Updated: Dec 6, 2022
Platforms for Dialogue has had a lasting impact on the people of Kushtia. As District Policy Forum member, Shopon Ahmed said, “in the first phase, we worked with the Multi Actor Partners (MAPs) and partner Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in the unions and sub-districts. Now, we are working at the district level.” The scale-up of activities has not only bolstered locals’ interest and understanding of important policy issues but it’s begun to make a bigger impression at the community level.
The District Policy Forum (DPF) is Platforms for Dialogue’s (P4D) newest initiative that works 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 the 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. Each DPF aims to bring together both local government representatives and community leaders for a collaborative and unified approach toward community development using the key SATs.
P4D Kushtia District Facilitator, Rejbiul Kabir, interviewed a total of 18 MAP representatives and 20 civil society representatives in order to create the forum. “We talked with around 20 people including NGO leaders, cultural activists, journalists, teachers, and entrepreneurs in the municipality to find eight members along with the 12 selected from the MAPs and P4D partner CSOs.” Since its inception in the early part of 2021, the DPF organised several meetings and observed three crucial days to spread awareness among the district’s people, with a special focus on stopping child marriage.
This issue has had a profound impact on young girls in the district. Deputy Director of Women’s Affairs, Noor-e Safura Ferdous said, “the suggestions, feedback, and comments from the DPF meetings helped us to understand the reality of the current situation, and this understanding will allow us to do a better job.”
The official now believes that they have improved their accountability and integrity since the DPF spread awareness about the SATs. “You just saw that one of my staff members came here to talk about the Annual Performance Agreement (APA) report, which is a part of the NIS. Anyone can ask for information from us using the RTI. People are visiting me all the time to get public services that are mentioned in the Citizen’s Charter.”
DPF member, Sohel Rana, said the rate of maternal death in Kushtia is high, which is due in part to the fact that many girls are married off before they reach 18. “As far as I know, our district is 4th in the country’s child marriage ranking.” Keeping this crisis in mind, they chose to work on stopping child marriage. With clear evidence that child marriage is a major issue in the district, the DPF worked closely with the District Administration as well as the district offices of youth, social welfare, women’s affairs, and information to ensure public offices across Kushtia understand the repercussions of this issue and work with integrity to solve it. DPF members also connected with the local religious leaders from Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity since religious leaders play an important role in officiating marriages.
Zilla School Head Teacher, Md. Eftekhairul Islam expressed his contentment working with the DPF. “This sort of work must continue,” said Eftekhairul, who is also a member of the District Child Marriage Prevention Committee. “It will make our jobs easier.”
Kushtia Sunup International School and College teacher and DPF member, Ratna Bagchi, acknowledged that it is the DPF that gave her the chance to learn about the SATs and how they can impact the community. “Joining this forum made me aware of these tools, thanks to the British Council.” Ratna also shared the stories of two child marriages she prevented- a 7th grader and a 9th grader at her school.
“The parents were about to marry those girls off during the pandemic. Learning the news, I visited them and convinced them not to marry the girls off at this early age,”
said Ratna proudly.
The DPF has also been proactive about ensuring accountability at public service offices, especially focusing on services that can affect child marriage like birth certificates. DPF member, Sohel Rana, shared that he learned about a new staff member at the Union Council Office – titled udyokta (entrepreneur) – who had been charging 5 times more than the regulated fee to issue birth certificates. Rana visited the Chairman and notified him about the illegal practice in his office. “I also noticed that there was no Citizen’s Charter at the Union Council Office and brought the matter to the Chairman’s attention,” said the youth leader. He said the Chairman took serious note of the matter and said he would personally make sure such irregularities do not continue.
Government officials in Kushtia were also helpful in organising the DPF events. Zilla School teacher and DPF President Mst. Mahbuba Begum said, “the DC himself attended and coordinated all the meetings.” Deputy Director of Local Government Department (DDLG), Mrinal Kanti Dey, asked for the minutes and documents after every meeting. The DPF was especially proactive about keeping records of all communications and reviewing them later so that nothing went ignored, according to ADC (General) Mst. Sharmin Akhter. “They even organised a review meeting to check whether their tasks were properly done or not,” said the official. Deputy Director of Local Government (DDLG) Mrinal Kanti Dey said the DPF’s success in spreading the SATs was laudable as well. “I believe we are already enjoying the dividends without realising that it is because of the DPF initiatives.”
In the upcoming project phase, Zilla School Headteacher Eftekhairul said, “the high school students must not be ignored while designing these types of projects. They are the ones who fall victim to child marriage.” The DPF has already started setting up a fund to continue its advocacy and activism even when there will be no funding from any parent organisation. “We already have a plan to conduct awareness programmes with teachers, students, and parents in various educational institutions,” said DPF Secretary Asaduzzaman.
The DPF members are now not only experienced but are also energised and inspired, especially since the pandemic restrictions have been lifted. “The pandemic hampered our work a lot. We hope to work in full swing following the holy month of Ramadan,” said Asaduzzaman with resolve.
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.