Field Story Details

Education and knowledge: Providing women with power through EKATA groups
December 1, 2009
The village of Darbesh Kata Uttarpara in Barobeula Upazilla is home to 167 poor
and extreme poor households. Taslima Begum and Halima Begum are two women from the village who know all too well the hardships that extreme poverty bring. However, through their participation in the SHOUHARDO program, both women have made substantial improvements to their lives. As members of the women’s empowerment group, Empowerment through Knowledge And Transformative Action (EKATA), Taslima and Halima are taking control of their lives and improving not only their own futures, but the futures of their children, and the community as a whole.

Gender inequity is entrenched in Bangladesh and women in particular are often
constrained by restrictive social norms, conservative attitudes and socio-economic
disadvantage; a combination which severely restricts people, communities, and on a
broader level the whole country, to break the cycles of poverty.

Discrimination against women manifests in many guises: evident in food intake, access to education, health, employment, political participation and decision-making, in early marriage, dowry, divorce, reproduction, inheritance, asset sharing and resource distribution. Low literacy, exclusion and disempowerment keep women invisible, vulnerable and voiceless in private and public life, preventing genuine agency within the family and broader community. To begin to address these problems, SHOUHARDO has undertaken several interventions that aim to enhance women’s empowerment, to facilitate a process of change and enable women to be the central actors in their lives. These interventions encompass awareness raising about rights and entitlements, equipping women with the necessary skills to problem solve and mainstreaming women’s voices from community level, across regions to the national sphere. As the SHOUHARDO program draws to a close, the effectiveness of women’s empowerment activities are being assessed by asking:
•Are EKATA groups functioning well?
•Are women involved in local power structures?
•Are women’s groups integrating into wider national advocacy networks
and developing relationships with service providers?
Taslima and Halima
•Do the women believe their lives have changed as a result of
empowerment activities?
•What do men think and how do they feel about women’s empowerment
activities in their community?

The village of Darbesh Kata Uttapara provides an excellent example of women’s
empowerment initiatives making positive changes in the community through an

EKATA group. EKATA groups are made up of twenty women and ten adolescent girls who meet three times a week to discuss women’s rights issues, receive numeracy and literacy training, identify local problems and their solutions through Community Action Plans, and become involved in local governance groups. They are led by an EKATA volunteer, funded by the program, who provides training and leadership to participants.

Women’s empowerment at work: The EKATA Group in Darbesh Kata Uttapara

SHOUHARDO has been working in Darbesh Kata Uttapara since 2007 with the assistance of the partner Non Government Organisation (NGO) Social Assistance and Rehabilitation for the Physically Vulnerable (SARPV). Using the Well Being Analysis to select program participants SHOUHARDO has been working with SARPV on implementations across SHOUHARDO’s four working areas of addressing governance and livelihoods, food security, women’s empowerment, health and nutrition, and disaster preparedness. The stories of Halima and Taslima provide an insight into how far reaching the positive impacts of effective change can be.

Halima Begum, 32, is a member of the village EKATA Group, and represents her local community through her membership in the Union Parishad Handicrafts Standing Committee, Village Development Committee, Parents and Teachers Association, and EKATA group. Through the money she earns making toupees (religious caps) and raising goats she is able to supplement the maintenance payments she receives from her estranged husband of between 1000-2000 taka per month. This means she is able to send her seven year-old son to religious school, and regularly contribute to the community’s savings account. On top of this, Halima practices the six elements of sanitation in her home and can write her own name. Today, Halima’s future is bright and she is better equipped than ever to help others in her community break the cycles of extreme poverty she herself works hard to overcome.

But it has not always been this way for Halima. Five years ago, when her husband left her and her young son, she was left destitute with no home, no income, and what looked like no way out. The stigma of divorce and separation in Bangladesh is a serious issue, and many women who find themselves in this position are forced to take work wherever they can get it, as cheap day labourers, domestic helpers, beggars, or worse. With no way of securing regular income, Halima was unable to feed herself or her son, and life was hard.

In 2007 Halima was selected by SARPV as a SHOUHARDO participant as part
of the program activities in the Chakaria Disctrict of Cox’s Bazaar. As a program
beneficiary, Halima joined the local EKATA women’s group and took steps
towards addressing her situation. With the support of her fellow EKATA members, Halima made contact with the local NGO CARITAS who provided her with a home for her and her son. The next step was to demand the maintenance payments her husband should have been paying her by law, but which many abandoned women never receive.

Halima took her case directly to the Union Parishad Chairman and with the support of the EKATA Group behind her, the Chairman took her case seriously. Her husband was ordered by the Chairman to pay Halima the monthly
maintenance payments to which she was entitled. This marks a significant step
forward for women’s rights in Barobeula Union, and her case has paved the way
for women in similar situations in her village to do the same.

It is Halima’s participation in the local government structures, above all, that truly demonstrates just how far she has come. Her membership in the Union Disaster Management Committee, Village Development Committee, and Parents and Teacher’s Association provides her with the opportunity to represent not only herself, but her whole community, and gives her a say in local governance of the community. Through participating in this group, and representing the needs of everyone in her village, Halima is an excellent example of how women, when provided with the tools for their own empowerment, can not only help themselves out of poverty, but become important, respected and active community members, to the benefit of everyone.

Taslima Begum is another example of the success of the women’s
empowerment element of the SHOUHARDO program. At 22 years old, she is
married with one son. With a big smile as bright as her orange sari, Taslima is
quick to quote a government family planning slogan to explain why she only has
one child:
“Duti shontan jhottestho, ekti hole arro bhalo”, or “two children is enough, but one
child is better”
Through the education she receives from the EKATA Group, Taslima has the
information and resources she needs to take control of the size of her family,
which fills her with pride.

Another source of pride for Taslima is the role she is preparing for within her
village. She is being trained by Kukhi, the EKATA Volunteer, to take over
leadership of the group once the SHOUHARDO program comes to a close.
Already she is the treasurer for the Village Development Committee, and is
learning how to direct community problem solving sessions and turn the
outcomes into Community Action Plans, with the support of her fellow group
members. This is a significant role in the village, and paves the way for the
progress made so far to be sustained over the long term.

This is a significant improvement in her livelihood compared to life before the
SHOUHARDO program when Taslima had no work. Today she runs a local
grocery store which earns her 1,000 taka per month, and she has saved 3,500
taka which acts as livelihood security for her family. The skills she has learnt
through the grocery store are proving very useful and have helped give her the
confidence to be a vocal member of the local Union Parishad NNPC Committee,
as well as being the treasurer of the Village Development Committee and
Parents and Teachers Association. The support she has from the village can be
heard in the applause which erupts when Taslima talks about all the work she is
involved in from the Community Action Plan to numeracy and literary training.
Clearly she is a woman who is empowered, and Taslima along with Halima, is
acting as an excellent role model that paves the way for long term improvements
in gender relations across Bangladesh.

By Lyrian Fleming, Regional Communications Assistant

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