Integrating poor women into city governance

Sep 12, 2013

Hasna and Munira attribute their success to a large extent to the UPPR’s empowerment efforts. Photo: UNDP Bangladesh.

Women in Bangladesh suffer under pervasive gender discrimination. Access to justice and services such as secondary and tertiary education and health remain far lower for women than for men. Significantly fewer women are employed and the ones that are receive considerably lower average salaries compared to their male co-workers.

Decision-making power and mobility are often restricted, while early marriage and motherhood worsen their situation. In a predominantly male society like in Bangladesh, it is rare for urban poor women to be elected for a leadership positions within their communities or government. As a consequence, Bangladeshi women suffer from an inferior social status, limited political influence, high rates of poverty, poor health, and malnourishment.

In that context over the past few years UPPR has focussed on empowering and integrating women into community development structures, with many having taken over leadership positions in their neighbourhoods.

In fact, eight women that have been supporting UPPR community structures have been elected as Councillors in Khulna, Barisal, and Rajshahi in this year’s City Corporation elections held on 15 June 2013. They attribute their success to a large extent to the project’s empowerment efforts and their communities’ support. 

 “Before UPPR, we were only housewives. We could not talk easily. Now we can speak anywhere, cantake part in various workshops, seminars, and meetings. We can also easily mix with all kinds of people. We have received different trainings from UPPR, so we have been more capable to face any situation in the community,” said Jahanara Begum when describing her change from a housewife to Councillor in Barisal. 

Like Jahanara, many women have highlighted their lack of decision-making power, restriction of movement, and a lack of respect aggravated by regular verbal and physical abuse by family members, before joining UPPR efforts.

Their active engagement in various activities and interaction with the community members through the project’s Community Development Committees (CDC) not only helped them understand what leadership positions entail but also encouraged them to campaign for elections.

Hasna Hena who was elected as Councillor for Khulna says, “If I was not familiar with CDC activities, I would not have contested the election. Before the elections, I shared my intention to compete for the Councillor position with my CDC members. They greatly encouraged me. Community members campaigned day and night for me and helped elect me. My success is down to them.”

Having an active role in improving the living conditions of the poor and providing grants for marginalized women encouraged them to extend their reach through political engagement in their local governments. As the eight elected women took their oath as new Councillors, they expressed their dedication and commitment to carry out their duties and bring change to the urban poor in their jurisdictions.

Monira Khatun who successfully competed in the Khulna City Corporation elections put forward her vision, “I wish to continue to work for the poor community with my full efforts. I am committed to helping marginalized women and will extend all my support for them. I also want to be a women’s representative for the next term. I want to see the women in a better position. I will encourage all other poor and vulnerable women to become women’s representative like me.”

UPPR will continue to empower women who on their part will take action to support others, multiplying the reach for the betterment of living conditions for women in Bangladesh. To that end, the newly elected Councillors serve as an inspiration for other vulnerable women to follow in their footsteps.