On August 26, a webinar titled "Identifying the Root Causes of the Intersectional Vulnerabilities of Gender, Climate Vulnerability and Ethnicity-Based Discrimination in Bangladesh" was organised by The Business Standard, Disaster Management Watch, Christian Aid, and Gana Unnayan Kendra.
Khadija Leena, associate professor of North South University, presented the key findings of a Disaster Management Watch research report on ethnic and marginalized communities and their vulnerability context in Bangladesh. The research followed a bottom-up approach to collect evidence from target communities to analyze the root causes of intersectional vulnerabilities. A total of 347 households were surveyed in eight study sites to collect primary data.
The research particularly focused on how gender inequalities, climate risks, and ethnicity-based discrimination intersect to produce specific vulnerabilities that ethnic communities in the country have been facing for years.
The discussants at the webinar were: Professor Dr. Amena Mohsin of the Department of International Relation of Dhaka University; Meghna Guhothakurta, executive director of Research Initiative Bangladesh; Zakir Hossain, chief executive of Nagorik Uddyog; Sanjeeb Drong, general secretary of the Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum; and Md Bayazid Hasan, managing partner of Disaster Management Watch.
Moreover, Md Atiqul Huq, director general, Department of Disaster Management and Zillur Rahman, joint registrar, Department of Cooperatives were also attended the webinar as special guests.
Pankaj Kumar, country director of Christian Aid, gave the welcome speech. The webinar was moderated by Morshed Noman, chief reporter, The Business Standard.
Here are the full details of the webinar.
Morshed Noman: Welcome, everyone, to today's webinar on "Identifying the Root Causes of the Intersectional Vulnerabilities of Gender, Climate Vulnerability and Ethnicity-Based Discrimination in Bangladesh," organised by The Business Standard, Disaster Management Watch, Christian Aid, and Gana Unnayan Kendra.
Today we will disseminate the research findings regarding the vulnerabilities of ethnic women and the climatic stresses they have been experiencing for years. We have a few dignitaries to discuss the issues, but first I would like to request Pankaj Kumar, country director of Christian Aid, to deliver the welcome speech.
Pankaj Kumar: Christian Aid has taken part in this study to understand intersectional vulnerability. It is an important piece for us because we believe in inclusiveness and try to make sure that 'no one is left behind.' We will develop a programme based on it and will carry forward the findings to make sure that our programme meets the standard quality.
Morshed Noman: Thanks, Pankaj Kumar. Now I would like to request Khadija Leena, associate professor of North South University, who has led the research, to present the findings. Khadija Leena has over 26 years of professional experience in the academic and development sectors with: the government, UN agencies (UNFPA, UNICEF, WFP) and USAID, international non-governmental organisations, and the private sector (Brac, Grameen Trust, DRC, Nagorik Uddyog, ASK). Working on human rights, gender and public health issues at home and abroad. Her specialisations are on issues like gender and rights, public health information, education and communication (PHIEC) and policy development and programme design.
Khadija Leena: Thank you and welcome all. I am here presenting our findings of the research:
Ethnic communities are being highly exposed to climate-induced crises. Negative impacts of climate change–increased temperatures, erratic rainfall, reduced biodiversity, increased drought, increased occurrences of tidal surges, increased occurrences of salinity intrusion, and increased riverbank erosion–have been affecting them, especially the Dalit and Mahato community, intensely.
Poor road condition and communication system make their lives difficult. They also remain unreachable even during any emergency.
Climate change has transformed their livelihood choices and their patterns of life have also changed. The salinity of agricultural land is rising due to less rainfall and that is why they cannot cultivate rice on that land. Even, growing vegetables has become impossible though agriculture is the primary source of their livelihood.
Fishing is another source of their livelihood which is also under the threat of different climatic disasters.
Furthermore, saline water is being mixed with drinking water, which is creating a freshwater crisis for those marginalised ethnic people. Also, logged water is becoming toxic and spreading waterborne diseases. Further, when each of the water sources in the neighborhood is affected by high salinity they have to travel a long distance for pure water.
As they are living on isolated land, they are socially stigmatised. Further, they have lack of awareness on civil rights and are being deprived of their rights.
