Women contribute much of their unpaid labour to keep their families and society healthy and safe. It is a known fact that women are more closely linked to the environment and work more than men in the agricultural sector. It thus stands to be a great need of the hour to invest in enhancing women’s capabilities to work in the primary sector and to strengthen their productivity. A society that empowers its women inevitably becomes more equitable and powerful.
With these guiding ideals in mind, Welthungerhilfe’s regional nutrition programme supported by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), advocating a ‘multi sector approach’ to achieve nutrition security. It is implemented in select locations of Bangladesh, India and Nepal where rural women are at the center point. In Bangladesh, the initiative is implemented by FIVDB and Anando that aims to aid and train communities to create ‘nutrition-smart villages.’ Here are two case studies of Shahinur Akhtar and Sokina Khatun from FIVDB and Anando’s project location who are role models of perseverance to hundreds of other men and women and are torchbearers of change in their villages.
Shahinur Akhtar providing agricultural services to the community
In December 2018, at the commencement of the project, Shahinur Akhtar was selected as a Community Service Provider (CSP) for Agriculture by FIVDB, working in the Haor region of Mohangonj Upazila under Netrakona district of Bangladesh. The project includes two types of CSPs for – agriculture and health, who are trained on the subject by the partner teams on topics such as nutrition gardens, sustainable integrated farming systems (SIFS), agricultural crop production techniques, and support system for MAM/SAM children etc.
37-year old Shahinur belongs to Shewratoly village, Maghan Siadhar union. where a majority of the population depends on agriculture and fishing and is mostly illiterate. Supporting her own family of five, which includes twin daughters and a son, Shahinur works with 93 families of Shewratoly village with 85 children, aged 0 to 5 years, and 6-36months. With the training received on different agricultural aspects, Shahinur reached out to the families with malnourished children to strengthen their agricultural practices and ensure diet diversity.
“I reach out to the community in my individual capacity to educate the communities on the importance of nutrition gardens and SIFS practices. One of our project’s main objectives is to meet the nutritional requirements of the families and there is no better way than a nutrition garden with atleast 6-7 varieties of vegetables and fruits”, shares Shahinur. She has also set up a practical agricultural learning center in her house to educate the families on livestock farming and other agricultural practices. She also provides agricultural information services to 10-12 farmers every month from FIVDB’s technical partner mPower.
During the outbreak of COVID-19, overwhelmed by the challenges of food insecurity posed by the pandemic; Shahinur set out to spread awareness on safety and social distancing measures with the community. She also distributed vegetable seeds and seedlings to 27 families and visited them personally. During the lockdown, working in difficult circumstances, Shahinur earned an honorarium of 300/- BDT per day.
Today, Shahinur is a role model for many. She helps the community with latest information on government services and acts as a bridge between them. With her efforts, the notable public and private services received by the communities include includes (i) 3 members received 50 ducks from Bangladesh Nari Progoti Sangstha (BNPS) NGO (ii) 5 farmers received training on paddy and vegetable cultivation from the Department of Agriculture Extension (iii) After the floods this year, 7 farmers received 1935 BDT and 12 varieties of vegetable seeds for agricultural incentives from the Department of Agriculture Extension. Shahinur now earns an average of 800-1000 BDT by providing agricultural services.
“With the additional income that I earn now I am receiving more respect in my family and society”, shares a delighted Shahinur.
Sokina Khatun leading by example in Chittagong Hill Tracts
In Dighinala upazila under of Khagrachari district, Welthungerhilfe partner Anando is promoting 30 Nutrition Smart villages. Located in the Chittagong Hills Tract (CHT), the project villages are in a very remote area where most of the people are vulnerable due to irregular income earning sources and limited access to Govt services like health, nutrition and agriculture. During starting the project, in December 2018, Welthungerhilfe’s partner Anando ‘s field staff identified a total of 899 MAM/SAM child identified overall project areas.
To address the looming issue of malnutrition and food insecurity, in January 2019, Anando selected Bacha Merung Jambura Pusti Self Help Group (SHG) to initiate a collaborative effort. 40-year old Sokina Khatun is the dedicated Chairperson who leads this group of 35 members with her practical knowledge and leadership skills. She works with about 180 families with 76 children aged 0 to 5 years. The overall health status of mother and children in the village is concerning with 34 SAM and MAM children identified through anthropometry measurement in the village.
Taking lessons from her own experience, Sokina became a strong advocate against child marriage. While studying in the 8th standard, she was forced to get married after her father’s death. Since then she always wanted to work for underprivileged girls, prevent child marriage, and empower rural women.
Under the project, she received various trainings on leadership development, organizational development and management, accounts and financial management, IGA activities, etc. Sokina guides her group to run smoothly and implement all activities timely. “I raise awareness on women’s empowerment and income generation avenues. With Anando, I also associated myself to organise a nutrition camp for malnourished children in our village. And now, looking after these children and mothers is my priority”, shares Sokina.
She ensures that a variety of healthy recipes are consumed by the malnourished children and also follows up with the families on their other issues on health, family planning and WASH. Sokina also prepared a nutrition sensitive micro plan (NSMP) at village and household level in consultation with the community. Besides this, she also liaisons with government officials to ensure that the families receive their services, seeds, fertilizers and other agricultural input. Most recently. She ensured that three pregnancy card, two Widow allowance, seven VGF card were given to the villagers and also prevented four early marriages in her village.
As a concerned citizen of her village, Sokina has also disseminated information on proper hygiene and social distancing measures to be followed in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. She also cooks for her village members, especially children. Now her SHG consciously supports MAM/SAM children and women.
Story written with inputs from FIVDB (Md. Anwarul Kadil) and Anando.