Institutional Action Plan Raffle Winner: SNF in Bangladesh

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Congratulations to Shishu Niloy Foundation, this week’s winner of the Institutional Action Plan Raffle!

The following post was prepared by the Shishu Niloy Foundation. Photos courtesy of NSF.

A rally to begin the local discussion about violence against women (VAW).

Shishu Niloy Foundation (SNF) takes an active role in improving women’s rights in its microfinance program. The program addresses regional cultural dissonances in spousal relationships that were both exasperated by loans and interfering with the success of the work of SNF.

Like many MFIs, SNF primarily loaned to groups that were 99% women, but they were observing wide loan delinquency and persistent poverty. It was later discovered that these under-performing clients were being degraded by their spouses.

These women were slipping behind their peers in motivation and energy, which can be a grave disadvantage when working with the highest potential investments where the margin of error in timing for crops production and rearing goats and cattle are very thin. One miscalculation can mean the difference between earning a surplus and a having deficit, which would put further mental pressure on the client as she tries to pay the installments.

Courtyard meeting with a group

Courtyard meeting with a women’s group about VAW.

In 2001, NSF started discreetly collecting information on spousal violence and gave money to victims for primary medical treatment. They then started to mediate conversations in family settings to get to the root of the problem and bring families peace.

Since 2003, NSF has conducted awareness-building sessions at the group level on the harm of violence against women (VAW) and how to overcome the problem. They are working to activate the union council committee on stopping VAW by educating committee members, holding courtyard meetings, rallies, distributing posters, leaflets, and giving primary treatment to battered women. NSF is setting up arbitration committees at the ward level made up of local government and civil society representatives and imparting training to the committees. They are repatriating battered women to their homes through giving legal aid, and when women cannot return to their homes, NSF helps them secure bride money and alimony.

A coordination workshop about VAW.

In the work to energize the committees and the NSF loan officers are mandated to work to eliminate VAW, NSF has brought on board the sub district office, women’s directorate, police, and the larger civil society.

NSF regularly contacts these groups who give their time to the program, ask their field staff to be in favor of the women (according to the law), and help NSF spread the word that there is broad commitment from the state to improve the lives of all Bangladeshis, especially women.

Leaf cultivation

Leaf cultivation.

As a result of the program to eliminate VAW, people are more aware of the harm that this has on individuals and families alike. The women and their families now know the ways and means to correct the situation as well as how to access legal services if necessary. Within the household, women now have greater say and standing. Because of this program, NSF has seen greater income generation and improved general well-being in the villages.

In this way, NSF has made microfinance work for poor women in many villages in south western Bangladesh. We will like to see other organizations tackle degradation of women at the hands of their spouses like NSF has done, and make microfinance a potent tool to lift women out of hopelessness.