Empowering Women in Bangladesh
Women are pushing for representation in many fields, including education, technology, architecture, fashion, health care, journalism and sports. Every year, an increasing number of female entrepreneurs enter the market and significantly contribute to the global economy. Women’s enterprises in Bangladesh are gradually developing to have a similar stream of development potential. However, women in entrepreneurship are not as prevalent in Bangladesh, where women own just 7.2% of all businesses.

Nevertheless, the situation is slowly evolving, and more Bangladeshi women are entering the corporate sphere as leaders, opening the path for thousands of others by motivating and mentoring them. One of the recent highlights of this development was the Women Entrepreneurship Training Program by BRAC University, called Venture Maestras. The initiative aims to promote gender equality and empower women entrepreneurs, in line with the U.N.’s fifth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). The Venture Maestras Program gives theoretical underpinnings and techniques for tackling business challenges that women encounter and a practical understanding of the real-world market. Here are more details about how Venture Maestras is empowering women in Bangladesh.

The Program’s Mission

This program’s purpose is to make significant contributions to empowering women in Bangladesh. Additionally, the future vision is to achieve gender equality and sustainable, long-term prosperity for the nation and its global status. Venture Maestras has three core objectives. Firstly, it is empowering women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh by offering information, skills and training to enrich their competence. It also works on providing continuous support services for various projects that participants undertake and doing research to promote gender equality and the long-term well-being of all Bangladeshis. Moreover, the program focuses on creating awareness of opportunities in business fields and motivating women to engage in such activities.

A Vision Beyond the Program Itself

Bringing awareness and equality in a closed-door room does not help much when it concerns the entire nation. It takes tremendous effort to grow the network to a size where it is able to spread the word to every corner of the country. As a result, the program works on building an effective network between established women entrepreneurs, which helps the women share their knowledge and aid. Secondly, it includes significant research and case studies on economic and social issues that affect many women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh. These studies help innovate business ideas and bring solutions to decades-old problems. Finally, all the connections with public, private and non-government organizations help to reach a broader audience.

How the Program is Managed

The pilot program starts with an orientation where the participants can engage in discussions with successful female entrepreneurs. Subsequent sessions cover the business canvas model and entrepreneurial skills, including HR management, digital marketing and many legal aspects. The program also includes loan and financial management lessons. At the end of the program, participants present their business proposals to a panel of experts for evaluation. The program doe not include any special requirements other than a high school level education and the intention to start or manage one’s own enterprises. After the program ends, the top three finalists receive 100,000 BDT as an award, which is roughly $1,000 USD.

According to the BRAC Business School, the participants greatly benefited from the program’s offerings. According to the survey, entrepreneurs found some training sessions more effective than others, with training in the business canvas model, marketing and digital marketing being the top choices. Without entrepreneurial support, the country will fail to see any industrial breakthrough – even when there is technical progress. However, with these kinds of programs and training, Bangladesh can become a strong participant in the global market.

– Zahin Tasnin
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19’s Impact on Bangladesh
Since 2020, the world has turned upside down while facing the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite every country living through the same traumatic experience, the consequences were not the same for everyone. Especially developing and underdeveloped countries took a harder hit from the pandemic than any developed nations. The pandemic did destroy not only global health but also disrupted the national economy, education system, social values and more. Even after national recovery, some failed to recover from the unforgettable past on a personal level which included losing loved ones, unemployment, hunger, health deficiency and so on. For example, in some cases, women were more likely to stop working after the pandemic, and low-skilled workers were more likely to lose their jobs than more educated workers. Notably, COVID-19’s impact on Bangladesh raised many domestic and global concerns. Here are four facts about COVID-19’s impact on Bangladesh.

