According to a World Bank report, “Whispers to Voices: Gender and Social Transformation,” Bangladesh has been successful in enhancing the status of women because of egalitarian principles that the country has adopted since its independence in 1971.
Bangladesh is successful, in part, because of programs reaching out to women, especially rural women. One such program is the “Notun Jibon – New life” administered by the country’s Social Development Foundation with the assistance of the World Bank. So far, over 1,000 villages across the country have benefited from this community-driven program, which has provided critical village infrastructure in rural areas - such as improved schools, roads and bridges, and clean drinking water.
Under this program, elected committee members in villages decide on and oversee what needs to be done in their communities. Women hold an astonishing 80% of all the program’s decision making positions.
Beauty Ara, from Mohodipur in Gaibandha district, is a community member benefiting from this program. Ara says she has seen a dramatic change in the role of women in the country. As a small girl growing up in Bangladesh, her family did not even allow her to go to school. Now she is part of her village’s decision-making process, and says she’s working to ensure that the entire community, both men and women, have a fair chance at receiving an education and applying for jobs.
Morsheda Akhter Mili is from the Ajhupipar village that has benefited from the program. She says her village is steadily making progress. “The roads which are being constructed will be beautified by us through green plantation. We want to earn money by cultivating fish in the leased ponds of our village. Through our organization, we want to establish a grocery complex from where each of us can buy our required items. This is our dream.”
The World Bank identified “Notun Jibon” as the best instrument for quickly channeling funds to support livelihoods restoration at the community level during the aftermath of cyclone Sidr, which hit the shores of Bangladesh on November 2007. The cyclone caused extensive damage to lives, property, livestock, and crops, with total damage and losses estimated at US$1.7 billion.