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Tackle poverty first

  • Published at 12:54 pm December 27th, 2014
Tackle poverty first

Bangladesh Girl Summit, which was held in Dhaka on October 27, was organised by Brac in partnership with the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs and DFID as a follow-up event to the Girl Summit held on July 21 hosted by the UK government with the partnership of Unicef.

The aim of the summit was to end child marriage and work towards achieving women’s empowerment collectively. One of the biggest highlights of Bangladesh Girl Summit 2014 was the pledges. Top officials from Bangladesh Police Women’s Network - BPWN, Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Daily Samakal, made pledges about their future actions towards ending child marriage and promoting women empowerment.

The pledges will function as a melting point to a highly crucial agenda which, although stressed upon, has hardly been addressed. One of the proposed solutions which came up often was ensuring that each child has a birth certificate with his/her real age – the idea being that this will diminish the chances of early marriage. Much work needs to be done both in the formal and informal sectors. It is up to the Bangladesh government to ascertain that the approved policies are implemented.

At the same time, parents need to be counselled about the consequences of child marriage so that they do not think of it as a solution to all their hardships. Finally, strong legal action needs to be taken against those who continue to practice child marriage in order to set an example.

I have taken part in various discussions recently, where we tried to determine the root cause of child marriage and what the ultimate solution might be. Here is a typical scenario in a rural setting: Boy harasses girl, then gradually proceeds to threaten her. Parents feel obliged to get her married as soon as possible. Chairman of the village urges parents to get her married off to the boy who harasses her. Girl marries boy at a very young age.

The ultimate question becomes: Is awareness raising and sensitisation to the issue of women’s empowerment going to work on these parents? Who will get them out of this overwhelming situation?

Perhaps, looking at the situation in a roundabout fashion might be a solution. One of the main ways of overcoming such problems is working towards eliminating extreme poverty and hunger, that, consequently, is also one of the agendas in the Millennium Development Goals. This can be done through creating enough food supply and by making the rural population (where such problems are prominent) self-sufficient so that they can not only produce their own food but also create surplus, thereby earning a living in the process.

There are many organisations that work towards these goals. Brac has a large-scale program on agriculture and food security currently operating in Bangladesh, Uganda, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Liberia, South Sudan, and Haiti.

It not only helps in the production of food but also helps farmers develop sustainable relationships with markets so that they can sell quality seeds at fair prices, conduct research to develop better varieties and practices for the agricultural sector, offer credit support to poor farmers, and promote the use of efficient farming techniques and proven technologies.

Using environmentally-sustainable practices, Brac is helping these countries become self-sufficient in food production and also in generating employment.

Another program titled “Targeting the Ultra-Poor” is for those who fall at the bottom of the social ladder. Despite progress in poverty-reduction and human development in Bangladesh, there is still an urgent need for more effective safety nets and program targeted at the ultra poor, who constitute the poorest 17.5% of the population.

People in this category suffer from chronic hunger and malnutrition, have inadequate shelter, are highly prone to many types of diseases, are deprived of education, and are particularly vulnerable to recurring natural disasters. Initiated in 2002, Brac’s challenging the frontiers of poverty-reduction targeting the ultra poor (CFPR-TUP) program is specifically designed to meet the needs of ultra-poor households, who are too poor to access the benefits of microfinance.

Eliminating child marriage is a massive task in a country like Bangladesh, where a majority of the people go on without food for days. Creating employment and producing food are two issues that need to be dealt with beforehand in order to mitigate child marriage and work towards the empowerment of women. 

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