The forgotten conflict in the isolated Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) area of Bangladesh gravely affects the lives of the indigenous Jummas (11 ethno-linguistically and religiously diverse people). Traditional patriarchal social structures in the area severely disadvantage women and girls, and restrict their bodily and sexual autonomy. Together with the prolonged conflict, this increases their exposure to sexual violence and assault.
Besides being exposed to sexual violence, harassment and assault, young women and girls lack the information, means and support to manage their menstruation with dignity and fulfil their sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Civil society in the area encounters challenges to play their role as positive change agents that are responsive to women’s rights and safety, due to limited financial and technical capacity and a restrictive civic space.
These factors make the Hill Tracts highly relevant for a programme to promote gender equality and women and girls’ empowerment. Building on over 30 years’ experience working on community health in Bangladesh, Simavi has designed Our Lives, Our Health, Our Futures with partner BNPS (local women’s rights organization). The programme has begun in 2019 with the support of the European Union.
The programme has 2 main objectives.
- Local Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have strengthened their technical, methodological, financial and administrative capacity to effectively respond to the Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Health (SRHR) needs of young women and adolescent girls and foster their rights to live free from violence, coercion and discrimination;
- Young women and adolescent girls from the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) are empowered to make free and informed decisions about their SRHR and are supported to do so, free of violence, coercion and discrimination.
The impact the programme aims to make through these objectives is:
To enable and support young women and adolescent girls from the indigenous communities in the CHT to transition into adult womanhood with dignity, and bodily and sexual autonomy without violence, coercion and/or discrimination.
This EU-supported programme is built around a rights-based approach, with the specific needs and priorities of girls and young women in the region at the centre stage. Our holistic, women-centred approach is impact-oriented to ensure we achieve the greatest change possible for young women and girls from indigenous groups in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT).
At the core of the programme is a carefully structured capacity strengthening trajectory of local civil society organizations based in the CHT. Through this trajectory we will provide financial, technical and methodological support to local civil society organizations as they implement the intervention so they are responsive to women’s and girls’ needs.
These organisations have been selected through an objective and transparent process where the focus has been to give priority to organisations that focus on women’s rights, indigenous rights and the development of CHT communities.
The intervention is designed around the continuous work with women and girls, where they themselves identify their main priorities and needs to fulfill their sexual and reproductive rights and the specific risks they face, the ways in which they are already protecting themselves and the means to bolster them. To prevent any increase of violence towards young women and girls, we carefully sequence the activities. This way, we mitigate the risks of resistance from communities, especially from men and boys.
The work with the young women and girls will inform our work with other key actors in their lives. We will engage the mothers of young women and girls, men and boys and community leaders to be supportive of young women and girls SRHR and safety.
We explore their attitudes towards existing socio-cultural and gender norms so they are receptive and responsive to young women and girls’ needs. We also work with service providers, to increase their capacity and skills to deliver quality, sexual and reproductive health services and to respond to sexual and gender based violence, ensuring that these are safe women-friendly and age appropriate.
This carefully sequenced, participatory approach will ensure transparency, accountability, and community ownership throughout the action.
Practically, the programme works with the following strategies.
With regard to objective one – capacity strengthening of local CSOs:
- Objective selection of local CSOs and provide selected CSOs financial support;
- Self-assessment of CSOs organisational capacity ;
- Train local CSOs staff on financial management, women-centred impact-oriented programming and monitoring and evaluation, menstrual health, SRHR and gender-based violence;
- Provide ongoing coaching and support on financial management, monitoring and evaluation and thematic areas;
- Provide support and space for cross-learning and exchange among CSOs for greater impact.
With regard to objective two – empowering young women and adolescent girls:
- Work with schools and communities on menstrual health, women-friendly and safe toilets. Train women and girls to produce re-usable sanitary pads;
- Establish girls’ clubs that support young women and girls empowerment, to make informed decisions and define their priorities;
- Engage mothers, men, boys, community leaders and authorities to support women and girls’ safety and SRHR;
- Train service providers on quality standards of service provision, age appropriate and women-friendly services;
- Engage with national, regional, district, local authorities to support young women and girls reproductive health and safety.
The programme has started activities in 2019. Expected results for the 5-year programme period are:
- 10 locally based CSOs in the CHT have increased capacity to respond to women’s needs and priorities;
- 12,000 young women and girls are supported and empowered to define their priorities on SRHR and safety;
- 12,000 mothers are engaged to support young women and girls’ needs and priorities;
- 24,000 men and boys are engaged to support young women and girls’ needs and priorities;
- Community leaders, health service providers and schools are engaged to support young women and girls’ safety and sexual and reproductive health and rights;
- Regional, district and local authorities and stakeholders are engaged to support young women and girls safety and sexual and reproductive health and rights.