4 Facts About COVID-19’s Impact on Bangladesh

  1. Social-emotional Health: In recent months, even developed nations have faced a declining social-emotional health rate across all age groups. Similarly, one of COVID-19’s impacts on Bangladesh was decreasing mental health due to stress, misinformation, economic instability and isolation. For example, federal and local lockdowns put many Bengali communities through an emotional and financial roller coaster. Fear of losing loved ones, jobs and food sources, and staying isolated has increased worry, anxiety, trauma, panic and more.
  2. Local Economic Status: Small to medium-sized businesses went bankrupt, which led to mass unemployment and sometimes ended in separations or family arguments. Many day laborers who were also the only householders in their families lost their jobs for months. Some of these families lost their only food source, rent, bills and the money for pilled up debts. Consequently, many young adults have chosen self-harm and sometimes even suicide as a chance to escape their harsh and helpless reality.
  3. A Lack of Federal Support: Bangladesh is one of the overpopulated and fastest-growing countries in the world. The population growth rate is not parallel enough to the government programs, which included social support during the pandemic. Most in-need families with young children and low-skilled workers were the greatest victims of this crisis.
  4. Declining Physical Health: One transparent impact that COVID-19 had on Bangladeshi residents was the development of health issues. Many outgoing people like students, workers and shopping mall visitors lost their only chance to be active during the day. Students and workers who once had a sleeping and working schedule lost their sense of routine and developed many bad habits. These bad habits included sleeping for long hours during the day, losing sleep after midnight, spending too much time on social media, not participating in any physical activities, losing social interaction, etc.

Solutions

Like many other countries, COVID-19’s impact on Bangladesh was unthinkable. The severity of COVID-19’s impact on Bangladesh gradually disintegrated due to much foreign support and social unity. One of the most significant foreign support was from the United States. The U.S. has provided Bangladesh with more than $96 million. These aids included 5.5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, medical supplies, ventilators, oxygen equipment, pulse oximeters and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Moreover, since the start of the pandemic also the World Bank has provided about $3 billion to Bangladesh, which has been effective in improving the emergency health response, the private sector, creating jobs, boosting human capital development and more. Besides foreign aid, the Bangladesh government also took many precautions and strict domestic policies to reduce the spread as much as possible. Some remarkable actions from the government were closing the government buildings, offices, schools and universities, prohibiting social gatherings and canceling federal holiday celebrations.

In the end, COVID-19’s impact on Bangladesh was traumatizing. However, it also showed people how vulnerability can spread through a nation in a short time period. The government and its people learned to be patient, understanding and generous to each other. COVID-19’s impact on Bangladesh did not stop yet, but the world has seen a great deal of recovery from the country.

– Zahin Tasnin
Photo: Flickr

Support to Bangladeshi Women
Poverty has been disproportionately affecting women in Bangladesh in the aftermath of natural disasters such as Cyclone Amphan. In commitment to the Generation Equality Compact on Women Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action (WPS-HA), U.N. Women has worked with local partners in Bangladesh to aid in economic recovery and provide support to Bangladeshi women, especially post-natural disasters, by issuing grants and providing vocational training to local women.

Gender and Economic Disparity in Bangladesh

In 2019, 20.5% of Bangladesh’s citizens fell under the national poverty line, according to the Asian Development Bank. Furthermore, the unemployment rate for Bangladeshi females in 2021 stood at almost 8% whereas the unemployment rate for males in Bangladesh stood at 4.1% in 2021, according to International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates. In 2019, the workforce participation rate for Bangladeshi males aged 15-64 stood at 84% but only 38% for females in the same age group. Furthermore, in 2022, the literacy rate among men stood at 76.56% whereas for women it stood at 72.82%.

When comparing the margin of difference between literacy rates and employment rates among Bangladeshi men and women, it is clear that women face inequalities that result in their exclusion and marginalization, pushing them deeper into poverty.

Story of Mahmuda Khatun

When Cyclone Amphan hit Bangladesh in 2020, many people lost their livelihoods and fell deeper into poverty, including Mahmuda Khatun’s household. Khatun wished to start a small business to help support her family but she faced barriers such as “a lack of banking history” and inadequate financial literacy. She reached out to the Prerona Foundation for help, “a local women’s organization supported by U.N. Women.”

The Prerona Foundation works with vulnerable women to improve their economic resilience, especially in crisis-prone areas. The Foundation helped Khatun establish a livelihood by providing training and a loan for her to start a poultry farm to generate income. Khatun now provides for her two daughters and husband by raising poultry. Since its beginnings, her business has flourished and Khatun now earns about 17,000 takas ($200 USD) per month.

Multi-Industry Glass Ceilings

Organizations like the Prerona Foundation and U.N. Women recognize the importance of involving and providing support to Bangladeshi women in the wake of humanitarian crises and natural disasters. Women are a key catalyst in a community’s response and recovery and are often end up out of the equation albeit being valuable agents.

