Three women share how their lives have been changed as beneficiaries of and contributors to the success of development projects aimed at the most vulnerable in society.

Often bearing the double burden of domestic chores and external work, women are the backbone of society and many industries in the Asia and Pacific region. Reducing their vulnerability, encouraging their participation in governance, and providing access to health services are vital to the region's economic prosperity.

Policing gender-based violence

In Nepal, the high incidence of gender-based crimes against women and children exacerbates the difficulties these groups face in society. Thanks to a Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction (JFPR) Project, Deputy Inspector General Bimala Thapa of the Nepal Police was able to establish a network of Women and Children Service Centers (WCSC) to provide an environment that encourages women to report gender-based crime and violence.

Bimala said this was achieved through workshops with civil society organizations, public awareness rallies, lobbying and advocating decision makers within the higher echelons of the police and government heirarchy, and interaction programs that educate women on gender-based violence. The recruitment of over 1,000 new female police officers also helped increase the reporting of such crimes.

"In Nepal, women do not generally approach male police officers when they have a problem. With more female police officers, women felt comfortable and were encouraged to come to the centers to share their problems," Bimala said. This has led to an increase in the reporting of gender-based crimes and violence.

As one of the country's highest-ranked female officers, Bimala was able to advocate for a more active gender policy in the Nepal Police and encourage the Prime Minister to support the initiative.

"The project helped increase the trust of the people in the police, as well as improve the coordination between the Nepal police and various non-government organizations (NGOs)," Bimala said. "It also helped build my self-confidence and increase my self-esteem."

Better outcomes for Mangyan women

For mid-wife Hemelina Fonte, helping ethnic Mangyan women in the Philippines have a better understanding of maternal and child health has given her the opportunity to learn more about how indigenous people live.

Maternal and child mortality is a pressing problem for the Mangyan, an indigenous group living in remote and mountainous areas in Oriental Mindoro, until an ADB project promoting culturally sensitive maternal and newborn care in indigenous communities changed their lives. The project included the establishment of traditional birthing facilities called Balay Mangyan (home of Mangyans) in the community which offers not only modern medicine, trained healthcare workers and facilities but most importantly, culturally sensitive support. This included allowing family members to be present during childbirth and for husbands to assist in the deliveries, a traditional practice of the Mangyan.

According to Hemelina, the number of Mangyan women using the Balay Mangyan to give birth increased to 64% in 2012, from 58% in 2011 and 23% in 2010. This has had a profound impact on the community, maintaining zero maternal death rates and decreasing morbidity cases among pregnant women.

"The impact was just as valuable on health workers like me," said Hemelina. "I was able to acquire more knowledge in my practice and it taught me to be more sensitive of the Mangyan culture and beliefs. Our work also became easier when the project's awareness programs and workshops slowly convinced Mangyan women to change their health practices."

Community-driven development

In Bangladesh, women's participation in local governance and infrastructure development was promoted through a project focusing on urban governance and infrastructure. This comprised meetings that mobilized local women and allowed them to share their ideas with elected women officials.

Salina Hayat Ivy, Mayor of Narayanganj City, said the project helped promote participatory leadership at a pourashavas (municipalities) level, allowing women leaders to respond to the needs of the people through courtyard meetings and membership in local committees.

"As a result, the women councilors now take the lead in resolving social conflict such as conjugal strife, family problems and divorce through social arbitration. The project also gave me the tools to address these social issues to keep a harmonious social life," Mayor Salina said.

The Urban Governance and Infrastructure Improvement Project has brought about a new development paradigm among the women of the poor community, encouraging women to have a say in local infrastructure decisions and influencing the delivery of basic services to their homes. The project also introduced a new participatory development approach which integrated the public from all strata of society into local governance.

"The project built a bridge between the pourashava and its residents," added Mayor Salina.

Like many other similar initiatives across the region, this project has injected new zeal into Bangladesh's local communities, benefitting women and men alike.