Bangladesh’s eighth five-year plan targets reducing extreme poverty to 7.4 per cent by 2025, and Vision 2041eradicating extreme poverty by 2031.
The country has made remarkable progress in reducing extreme poverty over the past few decades and this is demonstrated through the World Bank study in 2018 that, in between 2000 and 2018, the proportion of the population living below the international poverty line(under USD 1.9 a day), had dropped from 34.5 per cent to 11.3 per cent.
Despite this success, approximately 20 million people are still trapped in the cycle of poverty in Bangladesh (ADB, 2019). This has been exacerbated by the impacts of climate change and natural calamities like cyclone, flooding, salinity and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic as the GDP growth came down to 3.5 per cent in 2020 from 8.2 per cent in 2019 (CPD and ADB, 2021).
The most affected population has been women as reported in the UN Women-conducted Rapid Gender Analysis in 2020. It showed that 61 per cent of women in Bangladesh were unable to seek medical care when they needed it, 83 per cent of women worked in the formal sector had reportedly lost their jobs or their working hours were decreased, and gender-based violence increased too during the pandemic.
In recognition of this year’s theme to celebrate International Women’s Day #BreakTheBias, it's imperative that all concerned stakeholders including government agencies, academic institutions, donor community, civil society and private sector come together to play a leading role in ensuring and sustaining the empowerment of women, to realise the dream of achieving the SDGs by 2030. World Vision Bangladesh, in collaboration with strategic stakeholders, is playing a critical role in sustaining women's economic empowerment.
Through the USAID-funded Nobo Jatra project, World Vision Bangladesh is implementing a social safety net and inclusion ‘Ultra Poor Graduation' approach that targets the most vulnerable women to improve their socio-economic status. The project has targeted 21,000 women across the south-west region of Bangladesh, in Khulna and Shatkhira districts.
The Ultra Poor Graduation approach uses a set of holistic, integrated interventions over a 24-month period that includes entrepreneurship literacy, functional literacy, numeracy, income-generating activities selection, start-up capital and a monthly stipend to participate in the training. This is compounded by all participants engaging in Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA) aimed at promoting a culture of savings and enhancing social capital and networking.
For example, SairaBibi, a 45-year-old mother and small livestock farmer of a remote village of Ganeshpur in the southwest region, was struggling with poverty with the small wage of her husband’s day labouring. The family of four was barely getting by – until Saira attended the entrepreneurial literacy training under the Ultra-poor Graduation approach provided by Nobo Jatra. With the start-up capital support equivalent to $178, Saira bought two goats and a sewing machine and now she has a livestock farm with five goats and two cows worth $828 in total.
Further, to enhance financial resilience and empower women, Nobo Jatra linked VSLA with DreameSave mobile application and two commercial banks– BRAC and City bank. The groups are using DreamSaveFintech mobile application for group management and digital recordkeeping and engaging with BRAC Bank and City Bank for financial transactions, loan taking for supporting families and businesses and saving for securing sustainable livelihoods.
In addition, a study conducted by Human Resource Development Centre, a leading research organisation in Bangladesh, found that more than 80 per cent of households are food secure compared to only 15 per cent during the baseline study in 2015. Women's involvement in decision-making related to household economic issues like savings, lending practice, and involvement in income-generating activities has increased by about 49-53 per cent. Women’s involvement with different organisation/Samity/NGO, voting, and participation in Shalish (arbitration) have increased more than two to six-folds. Thus, the Ultra-poor Graduation approach of Nobo Jatra has been instrumental in ensuring the empowerment of women, which in turn has contributed to the improved dignity of women.
Women’s empowerment is a critical human rights issue with implications for the well-being of women, their families, and society as well as socio-economic development and poverty reduction, especially in developing countries like Bangladesh. The findings of the graduation approach may be useful for planners, administrators, and development workers to replicate such strategies for women’s empowerment to reducing poverty in the rural areas of Bangladesh, which can also be applied in other similar contexts. For that, we all need to work collaboratively to create a world where women don’t just survive – they thrive.
Written by Mehzabin Rupa and Alex Bekunda, NoboJatra, World Vision Bangladesh, the article reflects the views of World Vision, not necessarily any other organisation.