This blog is part of a series of articles written by University of Dayton students, published as part of Counterpart’s Next Generation in Thought Leadership initiative. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not express the views or opinions of Counterpart International.
Disclaimer: This program/opinion was made possible by the generous support of USAID and FCDO. The data and information presented herein do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or FCDO.
Despite misconceptions, gender-based violence (GBV) is a global issue. A study conducted in 2018 by the World Health Organization found that one in three women worldwide have been subject to a form of either physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives. The residual impact of these heinous acts lasts a lifetime and victims’ lives are forever changed. The consequences of GBV with regards to development are immense as well. According to the World Bank, “gender-based violence is a human rights violation, but it also has broader repercussions for development. The economic costs of lost productivity due to domestic violence conservatively range from 1.2 to 2 percent of GDP— about most governments’ spending on primary education in developing countries.”
GBV has proven to be a particularly persistent problem in Bangladesh. A study conducted in 2015 by the government of Bangladesh found that, “as many as 80.2% of married women have experienced some forms of violence by their husbands in their lifetime.” High levels of violence are perpetuated by gender gaps that exist throughout Bangladeshi society. In response to these disheartening statistics, organizations like Counterpart International have been working on the ground with local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to help increase involvement in advocacy against GBV in Bangladesh within the affected communities.
Through its Promoting Advocacy and Rights (PAR) program, Counterpart held a series of advocacy training workshops from March through April of 2019. These workshops took place throughout five divisions of Bangladesh including: Dhaka, Sunamganj, Chattogram, Khulna, and Rangpur. The primary focus of the workshops was to train members of Bangladesh’s civil society in the technical skills of advocacy, which could then be applied to the country’s most pressing social issues like GBV.
The training was done through workshop participants completing worksheets and engaging in discussions about topics of their choice, such as human trafficking, sexual harassment at school and in the workplace, and child marriage. It comes as no surprise that child marriage was discussed more than 20% of the time in these workshops as UNICEF stated in 2018 that 52% of Bangladeshi women aged 20-24 were either married or in some sort of romantic commitment before the age of 18. These trainings have been considered a success as Counterpart cited an increase in advocacy knowledge across all five districts according to pre- and post-advocacy training tests, surveys, and participant testimonials.
We studied this effort with a view to identify ways that Counterpart might improve its program. One noticeable gap in the program comes in terms of the participant demographics. Of the 170 advocacy training participants, 55% were male, 41% were female, and 4% identified as another gender. Although the inclusion of men in discussions of GBV is vital to provoking a shift in the culture’s gender dynamic, the fact that less than half of participants were women is important.
Bangladeshi women make up the majority of GBV survivors within the country, and are often discouraged from taking part in civil society activities or political affairs due to gender stereotypes. With this in mind, women are likely most in need of learning the technical skill of advocacy and would provide compelling insight into these conversations on GBV. Additionally, even with 41% of participants being women, it is important to ask who is speaking and who is actually being heard at these trainings. From Counterpart’s reports we were not able to assess this critical dimension of the workshops’ gender responsiveness.
We also noted that the socio-economic status of participants is absent from Counterpart reports. Lower class women in Bangladesh are at a greater disadvantage when it comes to attending these training sessions. Not only do they not have access to private transportation and fear being sexually harassed on public transportation, they also do not have the luxury of paying for childcare. Without data to track the socio-economic status of participants, it is difficult to assess whether it is truly reaching its target groups.
We recommend that Counterpart pay close attention to and account for who speaks and who is heard at the workshops. It is crucial for Counterpart to have data on women’s participation and the points they raise in these meetings as they are the ones most affected by GBV. Data collection should also extend to the socio-economic status makeup of workshop participants to ensure that lower class women have equal access to these trainings. We further suggest that the workshops could have a larger impact if Counterpart incorporated training specifically for advocacy against GBV. By providing Bangladeshis with the training required to effectively advocate against GBV specifically, Counterpart could empower Bangladesh’s citizens to close the country’s existing gender gaps.
We recognize that it is difficult for development agencies to effectively address systemic issues like GBV in their entirety. There is a litany of cultural and gender norms that restrict the agency of Bangladeshi women, especially when it comes to GBV. Organizations like Counterpart often combat these societal issues by focusing on developing particular aspects of civil society in order to provide citizens with the tools necessary to confront broader issues. In the case of Counterpart International’s efforts in Bangladesh, we commend the organization as its training of Bangladeshis in the technical skills of general advocacy enables them to advocate for positive changes more effectively in society.