Congratulations to the Development Organization of the Rural Poor (DORP), which recently won first place in the ‘People’s Choice’ category of the Water ChangeMaker Awards organised by the Global Water Partnership, for work on one of their many successful projects; the Mother’s Parliaments.
DORP is a long-time partner of WIN. We interviewed DORP’s Zobair Hasan, Director – Research, Planning and Monitoring, to learn more about Mother’s Parliaments and their role in strengthening women’s voices in the water sector in Bangladesh.
WASH challenges in coastal Bangladesh
Bangladesh’s south-west coastal region is quite vulnerable to effects of climate change; flooding, high levels of salinity in groundwater, soil, and drinking water due to sea level rise. Resulting reductions to drinkable water adversely affect health and sanitation.
Additional challenges in the region include:
- 38% of people live below the poverty
- inadequate local government funding for WASH facilities
- lack of local awareness of water rights
- lack of understanding about how to effect change
Zobair Hasan of DORP explained the situation: ‘Transparency is a problem, and budgeting decisions are not participatory. Many elected policymakers don’t make time to engage people after elections.‘
Increasing participation to improve service
DORP began working with Helvetas Swiss Inter-Cooperation in 2016 on the Panii Jibon (Water is Life) project, which began as a four-year project to build resilience in climate change affected communities, especially for youth and women. The project area was to be disaster-prone districts of Bagerhat and Khulna in south-west Bangladesh. The partners prioritised work with local governments and empowerment of communities and women.
To raise awareness of the communities and create a space for their concerns to be discussed and resolved, 130 Health Village Groups (HVG) each consisting of 25 members, were established, representing the vulnerable and disadvantaged women households. Starting in 2017, they formed an apex body called Mother’s Parliament (MP), who meet 3 times a year. Each MP consisted of nine women elected at sub-district level. DORP had based this initiative on earlier experience in Bagerhat District in 2012, where they had worked at the lowest tier ward level.
Key organising measures of Mother’s Parliaments:
- created space for inclusive discussion and problem solving
- flagged up communities’ needs and concerns
- made plans for awareness raising, especially for disadvantaged women
- created cost-benefit analysis of solutions
- developed advocacy plans, organised trainings on advocacy techniques
DORP’s Zobair Hasan explained, ‘The MP plays a key role advocating with their local governments and departments to solve water problems, for example reducing long distances needed to fetch water.‘ Reductions in the distance needed to fetch water are vital to women’s equality in Bangladesh, where women do this job 90% of the time for their families according to Unicef.
Improvements in integrity continue
Once better informed of their rights, women started raising their voices for WASH at local government budget meetings. The local government was forced to involve women in decision making, resulting in increased water budget allocation. In the 2018-19 fiscal year, the Mother’s Parliaments achieved an increased budget allocation or investment of up to 212%. With the MP’s now involved in multiple stages of planning and decision making, the entire process also has become more transparent. For example, budgets are now disclosed on public billboards and walls. The water system has benefited from improvements in integrity. Roughly 12,500 people now have better access to drinkable water at household and community level.
The Mother’s Parliaments have come a long way, and now local families are able to access water points in their communities. The MP’s work is crucial to making government service providers more accountable.
Thanks to Zobair Hasan and the Global Water Partnership for background to this article. Read more here about the Water ChangeMaker Award recently awarded to DORP and the work of Mother’s Parliaments.