Taklima Nasrin Jhumur, an entrepreneur in Netrokona Sadar, had to shut down her business during the Covid-19 pandemic. As the movement curbs were lifted, Jhumur wanted to restart her business, but she needed some cash.
She applied for a loan through a website named "Digital Netrokona". After a couple of days, she got an SMS, saying her application had been accepted. Another text message popped up in a few days, offering her a free short training by the Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation.
Jhumur completed the training and got Tk1 lakh loan. She said the services were very smooth and she did not have to pay a single penny for anything.
From domestic violence to healthcare to financial assistance – public services to Netrokona women to meet their particular needs are now thus easier than ever before thanks to the website the district administration launched in March this year.
Kazi Md Abdur Rahman, deputy commissioner (DC) of Netrokona, said, "Many women from different areas come to us for various services. Some have to come more than once, which costs them money and also time.
"We launched this digital initiative to make it easier for these women to access our services. This is the first such initiative at the district level. District administration provides all the expenses to run the initiative."
Bangamata Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mujib Women's Corner, which provides the services online, is housed in a room on the second floor of the Netrokona DC office. Three employees oversee all the services headed by an assistant commissioner (magistrate).
Nazneen Akhter, the assistant commissioner, said, "In the past eight months, we have received 1,326 applications from 1,234 women from 10 upazilas for various services through our webpage. Most of these applications came for financial assistance. During the Covid-19 period, 448 women applied for financial assistance."
"However, 116 women have applied for various legal remedies including violence against women and human rights violations. There have also been applications for technical training, loan assistance, land-related services, health services, disability services etc."
Nazneen Akhter further said that so far, 926 applicants have already been provided with the desired services and the rest of the applications are being processed.
Deputy Commissioner Kazi Md Abdur Rahman said, "The applicants can apply for their desired services from anywhere via the internet or they can come physically to the women's corner. They can easily attach the required documents with the application with the help of the local union parishad and field level staff of the department of women's affairs."
The deputy commissioner said the applicants are tagged with the related department from which they need their services.
"The departments concerned take cognizance of the desired service as soon as possible and upload post-application updates on the web page. The applicants can also learn of the progress of their application through text messages. Women's corner also has a hotline number- 01771167306. Anyone can get help by contacting this number," he said.
Tasmin Akhter Taslima of Kandulia village in Sadar upazila also applied in the same process and got training with a loan of Tk1.5 lakh. She is now running a block-boutique business. Taslima said, "During the Covid-19 period, I lost my job. It was a very tough time. Later, I got the loan very easily by applying on the webpage run by the district administration."
Sahera Khatun, from Maujebali village of Sadar upazila, said, "I suffered a lot when I went to pay the government fee concerning my land. Later, I applied through the webpage of the Women's Corner. My problem was solved in two days. The land office officials called me and provided me with a duplicate carbon copy of the immediate deposit receipt."
The authorities have taken various initiatives to popularise the online services. Local civil society members and media workers as well as various non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have extended their help in this regard.
Begum Rokeya, executive director of local NGO Swabalambi Unnayan Samiti, said, "The digital platform is playing a vital role in ensuring women empowerment. This model can be followed in other districts too."