Opinion: The impact of COVID-19 on child marriage and other gender-based violence

In a troubling trend, more girls are seeking child marriages as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on.

Girl in a school in Bangladesh

By Saeda Bilkis Bani


This piece was originally published here in Inter Press Service. It has been reposted below.

I recently visited rural areas of Bangladesh amid the COVID-19 pandemic and returned to Dhaka with a new understanding of the impact that COVID-19 is having on child marriage, a harmful practice that is a global challenge. The fundamental shift that I saw was that child marriage, which has typically been encouraged by struggling parents, is now being encouraged by struggling girls. This worrisome trend underscores a new burden of the pandemic on people living in poverty.

Marriage before the age of 18 is a fundamental violation of human rights. Yet UNICEF reported in April that the number of girls married in childhood stands at 12 million per year worldwide.

According to the United Nations Population Fund’s State of the World Population 2020 report, COVID-19 threatens to make that stunning number even worse. The agency estimates that COVID-19 will disrupt efforts to end child marriage, potentially resulting in an additional 13 million child marriages taking place between 2020 and 2030 that could otherwise have been averted.

The challenge is not only the disease but the response to the disease – especially the impact of school closings, which have been in effect nationally in Bangladesh since March. The transition from in-school to online learning can easily seem like a mechanical one, but it creates new challenges for remote communities and families living in poverty.

What I witnessed in visiting rural communities was girls completely home-bound and bored amid school closings. They typically lacked Internet access, television, and smartphones. Analog phones are the only readily available means of communication, and too often, parents are not able to maintain any sort of schooling at home.

Girls are often home-bound because, unlike boys, they are generally forbidden by their parents from leaving the home unnecessarily. School closings become confining and limiting.

All too often, the girls I met had glazed looks in their eyes. They saw no future for themselves. Without school, they were deprived of possibilities. The daily effect was crushing. For many, the only escape is child marriage.

The shift to girls pursuing child marriage instead of their parents is a devastating one that could drive the numbers even higher. It could limit the prospects and potential of girls worldwide.

School closings also affect boys, but boys have more to do. They are freer, more mobile, and outside more. In some areas, that may increase child labor, drug addiction, and gambling, but boys are not confined in the same way that girls are.

The situation is also different in urban areas, where there is greater access to the Internet, television, and smartphones. Internet access has its own liabilities, but it is available for educational purposes.

For girls and women, the response to COVID-19 has other implications, too. Lockdowns have left many men out of work and, as a result, they are at home during the day, often making demands of one kind or another. The burden on women – to prepare more food, do more cleaning, maintain the home life – only increases. Financial stress creates domestic stress, and the potential for violence grows, especially as husbands demand more money from wives’ families – a major cause of domestic violence.

BRAC is working to prevent child marriages and other forms of violence against women and children and to defend victims of such violence. BRAC’s Community Empowerment Program supports Polli Shomaj, the community-based women’s groups that are active in 54 out of 64 districts in Bangladesh in combating gender-based violence. BRAC also operates 410 legal aid clinics, whose cases typically involve gender-based violence. But to maximize prevention of child marriage, a cultural shift is necessary.

Men and women are equal in Bangladesh’s Constitution and law, but not in its culture. And with three million cases backlogged in the court system, the law has limited effect.

Bringing about that cultural shift requires economic empowerment alongside social empowerment for girls and women. It requires life skills for negotiation, partnering in decision-making, and goal setting, among other things. It demands occupational skills training to enable girls and women to connect with the job market and to earn their own income. It also requires microfinance so that women can get loans, and mentoring so that they can envision a future that they control.

Fortunately, BRAC has those tools in place. BRAC has over seven million microfinance clients, nearly 90 percent of whom are women. Its skills development programs have equipped nearly 85,000 people with training and knowledge needed for employment, and 83 percent of those learners – half of whom are women – secured jobs after graduation. Together these tools create a comprehensive package that can enable girls and women to see a vibrant future and escape gender-based violence.

But the scale of the problem is greater still. According to a 2015 survey by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics and the United Nations Population Fund, more than 70 percent of married women or girls in Bangladesh have faced some form of intimate partner abuse, about half of whom say their partners have physically assaulted them. And the problem is global.

COVID-19 has revealed that girls and women need to be able to see a future of opportunity for themselves. In combating COVID-19, the world must awaken to this revelation. COVID-19 should now become the catalyst for the world to make possible a future of opportunity for girls and women – a future without gender-based violence.


Saeda Bilkis Bani is a Program Manager for the Community Empowerment Program at BRAC.

Honoring Sir Fazle Hasan Abed: One-year memorial message

Dr. Muhammad Musa, Executive Director of BRAC International, shares reflections on Sir Fazle’s life and legacy on the anniversary of his passing.

