Updated: Dec 6, 2022
District Policy Forums (DPFs) are Platforms for Dialogue’s (P4D) newest initiative that is working to strengthen civil society and government accountability mechanisms in Bangladesh using four key Social Accountability Tools (SATs) – Citizen’s Charter (CC), Right to Information (RTI), National Integrity Strategy (NIS), and Grievance Redress System (GRS). Funded by the European Union and in partnership with the Government of Bangladesh’s Cabinet Division, P4D has formed 12 DPFs in 12 of the country’s districts focusing on three crucial issues – quality education, child marriage, and health care in community clinics. DPFs aim to bring together both local government representatives and community leaders for a more collaborative and unified approach toward community development using the key SATs.
P4D District Facilitator Amor D’Costa played a key role in forming the Natore DPF, which is comprised of 20 members including teachers, cultural activists, lawyers, and local government representatives. The DPF members were selected among representatives of district-based NGOs. CSOs, P4D partner CSO members, or members from the Multi-Actors Partnership (MAP) groups. In keeping with the requirement to have at least one member from the local government, Natore DPF recruited Ward Councillor Most. Kamrunnahar to become one of the DPF members. Apart from her, and DPF Vice President, Most. Parvin Akter, there are five other female members.
Natore Additional District Commissioner (ADC) (General), Nadim Sarwar, praised the Natore DPF stating that the forum disseminates information on important issues among people who play key roles in the district’s power structure. Shibly Sadik, Secretary of Natore DPF, said,
“when the forum was formed, we chose to work on child marriage because Natore has the 2nd highest child marriage rate in the country.”
A second-year student of National University, Monwar Hossain, who attended several of Natore DPF’s events, reflected on the ADC’s remarks saying, “now we know. We can demand our rightful services and lodge complaints if we don’t get them.” The youth continued with a story: “Recently, I went to the Union Council Office to get my birth certificate, but the person responsible for providing this service tried to charge me more. I demanded that the service provider show me the amount on the Citizen’s Charter. After that, he was silent, and I successfully received my birth certificate for the correct fee of only BDT 50.”
Natore District Commissioner, Shamim Ahmed, said mobile courts – typically convened by a magistrate at the place of occurrence resulting in summary verdicts and sentences – were active in preventing child marriage while talking about the district administration’s effort to curb child marriage.
“We’re getting enough cooperation from the DPF members. They’re motivating us by providing us with valuable information in this regard.”
Dighapatia Central Jame Mosque Imam (prayer leader), Md. Abu Kalam, expressed his delight to work with the forum. “No other organisation gave me such an opportunity.” The cleric said, “I tried to convince the guardians that their daughters should be properly educated before getting married,” and he expressed his contentment in being able to support young women in the district.
During Friday sermons, Md Abu Kalam further supports the DPF by raising awareness of key Social Accountability Tools including the Right to Information and the Grievance Redress System from a religious perspective. “I try to make people understand the fact that Islam promotes the free flow of information,” he says and explains that the government values this too.
Nababidhan Girls’ High School teacher, Hafiza Khanam Jesmin, attended 3 DPF events in person and two others virtually. She expressed gratitude that the forum gave her a chance to speak directly with local government officials.
“Prior to attending these events, I had no idea what to do when my students fell victim to child marriage. Thanks to the DPF events, I have learned about different solutions that government officials, law enforcement, and child marriage survivors talked about.”
After attending the events, Jesmin, along with several of her colleagues, organised counseling sessions, informed her students about the health risks of child marriage and taught them about the Social Accountability Tools. “You can visit my school and see how learned the girls are now,” said the teacher with a proud smile on her face.
With the end of the P4D project approaching, Natore DPF has formed a fundraiser to raise 200 BDT from each of the DPF members every month so that they can still continue to work for the community even without funding from a parent organisation in the future. The DPF members look forward to working more closely with the local community, teachers, students, and their guardians to make the district of Natore free of child marriage in the near future.
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.