WFP in Bangladesh: Helping Women Take Control of Their Lives

On the occasion of the 2016 International Women’s Day, we highlight how a food security project empowers women and challenges traditional gender roles – crucial steps for any country to attain gender equality by 2030 as agreed in SDG 5. 

Providing new opportunites

In Cox’s Bazar district of south-eastern Bangladesh, WFP’s project Enhancing Food Security (EFS) provides opportunities for ultra-poor women to take on a new role in their households and communities. From 2012 to 2014, Hasina and her family took part in EFS. Until 2012, Hasina, her husband Mozammal and her four children had relied on Mozammal’s limited income from day labour and a small plot of land. The family had few assets and frequently skipped meals. 

EFS changed all of this. As an EFS participant, Hasina received a monthly cash transfer, a small business grant and training in business skills. She attended sessions on health, nutrition, leadership, financial management and homestead gardening. She also joined a group of other local EFS participants. This enabled the family to send their children to school and their youngest child is no longer malnourished.

Hasina with her youngest son, who previously was suffering from malnutrition.

Breaking down gender barriers

This experience enabled Hasina and Mozammal to step outside traditional gender roles. Hasina was able to use her support from EFS to build her own, independent source of income. From an initial investment in a cow, Hasina was able to reinvest profits three times, and saved additional money from poultry. She also became a leader in her women’s group. Mozammal cared for the children when Hasina was busy with project activities.

Experience with EFS and other similar projects delivered by WFP Bangladesh have shown that these kinds of interventions not only improve food security and nutrition – they also contribute to preventing gender-based violence by improving household dynamics. In the case of Hasina and Mozammal, this was no different.

“It’s changed me as a woman, mother and wife as well as a leader of this group. My husband always helps me and we are happy to have joined the EFS project,” says Hasina.

Hasina set up a small-scale cattle rearing business and later diversified. Cash grants like these, we know from experience, empower women economically and in the household.   

Building confidence

Mozammal says, “My wife is smart enough to deal with banking and bookkeeping of group savings as a leader. But she was not capable of this before. She is even more confident to talk to men and women, from officials to villagers. She is helpful to others – I am proud of her.”

By enabling women to take on new roles in their households and communities, EFS began to shift prevailing gender dynamics and roles. These are among the many essential steps towards helping women take control of their lives and preventing violence.

EFS was recently expanded into a second phase, covering 9,600 women and, including their families, benefitting around 50,000 people.