s reservation, elimination of supervision and control of the bureaucracy and of the MPs-Strong local governance, decentralization of resource management and service delivery-A democratic government that encourages participatory and accountable practices, local leadership and action
Cancellation of the Official Secrecy Act, 1923
A comprehensive training program to enhance the competence and capacity of local bodies
True local autonomyTransfer of specific functions and responsibilities to local authorities and insulating these bodies from political influences from the MPs and other government functionaries. Use of strongpunitive measures for unconstitutional interferences of the MPs and government officials
Devolution of functions and resourcesTransfer based on a set of transparent criteria, a • constitutionally mandated, predetermined proportion of national resources to local bodies
Local tax authority and Public accountabilityRegular Open Budget Meetings at Union and L:pzila levels
Audits by the Independent Finance Commission
Economic GovernancePassage of a Right to Information law requiring disclosures of expenditures and operations of all government programs
Holding quarterly publicassemblies at Unions to ensure transparency and accountability
Coordination of NGO actionUse of NGOs as part of the service delivery mechanism. Coordinating and organizing their actions by sectors are essential. The NGO bureau can help streamline their activities
Establishing/Enforcing Rule of lawCreation of a strong Independent Anti-Corruption Commission
Making local bodies responsible for maintaining public order
Effective ParliamentCreation of stronger and more accountable Parliamentary Standing Committees through actively relegating more responsibilities. The committees should be responsible for checking and assisting the Executive branch
Disclosure of the sources of income and assets of the MPs on a regular basis
Separation of PowersImmediate separation of the Judiciary
Restricting the Legislative branch from interfering in judicial issues
Electoral ReformsStrengthening the Election Commission in order to make it truly independent and impartial
Mandatory political partyregistration contingent on annual audits
Mandatory disclosure of assets and income, criminal records and qualifications of candidates running for public offices
Reform of the law enforcement agenciesInsulation of the law enforcement agencies from political parties, MPs and government officials through transparent practices and severe punitive measures when such involvements are revealed
Educating law enforcementofficials in human rights and rights of prisoners and detainees
Community policing that is locally administered. managed and monitored
DEMAND DRIVEN SERVICES
Educational ReformsAnnual Needs Assessments for every Union conducted through the UP bodies-Actual allocation of resources for the people in poverty-A program to impart skills training to the rural people-Fair and dependable banking system serving the rural people- Elimination of inefficiency and indiscipline at ports and other important facilities- Actual user groups managing and protecting natural resources
Periodic report cards byIndependent Citizen Bodies and public accountability of inspectors for education and health careservices
Use of NGOs to provide services on contract basis
Primary HealthProhibiting health professionals from providing private services
Efficient development and utilization of infrastructure facilities .Formation of Development Commissions at local level for local level planning of infrastructure development. This body should conduct needs asses and make direct recommendations to the government to mobilize resources for specific projects.
Universal access to rural banking servicesExpansion of microcredit programs for extreme poor
Requirin2 microcredit service providers to publish annual reports
Expansion of financial services to encourage local enterprises
Communication/Information technologyActively use the world wide web for dissemination of critical information on market access, agrobusiness and international trade
Making information available in Bangla and/or local dialect
Sustainable use of natural resources and , Environmental ManagementCreation of a strong Environmental Protection Agency
Use of the judiciary and the law enforcement agency to prevent and contain exploitation of natural resources

Notes

[1] This paper is an elaboration of the paper Poverty Reduction. Local Government and El/W(111’0’171CW of the People: in Alternative Development Strategy for Bangladesh by Dr. Badiul Alam Majumdar prepared for The Hunger Project Bangladesh

[2] Bangladesh: A National Strategy for Economic Growth, Poverty Reduction and Social Development: Chapter 1: Introduction, pg. I .

[3] Total includes government officials and members of the civil society, not shown in this table. From Consultation with the Poor and with Representatives of the Government, Civil Society and NG0s., pg. 4.

[4] Bangladesh: A National Strategy for Economic Growth, Poverty Reduction and Social Development. Executive Summary, pg. 64.

[5] Bangladesh: A National Strategy for Economic Growth, Poverty Reduction and Social Development. Executive Summary, pg.35.

