People from rural areas of Bangladesh come to the capital city of Dhaka at an ever increasing rate, currently estimated at approximately 500.000 per year. Most are seeking job opportunities and better living conditions than those available in the poor villages they come from. However, with no contacts in the capital city, no easy access to basic services such as accommodation or health care, and no knowledge of the “rules of the city”, laws, or their rights, they are vulnerable to all kinds of protection risks and easily victimized.
Sometimes naive – and often desperate – girls and women fall into the hands of middle men who sell them as domestic workers. Others end up working as day laborers and parlor workers, where they are often exploited and abused. And some have no choice but to turn to prostitution. The SAFE Project targets these vulnerable women and girls, with an aim towards improving their quality of life through a holistic approach involving the provision of health care, psychosocial and legal support, network development and capacity building for women, vocational training, and the management of a Safe House to shelter women in emergency situations.
Aside from remaining conscious through my connecting flights (being scared of flying presents a fun challenge as someone who works all around the world) my mission as project evaluator was threefold:
1. To assess the relevance, appropriateness, effectiveness, and efficiency of the project interventions;
2. To evaluate the impacts made on direct and indirect beneficiaries; and
3. To capture major achievements, lessons, and good practices as well as areas for
Altogether, I have utilized these findings to feed the recommendations that I create to support and improve the next phase of this project, as well as other upcoming projects.
To conduct the evaluation, I used a participative and capacity-building oriented methodology, holding focus group discussions and interviews with 202 individuals (beneficiaries of the project activities, partners and staff members). Participants were mainly located in the slums of Dhaka, as these were the most at-risk and in-need communities. The living conditions reminded me of the refugee camps in Goma (DR Congo), but with more promiscuity. My presence raised a lot of interest and curiosity from the women in each location, and after the usual small-talk-turned-investigation-of-my-age-and-marital-status, all were keen to talk to me about their experiences and the challenges that they face.
The impact and relevance of the project activities appeared pretty obvious, and I was pleased to meet so many women who had clearly benefitted and were now able to join forces and stand up for their rights. As one domestic worker told me: “We did not know that there were laws that protect us as women, and as workers. Now that we know about them, we feel much stronger”. For example, they explained that now when employers “forget” to pay one of their salaries, they band together to protest and protect one another.
Through our discussions, it also became clear that the rate of domestic abuse incidents – extremely high in these communities – is declining as more and more women gain access to counselling and legal support against abusive husbands. A seemingly shy lady in her thirties lit up when I asked her about her personal experience, telling me proudly that her husband now thinks twice before raising his hand against her. While I wish he would simply stop thinking about it
completely, this is still a vast improvement; one step at a time.
In speaking with mothers in these communities, it was encouraging to hear them say “we feel more courageous, and we are passing this courage on to our children.” A few of the adolescent girls benefiting from the project played out a scene of social theatre, a tool that is being used within the project. Two of the girls played themselves, and two others played the roles of men harassing the girls in the street. As they acted out the scene, all of the women in this crowded part of the slum gathered around us to have a look. From the way these girls stood up for themselves in this little play using only their words – and a high dose of conviction and self-confidence – I feel sorry for the next person who tries to catcall them in real life.
While the SAFE Project has clearly had a positive impact, of course there is always room for improvement. As an evaluator, presenting the preliminary results of an evaluation to the project team is always an exciting, but slightly scary, part of the process. Luckily, most NGO staff are open minded, willing to learn, and eager to improve project activities for the sake of the communities they are supporting. Both the SAFE Project team and Caritas Bangladesh management staff are a great example of this. The preliminary results presentation workshop, attended by 16 staff members (both field and management levels), was very participative and stimulating, with many great ideas, solutions, and mitigating strategies emerging. Among the potential pathways being explored is the inclusion of boys and men, transgender individuals, and current and former sex workers in the project’s activities to further increase the impact of the project on most vulnerable
On my side, against all odds, I grew to like this messy, loud, polluted capital, ranked 139 out of 140 in the list of the world’s most liveable cities (I know you’re curious: Damascus holds the worst ranking), because it is where I met so many resilient, hopeful, and incredibly friendly people. That, and the Bengali Dal Baht of course.
Scope of the work:
1. Monitoring and Evaluation
Design of an evaluative methodology
Definition of evaluative questions
Creation of quantitative and qualitative data collection tools (questionnaires, guidelines for focus groups, checklists, etc.)
Logistical organization of the evaluation
Organization of workshops
- Drafting and presentation of the evaluation results (written report and accompanying PowerPoint)
2. Capacity and Compliance
Interviews with key partners