Furthermore, when one woman receives uplifting, the benefits do not stop there. Khatun is now looking to help other women in her community by providing vocational training and championing women’s empowerment in Bangladesh. According to U.N. Women, in 2020, “less than 60% of Bangladeshi women have access to credit,” which stands as a significant barrier to their entrepreneurial potential. Moreover, about a third of the nation’s labor force consists of female employees and less than 5% of them hold formal positions. Bangladeshi women also “earn 21% less than their male counterparts.”

Rising Through Recovery

Given such statistics, it can seem daunting for women in Bangladesh to assume financial independence and see success, especially amid a natural disaster like Cyclone Amphan. However, U.N. Women continues to work with dozens of civil society and local women’s organizations on the ground to help address these systemic issues.

In 2022, U.N. Women has also partnered with the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) to further “gender equality and women’s empowerment in Bangladesh.” Both institutions have “signed an inter-agency agreement” for 2022-2026 to establish “gender-responsive inclusive governance,” reduce discrimination against women, and advance “women’s economic empowerment and access to justice,” among other aims.

Going forward, the focus will be on starting a normative agenda, establishing gender-inclusive legislation, providing financing to advance gender equality and supporting women-led businesses. This partnership also stresses the importance of addressing gender-based violence in Cox’s Bazar, placing women in leadership roles and providing females with the skills training, services and resources to thrive.

Given the commitment, both at a local and international level, there is hope for more Bangladeshi women to rise out of poverty despite the impacts of Cyclone Amphan.

– Samyudha Rajesh
Photo: Flickr

ToguMogu app
On August 1, 2022, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) announced 10 winners of its Joint Innovation Challenge 2022 called “Positioning to Scale: Innovations to Empower Women and Girls.” Recognizing the lost progress in women’s rights because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UNFPA launched the challenge in March 2022 to support unique, affordable and sustainable initiatives that work toward advancing gender equality and women’s rights. One of the winners is ToguMogu, a maternity, parenting and family health platform — the “first parenting app” in Bangladesh.

The Competition Details

UNFPA partnered with the World Intellectual Property Organization, the International Telecommunication Union and the International Trade Centre to fund the challenge and support the winners’ initiatives. After receiving 300 applications from 61 nations across the globe, UNFPA picked 20 finalists who pitched their ideas to a panel of experts.

From there, the panel selected 10 winners who will each receive an investment of $60,000 and a nine-month contract with UNFPA. Alongside ToguMogu, the winners come from diverse spread of countries ranging from Mongolia to Rwanda. Some of the other innovative projects include a diagnostic system for preeclampsia and a board game that educates its players about sexual and reproductive health.

What is ToguMogu?

Founded in 2016 but registered in 2017, the ToguMogu company aimed to create an all-encompassing platform to support parents from pregnancy till their child turns 5 years old. The platform offers product recommendations for newborns, educational content for first-time parents, a doctor database and recommendation services for pre-schools, daycares and after-school programs. In 2019, the company “fully launched [its] website with different services,” The Daily Star reported. The company launched the ToguMogu parenting app in 2020 to accompany its services.

For context, Bangladesh has a relatively high infant mortality rate at 24 deaths per 1,000 live births, as the World Bank estimated in 2020. A study that Jyoti Vijay led, which was published in 2019, found that infant mortality and socioeconomic status have links with higher mortality rates observed in families from a lower-income background.

In addition, a study that Sanjit Roy led, which was published in 2018, found that the risk of early neonatal mortality — the death of an infant before seven days old — increases when the mother has not received an education. Therefore, there is a great necessity for platforms like the ToguMogu app, which offers parents easy access to educational resources and information to better care for their infants. ToguMogu’s website states that its goal is to provide a one-stop platform for parenting, especially for the large population of new and young parents in Bangladesh.

ToguMogu Founding

The ToguMogu company was born after co-founder Dr. Nasimul Islam Maruf and his wife became new parents in 2016 and felt lost looking for support during their pregnancy and parenting journey, especially when it came to finding educational content in Bengali, the national language of Bangladesh.

CEO and co-founder Nazmul Arefin Momel told Future Startup that the company initially started as a content website, before gradually expanding to e-commerce and product recommendation services as well as partnering with third-party services to create the doctor database, for instance.

After the company launched the ToguMogu parenting app in September 2020, a new version update came out in April 2021. As of July 2022, the app had more than 100,000 downloads and registered users.

