BANGLEDESH: women build better roads

BANGLEDESH: women build better roads

One of the exciting things about training that cuts across divisions is that you get to learn stuff from colleagues with very different experiences of IFAD’s work. The gender training that’s been running this week was an excellent opportunity for this because the sessions I attended involved a lot of group work and discussion, as well as giving guidance and insights on the challenging business of gender mainstreaming.

That’s how I learnt that poor women in isolated areas in rural Bangladesh build better roads than outside contractors. And I admit that I was pretty surprised. I was ready to think that this was yet another example of women being exploited and doing most of the work for the least of the money.

But Monica Romano, who knows the project and others like it, explained to us that road-building and other community infrastructure works are an effective way of enabling very poor women to earn sorely-needed income. Many of them head households without the support of a man. Food and cash are in very short supply and opportunities to earn money are practically non-existent.

The Haor Infrastructure and Livelihood Improvement Project will be building about 350 km of roads and developing 78 village markets. About 80% of the labourers are set to be women.

Workers are employed through Labour Contracting Societies, which give priority to poor women and men. In the Haor project, about 960 such societies are expected to have about 29,000 members. The project will generate about 2.25 million days of labour.

Monica explained that employing a majority of local women to construct the roads also makes good sense. Experience in other projects has shown that the roads they build are more resistant and better constructed than those built by outsiders with no personal investment in connecting the community to the outside world.

This may also be because lack of roads limits women’s lives more than it does men’s. They find it more difficult to travel by boat when the flood waters are high, or to walk along muddy tracks. If the women are able to save some of their earnings, they will also be encouraged to invest in micro enterprises and to use the roads they’ve built to take their goods to market.

It would be great to hear from others who attended the gender training about what they took away. I hope it was the beginning of an ongoing conversation throughout the house about how to make sure that a full half of the 80 million people we aim to reach during IFAD9 are women. Oh yes.

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