Enabling Citizens to become Self-Sufficient: From Women’s Empowerment to Promoting Citizen’s Charter
In a democracy, people are in the centre of the power dynamics. Government is elected by the people and in turn they are accountable to the people. This is the ethical foundation of good governance. The Citizen’s Charter is an effective and essential tool for good governance. A response to the quest for solving the problems, which citizens encounter while dealing with public service providers. The Citizen's Charter is a social accountability tool designed to help citizens understand public service offerings so that they are empowered and informed when seeking services from their local government offices. It is meant to improve the accountability, transparency, and quality of public services. A Citizen’s Charter outlines and asserts promises of standards, and it is a crucial instrument to bring about positive change by reinforcing responsiveness.
Through Platform's for Dialogue's (P4D) partnerships with CSOs at the grassroots level, Citizen's Charters have been posted in 63 unions, spanning 21 districts. We have also provided trainings for civil society organisations and government institutions on the Citizen's Charter to ensure both government officials and local communities can engage with this tool in a meaningful and productive way. Through our collaborative efforts, we have helped improve access to public services and empowered citizens around the country to independently and confidently request public services in their area. Below, is a story from Patuakhali:
Access to information is an essential part of being self-sufficient. Mahafuja Islam, founder of the Civil Society Organisation (CSO) Suktara Mohila Songstha, knows this from her personal experience. She was married off to a stranger as she finished high school. Mahafuja was lucky that her in-laws were progressive and allowed her to continue with higher education. “Millions of child brides in Bangladesh are not that fortunate, however, I knew how an early marriage affects someone from my personal experience. That is why I have dedicated my entire social work to the welfare and rights of women,” said Mahafuja.
Suktara Mohila Songstha, founded in 1995 in Patuakhali District, is working to ensure community members, especially women, are empowered through access to information and opportunity. A frontline defender against violence against women, a fierce advocate of women’s education, and the toughest authority against child marriages in Patuakhali municipality, the CSO is dedicated to women’s rights. The organisation has previously partnered with the government and international organisations like USAID and Danida to work for women’s rights and employment.
“We provide legal support for violence against women and advocacy for equal rights for women, which is our organisation’s primary goal,”
says Mahafuza. She also mentions how her organisation has helped hundreds of women getting justice in court against violence.
Mahafuja says her organisation has also helped hundreds of women become self-sufficient through vocational training on fish farming and working closely with educational institutions. “Women can be truly independent when they have their own income, so we ensure that the women in our community have access to quality education and employment opportunities.”
In 2018, Suktara Mohila Songstha became a strategic partner of the EU-funded P4D project, which is being implemented by the British Council in partnership with the government’s Cabinet Division to carry out Social Action Projects (SAP) designed to promote good governance. Mahafuja’s organisation has worked on SAPs that focused on issues like promoting access to information of public services, quality of education, and proper sanitation.
One volunteer, Shahidul Islam, who led the project on improving services at local government offices, said his group determined that most of the public offices were riddled with corruption because people did not have the right information.
“If there are no Citizen’s Charters in place, people naturally have to depend on brokers for public services. This creates a scope for backhand transactions and corruption, so we put up Citizen’s Charters at the Union and Upazila council offices,” he said.