Other Successes

The ToguMogu company stood as one of six winners of the 2022 STITCH for RMG Global Innovation Challenge, which the H&M Foundation launched in partnership with The Asia Foundation and the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC). The challenge aimed to support female workers in the ready-made garment industry in Bangladesh, a vulnerable population that often faces poverty and unsafe work conditions. ToguMogu’s work in the garment industry is to increase job retention after pregnancy and motherhood and ensure those female workers have the resources needed to make family care easier. ToguMogu won a $30,000 grant and will pilot its project in specific factories.

Future for the Joint Innovation Challenge

UNFPA and its partners will provide a virtual boot camp, mentorship and training until December 2022 to all of the winners. The training and boot camp will touch on project design planning, including market entry and deployment, to facilitate the implementation of these initiatives by March 2023. With the support and funding from the U.N., projects such as ToguMogu can have a tangible impact on women’s health and rights.

– Ramona Mukherji
Photo: Flickr

bangladesh-a-leader-in-fighting-hunger
Bangladesh, a country long associated with malnutrition and chronic hunger, has made incredibly noteworthy strides in its fight against hunger. Furthermore, it serves as an inspiration to other countries that struggle with the same problems. Bangladesh is the most densely populated country in the world, with a population of more than 165 million people and a projected population of more than 200 million people by 2050. This poses clear challenges, as it places economic, social and environmental strains on the country and drastically affects its ability to provide for its citizens.

How Bangladesh is Transforming into a Food Secure Country

In the last 40 years, Bangladesh has transformed from a country with chronic food shortages and poverty into a food basket that even serves the international community; food production has quadrupled in the last 40 years, and Bangladesh now exports food to other nations. Overall, hunger in Bangladesh has lessened.

This upward trend began in 1971 when Bangladesh gained its independence. This freed the country from economic strangulation and consequently high levels of poverty and extreme hunger. Initially, it struggled with extreme, devastating floods, which destroyed fertile farmland and resources. Bangladesh also did not initially receive adequate aid for food production. However, Bangladesh is now a model for other countries seeking to mitigate issues of hunger, as it has made notable strides in reducing malnutrition. A recent U.N. report even highlighted Bangladesh as a “bright spot” in the global movement to end global hunger before 2030. Since 2000, Bangladesh has lowered its hunger level by more than half and reduced the number of underweight children by 25%. In addition, it has decreased the infant mortality rate by 50%, an achievement that it shares with only five other countries.

To succeed in these ways, Bangladesh had to prioritize its development by promoting economic and food security. In the late 90s, improvements in rice varieties allowed for a revolution in rice production. This also combined with developments in aquaculture — 150,000 shallow ponds are now sustainable fish farms, for example. This also promotes women’s rights and development, as more than 60% of the nation’s fish farmers are women.

The Work of USAID

Many organizations have assisted Bangladesh in its efforts. USAID has been an incredibly active partner to Bangladesh in this effort, as it trained 67,000 women in aquaculture techniques. It works with the Bangladeshi government on various development activities that help improve availability and access to domestically produced, nutritious foods. Additionally, USAID assistance provides funding for research, monitoring, and training within Bangladeshi government agencies.

U.S. State Department funding helped establish the Food for Education program, which provided food vouchers and cash for poor families in exchange for their promises to send their children to school and help educate the next generation. This initiative, which started in Bangladesh, proved so successful that it was implemented in other countries; according to the U.N., the initiative was crucial in reducing global malnutrition. Bangladesh has also implemented microfinance programs to combat hunger and poverty, especially for women. Small loans enable small businesses to start and produce income that helps families around the country.

Feed the Future

Another essential initiative is Feed the Future, which the U.S. government funds. Bangladesh receives the third highest amount of any country. This initiative helps improve productivity and agricultural diversity in specific areas of southern Bangladesh; this enhances private sector competition by promoting economic growth, corporate practices and supply chain developments that assist poor farmers and struggling businesses. Additionally, the government consistently demonstrates its commitment to mitigating the issue of food insecurity, as its enthusiasm to work with these initiatives has proven.

All of these efforts are imperative because they help diversify sources of income for Bangladeshi farmers. The focus on aquaculture also broadens the variety of plants, fish and livestock. In addition, it encourages the adoption of post-harvest practices and promotes off-farm income. Bangladesh’s progress also shows the importance of coordinating with private and public sectors to identify market opportunities and strategies. Through improved collaboration, these efforts supported more than 225,000 farmers, who applied improved technologies in agronomic practices, such as irrigation, pest and disease management and livestock management.