Some man-made crises, like evictions and land grabbing, also haunt them. The research also found that people from ethnic communities never get justice. They do not get equal employment opportunities.
Women are more vulnerable in the climate induced crisis. Women are not financially empowered and do not participate in the decision-making process which put them in more vulnerable situation in the community. In some of the ethnic communities, women are being deprived of property rights traditionally which has been perpetuating their financial instability and security, forever.
Moreover, despite the government offering equal rights for all, the ethnic and marginalized women e.g. Dalit cannot enjoy them equally.
They also have limited access to pre-warning systems to respond to climate-induced disasters.
In addition, at their workplaces, ethnic women face wage discrimination–a lower amount of wages, fewer benefits and extra working hours–compared to the women from the mainstream community, which exacerbate the condition of their overall lives and livelihoods comparing to them.
The research team also found that women bear the burden of fulfilling household needs, even during the hardship of tackling climatic stresses. Further, they have become overburdened with household chores as well as income-generating activities.
Moreover, they are being abused physically, sexually, psychologically within their household and community. Sometimes they become prey to different harassment at their workplaces.
Women are also being deprived of health care services either by their counterparts or the health service providers due to negligence.
The people of ethnic communities have been facing eviction and land grabbing, which has forced them to be displaced.
The ethnic communities are being neglected in government job sectors. Also, they get lower allowances from government aid. As they are living on isolated land, they have several social stigmas.
Although some government programmes have been running to address the issues related to gender discrimination and reducing the gap between men and women in ethnic groups, the programmes still cannot eradicate all those setbacks.
There is no specific declaration in national documents to uphold the rights of women in ethnic communities in terms of climate vulnerability. The Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs is the only responsible government body implementing necessary measures related to ethnic community people, but it excludes ethnic community people living on the plain land of the country.
Such an exclusion implies negligence towards the basic rights of ethnic people living on plain land in remote and isolated areas.
Recommendations of the research
The researchers made some recommendations that would provide a framework of future adaptation measures and development activities carried out by the government, development partners, non-governmental organizations, and other stakeholders.
They stressed the importance of a multi-lateral approach to ameliorate vulnerabilities of ethnic communities in the context of climatic shocks and gender discrimination. Hence, identification of all the ethnic communities in Bangladesh is crucial.
Infrastructure and communication systems need to be improved for marginalised ethnic communities; mobile health services and community-based medical support can be arranged. Also in cyclone-prone areas, women-friendly shelters can be built–particularly for pregnant and elderly women.
Additionally, steps have to be taken to reduce physical, sexual and psychological abuse of women.
Also, pure drinking water has to be ensured and saline adopting agricultural production has to be promoted among the ethnic communities.
The government can provide loans and other financial support to them for their economic solvency. In addition to that, government can arrange training to develop their skills in various aspects.
The government can make laws so that females can have the same property rights as males. And social stigmas have to be eliminated. Ethnic communities' rights should be emphasised in the planning stage.
Finally, non-governmental organisations should involve state-run programmes to lift the marginalised communities up.
Morshed Noman: Thank you Khadija Leena. We will now move to the discussion on the findings of the research.
Sanjeeb Drong: More work is needed evolving ethnic communities although there are so many limitations. For this, the census of all the ethnic people living in hill tracts and plain lands is essential, which is yet to be done by the state. An amendment is needed for the recommendation which indicates the recognition of the marginalised communities according to the constitution.
In the key findings of the research, it is said that ethnic women are prey to discrimination. But, in some ethnic communities, men get nothing from their ancestors.
An ethnic community-friendly policy has to be formulated. Special measures are also crucial to include their rights in the constitution and the law.
Further, constitutional recognition, for the plain land, a land commission should be formed for the indigenous people. We have been demanding such a commission for days.
I also recommend forming an indigenous people's rights act to protect the rights of those people.
Even, participation of indigenous people should be ensured to fulfill the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
Meghna Guhothakurta: Dalit and indigenous people are not the same. The Dalit can be termed as marginalised. However, there is a close link between the environment and profession of the people of the Dalit community.
The research has not mentioned some important climate crisis or the loss of food resources, for which the community has to go through dire peril. The research overstressed infrastructure. The research should have focused on the transformation of land and nature, due to floods and other disasters. Agriculture has also been transformed.
