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Community adaptation and women’s empowerment in Bangladesh

They have very limited access to land and productive assets, they lack support networks, financial safety nets and are often unable to access government support.

Women in marginalised communities are particularly disadvantaged, as they carry multiple roles at home and in their community and their needs are often overlooked by government schemes (eg pensions or access to health or agricultural support services).  

Recurring disasters and climate change, impacts from floods and droughts, in addition to high groundwater salt content, severely impact on agriculture. This further hampers development in the country. 

Christian Aid has been helping women ensure their food security by identifying opportunities to improve access to markets, helping to raise their incomes and find strategies to help them cope and adapt to climate change.

To ensure sustainability, we also empowered women to make demands to the government.

How we helped

Over the five years of the DFID-funded Programme Partnership Agreement (PPA), 2011-16, we worked with 11 partners in districts highly vulnerable to climate change and natural disasters.

We reached 24,459 women - providing rights and gender training and capacity building to allow them to  take an active role in practical resilience-building and advocating with the government.

Empowering women

We used participatory vulnerability and capacity assessments (PVCA) to support communities to identify risks and develop and implement community action plans, focusing particularly on including and empowering women.

Women’s groups were created and members were able to learn about and take part in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation activities, such as rainwater harvesting, salt tolerant crop planting, floating gardens and raising homesteads within their families and communities. 

Advocacy and markets

The women's groups lobbied and worked with various government and non-government organisations to get the support and services they needed in order to mitigate the effects of climate change.

We also actively worked to increase market access, by linking groups with larger buyers, and helped diversify their incomes from a greater variety of crops.

One example is our partner, Church of Bangladesh Social Development Programme (CBSDP), which helped form 180 women's development groups in 29 villages, with a total of 3,500 members.

Image credits and information i
Shoroma Rani from Bangladesh
Shoroma Rani from Bangladesh

The most gratifying moment for me was to cultivate paddy by myself... I can use my knowledge properly and my earnings, including homestead gardening, paddy cultivation, fish cultivation, helps me to eradicate my wretched situation. I also teach people constructive ways to get higher production... their admiration makes me more valued as a farmer of this village and increases my self-worth too.

- Shoroma Rani - A 'Shusamay' committee member.

The impact

Group formation enabled demands to be ‘bundled together’ from the bottom up - linking less influential individuals with more influential ones within groups. This amplified previously unheard demands at a community level, resulting in government officials responding to their demands.

Six partners recorded 238 diverse participatory vulnerability and capacity assessments (PVCA) priorities being successfully included in government schemes. They included:  

  • funding for immediate disaster risk reduction
  • government livestock vaccination and other agricultural support services
  • health service access
  • and access, for the first time, to government schemes for maternity allowance or pension funds for marginalised and excluded groups.

Survey data from 2015 shows that 90% of respondents added income sources over the period (from a sample representing 27,573 – 89% women).

The average yearly household income increased from £210 in 2011 to £970 in 2015

Women are increasingly able to exercise their rights and access entitlements. Thanks to this small personal financial safety net, they have more resources to better manage external shocks, which has boosted their self-esteem and confidence. They now feel like an asset to society, able to add their voice in decision-making.