Bangladesh is now completely food secure in rice production and produces sufficient amounts to feed its population of 165 million. This is a very noteworthy accomplishment, especially given the struggles with changing weather. According to household surveys that USAID and Feed the Future conducted, there has been a 16% decrease in poverty levels in areas that receive USAID and Feed the Future assistance. It is difficult to precisely pinpoint how much of this reduction in the poverty level is due to USAID programming, but this initial data is certainly encouraging.

Moving Forward and Ensuring Long-Term Prosperity

Going forward, these initiatives can improve by encouraging more nutritional diversity. Since most of the typical Bangladeshi diet is rice, young children may be prone to stunting or chronic malnutrition. About four-fifths of children do not receive a sufficient diet for their age range; on a national scale, 36% of children below 5 years of age experience stunting. Meanwhile, less than one-fifth of Feed the Future’s budget, for example, goes toward eliminating malnutrition. With more balanced programs, initiatives that Feed the Future and USAID run can better target this problem. Meanwhile, the country will continue to be an example of how implementing better agricultural practices and working with various initiatives can assist in mitigating poverty and hunger in Bangladesh.

 – Shiloh Harrill
Photo: Flickr

Schools in Bangladesh
Schools in Bangladesh, both public and private, opened their doors to students in September 2021 after enduring the most extended period of closure the world has ever seen, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there are some concerns, such as, how teachers will address the loss of learning that affects students around the country. Schools in Bangladesh are now employing new strategies to ensure students can get back on track with their learning after a more than one and a half year-long absence from the classroom.

New Protocol

Bangladesh experienced the world’s longest school shutdown period of 543 days, implemented at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools in Bangladesh, including schools that the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) runs finally reopened back in September 2021. In the week of September 19, 2021, BRAC welcomed 129,000 students back into school, according to the BRAC website.

After welcoming students back to its schools, BRAC pointed out two challenges that schools now face. The first challenge is to safeguard the health and well-being of both students and faculty during the continuing pandemic. BRAC schools began checking the temperatures of students and faculty upon entry every day, “either using temporary measures such as digital thermometers… or thermal scanners,” according to the BRAC website. These schools required students and faculty to wear masks and students received an outdoor break every hour.

BRAC has established handwashing stations across the schools and reduced class sizing by 50% to adhere to social distancing protocols, “with students attending in different sessions and no more than 15-20 students in a class at any one time.”

Extended Absence

The second challenge schools in Bangladesh now face is: understanding the extent to which a loss of learning has impacted students and helping them catch up. To address learning losses, BRAC educators conducted an “initial formative assessment” to identify areas of need and “design a remedial intervention for the next 17-20 school days.” BRAC educators also made accommodations for extra learning days where necessary.

Amid the pandemic, BRAC introduced remote learning for students. While the switch to remote learning proved troublesome for all, the task proved even more difficult for lower-level income households. According to BRAC, only 8.7% of the most impoverished 20% of families in Bangladesh had internet access in their residences.

As a result of the limited access to internet connections and devices, “children have suffered enormous setbacks in their learning journey,” said George Laryea-Adjei, regional director of the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in an interview with Al Jazeera. Only 41% of  Bangladesh’s 169 million people have access to smartphones, according to the Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh.

The Awaited Return

Upon returning to the classroom, students met with celebration. One public school in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, welcomed its students back with flowers and candy. “We are really excited to be back at school,” said 15-year-old Muntasir Ahmed to Agence France-Presse (AFP). Ahmed also expressed excitement about seeing friends and classmates in person rather than through the screen of a device.

During the first week of BRAC schools reopening, there was a major focus on the physical and mental well-being of its returning students. “The key is not only getting students to return, but to want to stay in school after such a long break,” BRAC said on its website.

Schools in Bangladesh closed in March 2020 to curb the spread of COVID-19. At the time of reopening, Dipu Monu, education minister of Bangladesh, visited an educational institution in Dhaka and said that only students who are taking public exams would attend classes day-to-day upon school reopening. She also added that students who are not taking public exams would attend class once or twice a week.

While schools in Bangladesh endured the longest school closure during the COVID-19 pandemic, the implementation of new safety and learning procedures seems to provide hope for both returning students and their families. Educators have been working diligently since schools shut down to prepare for the return of their students, ready to provide the remedial education necessary to recover learning losses.