[6] Bangladesh: A National Strategy for Economic Growth, Poverty Reduction and Social Development. Executive Summary, pg. vi.

[7] As narrated by Dr. Anisur Rahman at the Annual conference of Bangladesh Economic Association, Dhaka, June, 2004.

[8] Poverty in Bangladesh: Extend and Evolution by Quentin T. Wodon, The Bangladesh Development Studies, Vol XXIII, Sept-Dec. 1995, Nos. 3 & 4

[9] Islam, R.,(2004) The ,VeNits- of Economic Growth, Employment and Poverty Reduction: in Empirical Analysis.Draft paper for Recovery and Reconstruction Department, ILO. Geneva

[10] Rahman, Rushidan and Islam, N., Employment Poverty Linkages: Bangladesh: Issues in Employment and Poverty, The World Bank and Bureau of Economic Research

[12] Islam, R.,(2004) The :Nexus of Economic Growth. Employment and Poverty Reduction: Empirical Analysis. Draft paper for Recovery and Reconstruction Department, ILO, Geneva

[12] Khan, A.R., What. Can Be Done to Contain Rising Inequality in Bangladesh? Seminar on Accelerating Growth and Poverty Reduction in Bangladesh, The World Bank and Bureau of Economic Research, University of Dhaka, 2003

[13] Osmani. S,R„ Mahmud, W., Seri, B.,Dagdeviren, H., Seth, A., The .Macroeconomics of Poverty Reduction: The Case Study qf Bangladesh by UNDP, Pg. 19. September 2003.

[14] Khan„A.R., What Can Be Done to Contain Rising Inequality in Bangladesh? Seminar on Accelerating Growth and Poverty Reduction in Bangladesh, The World Bank and Bureau of Economic Research, University of Dhaka, 2003, pg. 15

[15] Includes Dr. Muzzaffer Ahmed. Dr. M.M. Akash, Mr. Nitin Desai, Dr. Sanjeev Khagram, Dr. Hossain Zillur Rahman, Dr. Anisur Rahman.

[16] Muzaffer Ahmed, “Changing a Limping Mule into a Fighting Horse: Local Governance in Bangladesh,” October 2002 (mimeo), p. 9.

[17]  See “Pauper Politics Piques Good Governance,” The Daily Star. October 15,2002.

[18] The World Bank Country Director, Frederick Temple, quoted in “Pauper Politics Piques Good Governance,” The Daily Star, October 15, 2002.

Why Animator Training Works: An Observer’s Analysis

June 27, 2004

by Afreen Alam

From the first glance at the Animator Training (AT) manual or its description, we, as in the development scholars and activists may wonder about the efficacy of such a program. Yet, it has been the foundation of The Hunger Project’s (THP) actions and successes for years and continues to grow in participation, outreach, capacity and efficacy. People are often surprised at how a training session that is based on what seems to be the “basics” of life can have such a tremendous impact as revealed in hundreds of success stories every year. The success stories are remarkable, unique and extraordinary. They typically involve heroes who were previously marginalized and began to change their destinies with no or very little external help and expand their successes to include their surrounding communities. Finally, all the success stories are sustainable success stories.

To understand why AT is such a successful “developmental” tool, one must understand what it is that people can most benefit from when it comes to changing and improving their lives. Participants who take this training are driven by a need, an urge that the AT enables them to address strategically and with power and prudence. This is the urge to live as contributing citizens of the society, wanting to make a difference in their lives as well as their communities This is the unconscious driving force that influences the participants to take the training and in the sessions throughout the 4 days, this urge is brought to the surface. Simultaneously their potential as leaders, organizers, as doers and go-getters are identified, encouraged and unleashed. All this begins with baby steps, first by engaging in the goal of the program: “To encourage, organize and empower animators through self-questioning and self-realization in order to build a hunger-free, self-reliant Bangladesh”. The discussion gradually proceeds to focus and engage in “self realization”, that it is the “I” and only “I” who can improve ourselves and it is the collective force of the conscious and aware individuals that can take the challenge of poverty and eradication head on. A deep faith in the self and the collective force of the human spirit works as a stepping-stone.

