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Challenging Norms: Breaking Barriers for Women

Updated: Aug 7, 2023

International Women’s Day 2021

International Women's Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity and creating a world where each gender is represented equally. IWD calls for equal access to opportunities for women and men equally. Throughout the past year, there has been significant activity, worldwide, as groups come together to celebrate women's achievements and rally for women's equality. The campaign theme for International Women's Day 2021 is 'Choose to Challenge'.

The United Nations is marking this year’s International Women’s Day with the theme 'Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world’, celebrating the efforts of women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also aligned with the priority theme of the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, 'Women in public life, equal participation in decision making, which calls for women’s right to decision-making in all areas of life, equal pay, equal sharing of unpaid care and domestic work, an end all forms of violence against women and girls, and health-care services that respond to their needs.

Platforms for Dialogue (P4D) has promoted key social accountability tools like Citizen’s Charter, Right to Information, Grievance Redress System, and National Integrity Strategy to ensure the rights of citizens; particularly women. The project has raised awareness by facilitating dialogues and provided capacity-building support to local and regional Civil Society Organisations (CSO). The combined effort led to Social Action Projects (SAP), implemented by P4D partner CSOs, that are addressing an array of social issues that include women’s empowerment, ending child marriage, preventing violence against women, ensuring access to public services, improving education, creating an inclusive decision-making process, and more. Below, are some of their stories.

Rashida Begum leads Polli Somaj Nari Unnayan Sangathan, a partner CSO of P4D. She says, “Illiteracy and poverty are two main reasons behind the hardships of the people of Kholahati union in Gaibandha Sadar Upazila. I had always dreamt of changing that narrative. My organisation is helping me reach that goal. Besides, I was an elected member and acting chairman of Kholahati union council for some time which gave further impetus to my work.”

So far, Polli Somaj Nari Unnayan Sangathan has trained more than 150 women in sewing and handicrafts. These training courses also included 12 transgender people. The CSO has become exemplary in the area. “We raise awareness against child marriage and violence against women. We’ve stopped several early marriages in Kholahati. We have reinforced the concrete bases of more than 30 deep tube wells so that people can have continuous access to safe water even during floods and calamities”, says Rashida.

The Pally Welfare Association, another partner of P4D, works for women’s empowerment, socio-economic development, governance, and culture. Executive director, S M Nazrul Islam, thought of starting his own initiative realising that the communities were not benefiting from the programmes of other development organisations, some of which he had implemented himself.

Nazrul Islam started working for a women’s empowerment and education organisation almost two decades ago. Islam says, “We started with night school for women. My volunteers would set up with one lantern and a mat at designated balconies. There would be up to 30 women at each school.”

Islam vividly remembers one case of a young girl who had been smuggled into India and sold off to become a prostitute by a man who had married her. Islam was able to get the girl back through his network of NGOs and helped rehabilitate the girl at home. Having made a name for herself as a tailor, Rabeya is now a mother herself (having remarried at a more mature age). She says, “Who knows what would have happened if I could not make it back. I am grateful I was able to come home.”

The organisation is currently overseeing three SAPs. These SAPs are working towards promoting animal health awareness, preventing drug abuse, and improving primary education- all of which are rooted in the organisation’s efforts for the improvement of women’s lives.

Jannat Mariam, founder of Bishwamvarpur Rural Development Society, a partner CSO of P4D, turned into a successful entrepreneur when she decided that she wanted to serve her community. Back in 2008, Mariam encouraged 30 women from Natunpara village of Sunamganj district to fund an organisation that would help women participate in the country’s growing economy.

As part of the organisation’s social services, around 500 women are annually trained on nutrition and breastfeeding at Bishwamvarpur Upazila. To promote policies that ensure good governance, the CSO has implemented multiple SAPs focusing on issues like health services, tax collection, child marriages, and drug addiction. Mariam says,

“I chose to work on reducing child marriages as my organisation believes that empowerment through education and employment can help curb this social problem”.

Protima Rani, who led the SAP on improving public health care, tells a rather interesting story.

“When we went to survey the Basantapur community clinic, we realized the clinic was just present on paper and it was never really constructed. Yet, the government documents say that the doctors are being paid, medicines are being delivered and patients are being treated. Then where is the clinic?”

By engaging elected leaders and citizens in multiple meetings on the issue, Protima Rani made people aware that certain medicines could be obtained for free and advocated for access to seamless power and water supply in the hospitals. “Women are affected the most by fragile health care systems. We suffer from gynaecological problems and where can we go if the clinics do not work? So, we talked to 400 women to raise awareness of the problems,” she says.

The courage of P4D partners to challenge the disparities, barriers to choice, inaccessibility to services, non-involvement in decision making and finally, taking initiatives to reform their communities to address those issues is a testament to the effectiveness of P4D’s initiatives and the willpower of the women and men who led these local campaigns. P4D is extending its support for discussions on policy issues in 21 districts. At the national level, the project is supporting government institutions to deliver on ambitions set out in the 7th Five-Year Plan. The project focuses on access and utilisation of social accountability tools.

International Women's Day belongs to everyone and is not specific to countries, interest groups, or organisations. The day belongs to all groups collectively, everywhere. P4D is encouraging you to make International Women's Day your day and to learn from our partners and the impact of their actions on their communities. Do what you can to truly make a positive difference for women and your community.


This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Platforms for Dialogue and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

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