– Henry Hyman
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Dry Chittagong Hill Tracts
Bangladesh’s topography mostly consists of low-lying, flat terrain. However, a notable exception is the Chittagong Hill Tracts. In recent years, this mountainous region has become increasingly water insecure due to deforestation, government neglect and torrid dry seasons. Fortunately, Hydram, a water pumping technology, provides a potential solution for the dry Chittagong Hill Tracts.

Chittagong Hill Tracts

Nestled in southeastern Bangladesh, the Chittagong Hill Tracts‘ forests, lakes and streams provide geographic diversity to the nation. Composed of mostly indigenous peoples, the region also provides ethnic diversity as well.

However, the Chittagong Hill Tracts’ 1.6 million people are incredibly water insecure. According to UNICEF’s 2019 report, the region has lower levels of access to water than the rest of Bangladesh. In 2013, 60.5% of Chittagong residents had access to potable drinking water compared to 97.9% of inhabitants of the entire nation.

Unfortunately, water disparity remains an issue as Bangladeshi authorities allocated the majority of funds of their Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) budget for FY 21-22 to urban areas, especially the capital, Dhaka. Thus, residents of the dry Chittagong Hill Tracts receive scant assistance from their government relative to their city-dwelling neighbors.

In addition to discriminatory government funding, another cause of the Chittagong Hill Tracts’ water crisis is the disappearance of the region’s forests. According to Global Forest Watch, in 2010, the hilly region had 135,000 Kha (521.2 square miles) of forest. By 2021, the region lost 919 ha (3.5 square miles) of woodland.

These dual crises have made water a scarce commodity in the dry Chittagong Hill Tracts. Thus, they have put on a burdensome human toll on the daily lives of the members of the region’s communities.

Voices from the Hill Tracts

Because of insufficient government funding and rising deforestation rates, the region’s main sources of water are running dry. Therefore, many members of the remote communities have to travel interminable distances to gather water.

Aungshaching Murma, a 52-year-old resident of the Rangamati district of the Hill Tracts, has “to walk two kilometres to collect water from the neighbouring village.” According to The New Humanitarian, the water collected from these long and precarious journeys are often impure. The water often causes illnesses because sewage has contaminated it.

Additionally, water security in the dry Chittagong Hill Tracts is seasonally dependent. Babli Tripura, a 19-year-old resident, said to Next Blue, “At this time of the year (the dry season), there is a severe shortage. The village women collect water day and night. It is very difficult to climb the high hills with the water (in pitchers and pots), but there is no alternative.”

During the dry season, water insecurity is especially acute. Women and children often have to gather water and thus are subject to onerous and dangerous conditions. Joshim Uddin, the male head of a family in the Hill Tracts, explained to The New Humanitarian that “Women and children are forced to fetch water from far and wide…Water is available from a nearby spring at other times, but it is not available during the dry season.” Fortunately, there is a potential solution for the dry Chittagong Hill Tracts: Hydram.

Hydram: A Potential Solution for the Water-Scarce Region

According to Dhaka Tribune, Hydram is the result of a collaboration between UNDP Bangladesh Accelerator Lab and Creative Conservation Alliance. It is a “hydraulic ramp pump system” Hydram designed for high-elevation areas like the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

In contrast to many traditional pumps, Hydram can lift water up to 600 feet, according to Dhaka Tribune. The technology also does not require any additional energy sources because it utilizes the energy produced from water traveling downhill. Thus, it is easy to use and environmentally friendly.

Hydram conducted its pilot program in the village of Matamuhuri. In addition to gaining a plethora of technical knowledge, the research team learned that community ownership of the technology was key to its success. As a result of this auspicious pilot project, the Hydram team is currently working on implementing the water pump system in additional villages, Dhaka Tribune reported.

A Promising Future for the Region

Hydram offers propitious signs for the future of the dry Chittagong Hill Tracts. In the case of successful implementation of hydraulic technology in the communities across the region, then the region has the potential to achieve high levels of water security.

With the combined efforts of Hydram and the Bangladeshi government, the residents of the Chittagong Hill Tracts should gain access to sufficient water for drinking, sanitation, irrigation and daily chores. Therefore, a hopeful future for the region is on the horizon.

– Alexander Portner
Photo: Flickr

Disabled in BangladeshDue to the combination of widespread poverty and overpopulation, life can be especially difficult for the disabled in Bangladesh. The Blind Education and Rehabilitation Development Organization (Berdo) started its journey on July 17, 1991. The objective of Berdo is to rehabilitate people with disabilities through “income generation, education, training and treatment facilities.” Through this process, the organization enables the blind and disabled to succeed and live life with relative normality.