The training unfolds through the discussion of the ten principles [1] and gradually delves into the dissection of the societal norms, national and international politics behind the dependency, poverty and destitution. Eventually, it loops around and returns to the individual and the community of determined individuals until the participants begin to envision their ideal villages and towns and feel “why not?”

The discussions engage and build on the common yet Powerful wisdom such as “where there is a will, there is a way”, Quranic phrases such as “Allah does not change a nations’ destiny unless it takes initiative to change its own”, Hadiths that emphasizes the significance of manual labor and self respect over begging and hand-outs, etc. Participants engage in common misconceptions and superstitions as they confront their own biases and debilitating beliefs. For example, in a recent training a 23-year-old Union Parishad chairman, a participant popular among the crowd for his youthful charm made the following comment during the session on women’s empowerment:

“….its not education but good education that is necessary for women for it is the lack of the latter that leads women to indecency and nakedness. It is the woman dressed in short sleeved shirt and jean pants who falls victim to rape and physical assault…”

It is through bringing such notions to the surface and de-constructing them that the program leads people to critically examine their own selves, the norms and the traditions and discover the linkages to the greater problems and challenges faced by the nation today. Thinking outside the box becomes second nature by the time the training is over. All of this is accomplished primarily through engaging conversations among the participants.

To conclude, there are five major reasons behind the success of the AT. They are summarized as follows:

  1. Targeting: The participants are actively recruited on the basis of their leadership potential and qualities. Loosely, the minimum qualification is Secondary School Certificate level (10th grade) and recruiters try to attain a healthy amount of female participants for each training group. The participants typically will have already demonstrated some leadership qualities either through forma affiliations such as local government officials, teachers and religious leaders, or through informal involvement in community work such as the case with students, youth activists, etc. Essentially, the sense of volunteerism and societal responsibility are evident in their actions and pursuits. In other words, the fire is lit by the injustices and destitution that surrounds them and is fueled by the indomitable urge to do something about it.
  2. Self-Empowerment: Perhaps the strongest change that occurs after going through this training in a person is the belief and faith in one’s self. The exercises emphasize on self-questioning and self-realization so that participants internalize that they are extremely capable beings and only they-can make changes happen in their own lives and their communities. The realization that they don’t need any external help to initiate these changes is a very powerful one. The confidence in the individual self as well as the collective self follows soon thereafter.
  3. Community spirit: Although it has been decaying in the last two decades it is traditional for people in the rural areas to work together as a community. They used to form what in the popular rhetoric we call working groups and cooperatives to execute a plan of action. This ancient communal spirit is still present among people; all it needs is a little bit of prodding. AT heavily emphasizes on ownership of the problems and their solutions. Participants are encouraged to think and work as a group and that is precisely what the  animators do upon returning to their respective areas. Hence, there is legitimacy in their plans and as a result their actions are expeditious.
  4. Creating a vision: It is safe to say that most participants are already driven to catalyze change in their communities when they come in. What they lack is a vision, a systematic method to realize what they have already identified. The exercises of the Animator Training program help them synthesize the problems, their sources and a sustainable way to address them. They create a vision that it is possible to collectively attain their personal and community goals.
  5. Relationship with THP: As the training progresses it becomes clearer that The Hunger Project is not driven by any agenda of their own and it is not promoting any scheme or the ‘right’ solution. The training focuses entirely on the “self’ and the message that repeats is the one of the power and potential of the human spirit. As a result, the relationship that develops between a participant and the organization is based on trust and partnership. When and if the participants make commitments for initiatives they want to take on upon returning, they genuinely mean and act on it. Like a true partner, THP continues to inspire and remind people of their commitments and their capacities.

AT is able to succeed the same way a good therapist or a counselor succeeds—by working as a facilitator to enable the person identify the source of their problem and unleash their potential to solve it themselves.

Note:

[1] The ten principles are discussed in detail and repeated periodically throughout the training. These are: 1. The human spirit, 2. Interconnectedness, 3. Vision, 4. Commitment, 5. Leadership, 6. Strategy and action, 7. Self-reliance, 8. Enabling environment, 9. Empowerment of women, 10. Global responsibility