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Women in Charge of Urban Growth in Bangladesh

Project Result / Case Study | 26 November 2015

Empowered women are taking the lead in bringing much needed urban improvements in pourashavas, or secondary towns, in Bangladesh.

Women in a number of pourashavas, or secondary towns, in Bangladesh are getting their act together and improving their communities and their lives.

Women actively participate in the formation of community-based organizations, town- and ward-level coordination committees, gender committees, and slum improvement committees. Some of them even chair gender committees, and often participate in rallies and courtyard meetings on gender, social, and economic issues.

Now, more than ever, they are vocal about their opinions on the development needs of their communities and taking part in decision making. Through ADB's Second Urban Governance and Infrastructure Improvement Project (UGIIP-2) in Bangladesh, women are actually having a hand in the governance of their pourashavas.

Possibilities for pourashavas

Bangladesh's pourashavas suffer from poor sanitation, inadequate drinking water, unsafe streets and alleys, and the misuse of already limited resources. Most pourashavas have no capacity to generate sufficient revenues to serve those living in them.

Institutional mechanisms to involve citizens, especially women and the poor, in making decisions affecting the lives of their families are very much lacking. Elected officials tend to decide what is good for the community and are not accountable to the people, leading to a lack of transparency in the work of pourashavas and their inability to provide key urban services, such as water supply and sanitation facilities, footpaths and drains, and street lights, including those in the slum areas.

Pourashavas are home to about 40% of the country’s urban population and are an alternative destination to Dhaka, Chittagong, and Khulna. They have the potential to ease the pressure on resources and infrastructure in these bigger cities. This is why the development of pourashavas is very important for Bangladesh, especially with the predicted influx of people to urban areas over the next five decades.

UGIIP-2 is working with these small cities to produce sound and balanced urban development, and addressing infrastructure improvements while ensuring better, participatory urban governance.

Phased performance-based approach

UGIIP-2 followed a performance-based fund allocation strategy under the Urban Governance Improvement Action Program (UGIAP), which considers women’s active participation in the development process as a vital requirement to establishing good governance. The UGIAP aimed for six key results: (i) citizen awareness and participation; (ii) women’s participation; (iii) integration of the urban poor; (iv) urban planning; (v) financial accountability and sustainability; and (vi) administrative urban transparency. UGIIP-2 was implemented in phases, each phase with more stringent performance requirements than the previous one.

At the initial phase, prior to receiving 50% of infrastructure allocation, pourashavas were required to form community-based organizations, encourage women’s active participation, and produce gender action plans to be integrated into the pourashava’s development plan, among other requirements. In subsequent phases, they were required to allocate up to 2%–3% of their total revenue budget to implement gender action plans. The phased approach fostered a culture of responsiveness and accountability towards good governance, while creating tangible development impacts.

UGIIP-2 emphasized the qualitative aspects of women's participation and ensured that time was allotted for women to speak about their development needs. Women’s opinions were noted in meeting resolutions and considered in decision making. As a result, women became more vocal about their needs and roles and effectively participated in meetings. Slum improvement committees chaired by a woman were found to be more effective in utilizing funds and ensuring the quality of infrastructure.

Pourashavas that met the requirements under the UGIAP now had the workings of good governance that made them prime examples for other municipalities. They have become more responsive to the needs of the community, accountable for their actions, and transparent in their activities. Tax collection has become more efficient, allowing them to provide more and better services to their people. Pourashavas that did not meet the requirements within the given timeframe were dropped from the project.

More pourashavas in the pipeline

Drawing from the lessons from the first UGIIP, implemented from 2003 to 2010 that supported 33 pourashavas, UGIIP-2 was implemented from 2009 to 2015 and supported 51 pourashavas. The project cost $167.5 million comprising $87 million from ADB, $36.1 million from KfW, $4.7 million from GTZ, $31.7 million from the government, and $8 million from pourashavas and beneficiaries.

UGIIP-3, approved in 2014 with an estimated cost of $236 million, is now being implemented in 30 pourashavas until 2020. Plans for additional financing to further scale-up UGIIP-3 are expected in 2017.