Job Placement

A common issue among the disabled is getting secure employment. The job-generating project aims to aid the disabled in finding suitable employment. An important aspect of this will be communicating with prospective employers in order to best accommodate the needs of the disabled. This program is funded by the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited (HSBC). The program has produced in excess of 115 jobs for people with disabilities, as of data from 2008.

Community-Based Rehabilitation (CBR)

Community-based rehabilitation for the disabled is provided through the following methods:

  • Community-based counseling with other disabled people.

  • Training in mobility and skills needed for daily living.

  • Facilitating access to necessary loans.

  • Improving disability awareness.

  • Local self-help groups, parents groups and Disability Persons Organizations (DPOs).

  • Facilitating enrollment in schools for the disabled.

Braille Library

Access to braille literature is essential for the blind to obtain new information. A library with audiobooks, CDs and braille books is located in Bangladesh. Five hundred braille books and 300 audiobooks are currently available. The library also contains a recording studio for recording audiobooks.

The School of Information and Technology for the Visually Impairment (SITVI)

The School of Information and Technology for the Visually Impairment (SITVI) is a program to teach essential computer and internet skills to the visually impaired. Relief International Schools online provided the computers needed for this program. This program currently has four computers but will likely expand in the future.

Promotion of Human Rights

The Promotion of Human Rights of Persons with Disability in Bangladesh (PHRPBD) is a program that aims to expand and protect the rights of the disabled community. This program works alongside the Center for Disability in Development (CDD). These rights are addressed through several small meetings of female Persons with Disabilities (PWD):

  • Distribution of necessary assistive devices.

  • Helping people with disabilities obtain disability allowances.

  • Assisting children with disabilities with admission into schools.

  • Referral services and regular check-ups

Education

Berdo has opened centers in Dhaka and Madaripur. Within these centers are schools and hostels for the blind to access. Services provided by these centers include:

  • Foodservice

  • Lodging

  • Medical check-ups

  • Counseling Support

  • Education

  • Sports

  • Cultural Activities

Japan provided Berdo with a grant of $87,350. With this fund, Berdo was able to obtain and utilize a braille press. A braille press is essential for the process of making texts that can be accessed by the blind. Specifically, the organization will this press to make texts for the Berdo Blind School, library members and other blind people within Bangladesh. This could enhance the self-reliance of the visually impaired as well as promote adequate education.

While the current scope of Berdo is somewhat small compared to the population, it is providing essential services for the disabled. These services should continue to be expanded upon in order to give equal opportunities and allow the disabled to achieve more stability and success.

– Max Cole
Photo: Flickr

Bangladesh’s Enhanced Investments
In May 2022, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, stated that Bangladesh is in need of enhanced investments from countries friendly with it and especially from the U.S. The country requests investments in an attempt to become a prosperous and developed country by its goal year, 2041. If the U.S. chooses to participate in Bangladesh’s enhanced investments, Bangladesh is choosing to diversify what it’s spending the investments on. At the pace they are currently going, Bangladesh will have graduated from being on the list of least developed countries (LDC) in the year 2026.

Usage of Investments

Hasina believes that Bangladesh’s enhanced investments are promising amongst investors due to its infrastructure. In addition to that, the government has eased the rules and regulations for businesses and investments that existed prior. The country recently implemented many development programs that help improve its livability. One major highlight is that recently, the entire country went under full electricity coverage, according to Dhaka Tribune.

Areas of Focus

More major areas of focus are water communication systems, roadways and railways. The government is also working on Bangladesh’s enhanced investments by creating zones for domestic and foreign investors throughout the country, with 100 unique economic zones set in the plan. According to Hasina, the government’s focus on advancing skilled manpower and the demographic dividend assures investors that Bangladesh’s enhanced investments will garner skilled human resources at vying wages.

Diversify the Investments

Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, AK Abdul Momen is requesting that U.S. businesses make more diverse investments that go further than just the energy sectors, such as the agriculture sector. Around 90% of current investments from the U.S. to Bangladesh fund the energy sector, which the country will continue to use and request more investment in it. The country is also ambitiously suggesting that the U.S. produces goods out of it as well. Entrepreneurs from the U.S. have also shown interest in Bangladeshi Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) sector as it has more than 650,000 freelancers in the country.