This transformation opens a new scope for financial solvency, which is absent in the research. They have discovered innovative ideas linked with nature. But, no information has been found on this context in the research that how their idea is being treated in the community and at the national level.
Besides, it should have mentioned how to mobilise the communities to address inequality. Finally, it should find out how the communities reacted on womens' decisions and how they can be brought into the decision - making process at the national level.
The recommendation is thoughtful but should be categorised in short term and long term.
Zakir Hossain: The research has covered eight ethnic communities, where Dalit has been taken as an ethnic group. But unlike other ethnic communities they are not living in one area. Dalit people live in separate areas across the country.
Initially, there were 26 ethnic communities which gradually expanded to 56, but it excluded the Dalit. So the Dalit is undoubtedly a separate group.
As per the SDGs, there is a pledge that no one should be left behind. But to fulfill the vow, which is the main principle of the SDGs, recognition and identification of the marginalised communities is crucial.
Many local development partners studied the marginalised communities, but in this research we found no reflection of those studies. So we do not have an in-depth understanding in the report.
However, the research will work as a profile of the Dalit class, which will facilitate their identification and recognition.
The recommendation seems abstract and needs to be made more concrete. It should be more focused and specific. We even do not find the answer as to why the local government cannot support them properly.
Professor Dr Amena Mohsin: This research could cover the aftermath of Covid-19 as it is conducted in the time of the pandemic, which might add a new dimension.
It mentions infrastructural inequality, but there is no clear indication what kind of infrastructural inequality it is talking about.
I never feel any need for a separate policy for indigenous people. It cannot establish an equal infrastructure.
We have to keep this in mind that Bangladesh is a multicultural country with diverse ethnic people and we have to live together.
If we fail to ensure that we will also fail to achieve the 'no one left behind' principle.
As per the research, most of them work in the informal sector. So it should have mentioned, in the recommendation, how the informal sector should be recognised.
Social stigma is a part of the culture and inequality, so it should be addressed in the research.
Zillur Rahman: The ethnic people are vulnerable due to their geographical location. While I talk with the members of marginalised groups of people, 98 percent of them say they need loans.
The NGOs have given loans to them with a high interest rate, and they have spent their earnings to meet the interest. So, they are not getting sustainable development. In the research the impact is not mentioned.
Every 15 days a language is being lost and most of them are indigenous languages. It shows the threatened condition of the indigenous people. The trend is also going on in Bangladesh.
However, the government has taken initiative for them and their condition is being developed. In near future, another big project proposal will be presented covering all the indigenous people across the country.
It is a big challenge that some influential people have been evicting the indigenous people and grabbing their land. Immediate action has to be taken to address this problem.
Their language and culture is an asset for the country which must be saved.
Md Atiqul Huq: We build cyclone centres for vulnerable groups which are friendly for women and disable persons–with a breastfeeding room and separate arrangement for women.
The road networks connecting the centres are also good enough. The government ensured their accessibility in the new aid programme.
The government's policy is to involve them with mainstream people, keeping their culture unchanged. And provide them education, financial and social support.
However, a number of indigenous people in different areas across the country have secured progress.
Md Bayazid Hasan: We will include all the suggestions which come from the discussion. We will clarify and revisit the findings and try to make this a more developed piece.
Discussants talk about separate policies and acts for tribal people, but they will be contradictory with fundamental constitutional rights. Actually we have to ensure the mitigation of infrastructural inequality.
A suggestion has come to show the Dalit class separately, which we will consider. However, there are some limitations, so all groups cannot be covered in one study; in this study, we wanted to focus on plain land ethnic communities.
Speakers also said the ongoing pandemic issues could be included in the study, but we could not do that as the study ended in February. However, we will try to include them in the secondary study.
We tried to interconnect climate vulnerability, ethnic communities' geographical location and vulnerability issues in this study.
However, there was a challenge to study as there is no segregated data. Even the government has no concrete data on this context.
This discussion will be helpful for further study on several issues.
Morshed Noman: Thank you all for your active participation. We hope the recommendations of the research will support the policy makers to take initiative for these marginalised people.