Bangladesh should be called ‘the land of many rivers’. Around 700 rivers flow through the country, sustaining life and making it one of the most stunning landscapes of the world. The fertility of the county’s soil and its plentiful water supply also make it prime farming land.
It is unsurprising then to learn that Bangladesh is home to over 156 million people and is the most densely populated low-lying area in the world.
But poverty is deep and over half of the population survive on less than USD $1 a day.
Bangladesh is vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Cyclones, frequent flooding and rising sea levels – mean that life is precarious for most Bangladeshis.
Add to this the effects of a bitter civil war and 15 years of military rule, and an unequal, deeply patriarchal social system.
Bangladeshis are resilient in the face of adversity, supported by a rich culture and years of working together. There are many effective local organisations working for their community.
Oxfam has been working in Bangladesh for over 30 years, in partnership with local organisations, helping advance the rights of women and Indigenous people and assisting with disaster preparation.
Advancing women’s rights
The UN estimates that 47% of Bangladeshi women suffer from domestic violence. Women also commonly endure rape, beatings, acid attacks and even murder because of the country’s entrenched patriarchal system. Oxfam is working with men at a grassroots level to change these belief systems.
I am a better man now. Previously…without slightest provocation, I started beating [my wife]…Then I came in close contact with the [We Can] campaign. It helped me to realise that I was wrong to beat her.
Obaidur Rahman, bus driver and volunteer ‘change maker’, Dinajapur, Bangladesh
The We Can End Violence against Women Campaign was initiated by Oxfam in 2004 to advance the cause and is proving successful.
Oxfam is also working in partnership with local organisations to train police, hospital and court staff to be sensitive to victims of domestic violence. And we’re lobbying for new laws that defend women’s rights.
Championing Indigenous (adibashi) rights and culture
The Indigenous (adibashi) tribal communities experience social, political and economic exclusion, lack of recognition and loss of cultural identity and land.
Our work is helping strengthen adibashi leadership and encourages women to join in the traditional power structures. We also help farmers recover stolen or unfairly mortgaged land and are working to protect them from unscrupulous money lenders.
We’re ensuring that adibashi children get pre-primary education in Bengali as well as their own language. This means they’re later able to enrol in mainstream Bengali schools.
Between 30-70% of Bangladesh is flooded each year and given its vulnerability to the effects of climate change this will only get worse.
We’re working to ensure that early warning systems are in place by establishing village disaster committees and equipping them with rescue boats and radios.
When disaster strikes we move quickly by supplying water and sanitation, emergency relief and shelter. We also assist with long-term projects to help people re-establish their ability to earn a living.
166,280,712 (July 2014 est.)
% living below the poverty line (i.e. US $1.25 per day):
31.5% (2010 est.)
% who don’t have access to safe water:
16.8% (2011 est.)
% who don’t have access to sanitation services:
45.3% (2011 est.)
% of women who can’t read and write:
46.6% (women) 38% (men)
Life expectancy at birth:
72.63 years (women) 68.75 years (men)
Source: CIA World Factbook