US – Bangladesh Relations

Jay R. Pryor, the Vice President of Chevron was staying in Bangladesh from May 7 to May 11, 2022 to explore U.S. – Bangladesh economic opportunities. During this visit, discussions occurred regarding many plans for Bangladesh’s enhanced investments. The U.S. delegation expressed its interest in investing in “Smart Bangladesh” after already successfully implementing “Digital Bangladesh” in the country. In addition, Salman F. Raman, the Prime Minister’s private sector industry and investment advisor expressed that Bangladesh’s agriculture industry can bring lots of success and is suggesting investors bring modern technology to the sector.

The Positive Outcome

The investments that the leaders of Bangladesh are urgently seeking can drastically improve the livability of the country. Bangladesh is now incorporating solar water pumps in its water industry in order to improve the water supply. As Bangladesh moves forward, it is steadily improving all sectors in its country making its goal of becoming a developed and prosperous country by the year 2041 a foreseeable reality.

– Christina Papas
Photo: Flickr

Mobile Phones Can Fight Child Marriage
A March 2021 report by UNICEF indicates that as many as 100 million girls in the world could experience child marriage in the next 10 years. The COVID-19 pandemic prompted school shutdowns, financial distress, parental mortality and early pregnancy, putting millions of girls at risk of child marriage. Several organizations have created initiatives to reduce child marriage amid the pandemic and many of the initiatives revolve around mobile phone use. Mobile phones can fight child marriage and gender discrimination by raising awareness with hotlines, social media and apps designed to educate and empower young women.

Driving Forces Behind Child Marriage

In countries where child marriage is prevalent, many parents feel social and economic pressures to marry off their young daughters. Parents who do not have the resources to support all of their children may feel that pushing their daughters into marriage is the only financial option. Patriarchal norms, economic instability, lack of educational opportunities and poverty can all increase the commonality of child marriages in developing countries. According to Girls Not Brides, many parents believe child marriage will increase their daughters’ safety and reduce the risk of sexual and physical abuse, even though this is quite the contrary — spousal abuse is quite common in child marriages. Mobile phones can fight child marriage by raising awareness about laws, rights, job opportunities and alternatives to child marriage.

The Naubat Baja Project

The National Family Health Survey 2020-21 (NFHS-5) revealed that, in Rajasthan, 25.4% of females between 20 and 24 years old entered into marriages before the age of 18. In rural areas of Rajasthan, child marriage rates of females are higher at 28.3% in comparison to 15.1% in urban areas.

The Naubat Baja project began on International Women’s Day in 2019 to reduce child marriage in Rajasthan and empower girls through mobile phones. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) worked in collaboration with the Government of Rajasthan, the Directorate of Women Empowerment and the Rural Electrification Corporation (REC) Foundation to launch the initiative. The idea behind the project is to target youth using their “favorite” technological devices: mobile phones.

When girls call the Naubat Baja number, they receive a phone call back that contains a recording about government welfare schemes, job opportunities and information about child marriage, health, hygiene, COVID-19 protocols and other themes that are relevant to girls in Rajasthan. Various forms of entertainment, such as songs, stories and short audio dramas, which Naubat Baja updates regularly, relay much of this information. Initiatives like the Naubat Baja project model how mobile phones can fight child marriage and gender discrimination by providing girls with access to empowering resources and information.

Apps and Social Media

Many mobile phones support apps and social media that can fight child marriage and uplift girls who are at risk of it. The creators of the Naubat Baja project used social media and graffiti to popularize the initiative among young people. While many low-income areas lack access to the internet, launching a project like Naubat Baja on social media can help gain national and global support from communities that do have internet access.

Several developers have also created apps that prevent child marriage. Bangladesh has a child marriage prevalence of 51%, ranking in the top 10 nations with the highest rates of child marriage globally. An organization called Plan International Bangladesh designed an app for marriage registrars to verify young women’s ages before entering into marriage. In its first six months of use, the app prevented more than 3,700 child marriages.

Between apps, social media and hotlines, mobile phones offer a range of technological resources that can empower girls and fight child marriage. The rising popularity of mobile phones makes their influence increasingly widespread, especially among youth. The Naubat Baja project exemplifies how technology can lead to social development and spread awareness about pressing issues like child marriage.

Cleo Hudson
Photo: Unsplash