A major part of our work in Bangladesh is devoted to gender justice. Gender stereotypes, child marriage, sexual violence and other issues make it less likely for women to participate in the economy than men. We promote gender equality by providing women with skills training. The women's group pictured here has stopped seven cases of child marriage; some members have even moved elsewhere to earn a living for themselves and stand on their own two feet. (Photo: Tetris Luk / Oxfam volunteer photographer)
Oxfam in Bangladesh
Oxfam’s involvement in Bangladesh began in 1970 when it assisted the then cyclone victims and supported the displaced people of Bangladesh during the Liberation War in 1971. In recognition of our work in 1971, Oxfam was one of only three organisations honoured as a Friend of the Bangladesh Liberation War in 2012.
FAIR TAXES: THE CURE FOR THE LACK OF HEALTH CARE
'I spend sleepless nights worrying about the children getting sick. The treatment is so expensive. Should I buy medicine for my children, or should I buy food to feed my family?'
Rasheda (pictured), 24, a young mother of two who lives with her husband and mother-in-law in a shack in an industrial area of Chittagong in south-eastern Bangladesh
Waste, garbage and polluted water runs down the side of our house. It’s an eyesore,’ Rasheda (pictured), 24, said. The young mother of two lives with her husband and mother-in-law in a shack in an industrial area of Chittagong in south-eastern Bangladesh. ‘We even see faeces floating on the water,’ she continued. ‘Because of this, the whole family is often sick, especially with diarrhoea. The children suffer from diarrhoea the most.
‘I spend sleepless nights worrying about the children getting sick. The treatment is so expensive. My husband earns about 10,000 taka (roughly HK$922) a month as a driver; 10,000 taka is not enough for a family of five to live on. Should I buy medicine for my children, or should I buy food to feed my family?’ Unfortunately, many families like Rasheda’s struggle with the same question.
Rasheda’s shack is surrounded by factories, some of which belong to multinational companies. However, they often take advantage of cheap labour in Bangladesh and make outrageously large sums without paying their fair share of tax in Bangladesh by transferring their profits to countries with low tax rates. However, to countless families in developing countries like Rasheda’s, corporate taxes are essential as they help fund public services.
Oxfam’s research has found that Bangladesh is collecting much less tax than it could be and a portion should be coming from companies. Oxfam is thus working with SUPRO, a Bangladeshi network of civil society organisations to call for a fairer tax system and a crackdown on corporate tax dodging so that the government has the revenue to invest in essential services like healthcare.
Together, Oxfam has been creating opportunities for national dialogue wherein we urge the government to adopt a progressive tax system. We also support community-based organisations’ active participation in the budgetary process to hold local governments accountable. On the ground, we’re also piloting projects like the use of water vending machines that are run by community-based organisations in poor residential areas to ensure access to clean water at an affordable price.
By tackling the problems people like Rasheda face by getting to the root cause to bring about long-term structural change and easing the symptoms to meet immediate needs, we hope families like Rasheda’s are able to thrive and not just survive.
I am independent
'Look aronud you, it’s not even close to being luxurious, but it means I am independent.'
Marium, participant of Oxfam's Economic Empowerment, Climate Change Adaption, Leadership and Learning (REE-CALL) programme
In poor communities like Bangladesh’s Sehakathi Village, we’re empowering villagers socially and economically. Through our Resilience through Economic Empowerment, Climate Change Adaption, Leadership and Learning (REE-CALL) programme, we’re helping villagers form community-based organisations (CBOs), encouraging women to be leaders and helping villagers know their rights.
Marium Begum Moyuri stands proud having benefited from this programme, despite the difficulties she’s been through. ‘I was more or less destitute after my husband’s disappearance [seven days after the birth of my second child],’ Marium said speaking about her past. ‘My second marriage was nothing short of a nightmare. From beating me in public to psychologically abusing me, there was very little harm that [my second husband] didn’t expose me to … he too [eventually] vanished [so] I lived on other people’s grace.
‘It was around this time that I came to know about the REE-CALL project in the area … This was a major turning point in my life. I discussed with the CBO members and decided I had the skills to start and run a tea shop. So I received asset support to set up the shop and buy the necessary materials. It was the first time in my life I felt like I was taking control of my life. I was the one who was making the decisions that concerned me and my daughter.'
‘I also received trainings on life skills and business management from REE-CALL. My business took off and slowly I started to rebuild my life. Within seven months [though], I lost most of my shop in an overnight act of thievery. I didn’t have enough savings by then to reinvest … But surprisingly, this time I didn’t feel despair. Since, becoming a member of CBO, I had a better appreciation of my abilities and rights, first as a human being and then as a woman. I knew I was not alone anymore. I talked to the CBO again. They sympathised with my predicament and gave me some complementary cash from the REE-CALL project to restock my shop.’ Through these CBOs, villagers like Marium can rest assured knowing that they have the support of others, even when disasters strike.
‘Look around you,’ Marium said inviting us to look around her shop, ‘it’s not even close to being luxurious, but it means I am independent.’