Sir Fazle with children

By Dr. Muhammad Musa


On December 20, 2020, we marked the first anniversary of the passing of BRAC’s beloved founder, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed. On this day, I am reflecting not just on Abed Bhai’s life and legacy, but also on who he was as a person and how he touched the lives of those around him. 

Abed Bhai—as those of us who knew him called him with respect and affection—contained multitudes. He was a global leader with vision and purpose, a courageous decision-maker and institution-builder, a humble personality who didn’t like the spotlight, and a loving family member and father. He built one of the largest and most successful development organizations in the world, but always highlighted the work of others above his own. A pioneer of social enterprises as a tool to address poverty and social injustice—and a lover of poetry, music and art—Abed Bhai was many things, but above all he was a man with a calling to help make the world a better place, not only for the current generation, but also for all those yet to come.

I am incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to work closely with Abed Bhai, especially in the last four years of his life. I was fortunate, as our offices were facing each other, to have many chances to interact with him informally on a regular basis. I will always cherish the days (and occasional late nights) of conversation and reflecting on work and life together.

Although I miss our conversations in the office, I learned the most from Abed Bhai in the field. I believe his last field visit was to the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, in March 2019. We were together for two full days, driving miles to reach the refugee camps, followed by hours spent walking the narrow lanes in between the hundreds of tents in which Rohingya families were living. Together, we visited BRAC’s innovative Humanitarian Play Labs for the children of Rohingya refugees, observed in-camp income-generating centers for refugee women, and witnessed learning centers where children were receiving education services.

Abed Bhai was tireless, walking from morning to evening, intently observing each program. He was always appreciative of the great work that our team members were doing, while at the same time identifying ways to pursue even higher levels of excellence and challenging us to achieve even greater impact. It was one of the most rewarding learning experiences of my career. I realized on that trip that a BRAC leader needs to be extremely appreciative of the work of her/his/their team, but must never become complacent or satisfied. Abed Bhai wanted us to continually raise the bar of the quality and scale of our programs. That was our Abed Bhai, who never felt we were done, but, rather, always believed we still had a long way to go!

One year has already passed since our beloved Abed Bhai left us: I continue to miss him. I miss his voice, his smile, his affection, his teaching, and most importantly his enormous ability to help solve complex problems through simple and non-bureaucratic actions. Even though he is no longer with us, I still feel his spirit around me every day. In a year that has tested us all, the collective commitment of everyone in the global BRAC family—from field staff to management to donors, partners, and board members—to fight for a better world proves that the spirit of BRAC, the spirit of Abed Bhai, is still alive and well.

I am so grateful to have been able to know a man such as Abed Bhai, but I am even more grateful for the community, the BRAC family, that he built and so many are part of. Abed Bhai’s shining accomplishment is the people he was able to bring together—from his wife and children, to his lifelong friends who are still involved in the organization, to all the hundreds of thousands of people who make BRAC what it is.

Although today we look back in remembrance of Abed Bhai’s amazing life and accomplishments, tomorrow we look forward to carrying on his spirit and vision to create a world free of poverty, inequality, and injustice. Thank you for being a part of this collective effort.

I look forward to continuing Abed Bhai’s journey with you all.


Dr. Muhammad Musa is the Executive Director of BRAC USA.

The New York Times: ‘R’ is for Rohingya: Sesame Street Creates New Muppets for Refugees

Noor and Aziz are Rohingya Muppets who will feature in educational programming that will be shown in refugee camps.

A Rohingya child plays with a muppet. Photo by Ryan Donnell for Sesame Workshop.
By Hannah Beech


Below is en excerpt of a piece originally published by The New York Times. Click here to view the full piece.

Six-year-old twins Noor and Aziz live in the largest refugee camp in the world. They are Rohingya Muslims who escaped ethnic cleansing in their native Myanmar for refuge in neighboring Bangladesh. They are also Muppets.

On Thursday, Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit that runs the early education TV show “Sesame Street” and operates in more than 150 countries, unveiled Aziz and Noor as the latest Muppets in their cast of characters.

The twins will appear with Elmo and other famous Muppets in educational programming about math, science, health and other topics that will be shown in the camps.

They will speak Rohingya, the language of a group of people that the Myanmar authorities have refused to recognize as a legitimate ethnicity. Sesame Workshop has created a new curriculum in Rohingya in partnership with the Lego Foundation, the International Rescue Committee and BRAC, a Bangladesh-founded charity.

Read more.


Photo by Ryan Donnell for Sesame Workshop.

NBC News: Sesame Street unveils Rohingya Muppets to help kids living in refugee camp

Most of the children inside the world’s largest refugee camp have never watched TV.

Rohingya children play with muppets in a BRAC Humanitarian Play Lab. Photo by Ryan Donnell for Sesame Workshop.
By Christine Romo, Cynthia McFadden and Rich Schapiro


Below is en excerpt of a story originally run on NBC News. Click here to view the full piece and watch the segment.

A grandmother named Merula has been living at the camp with her daughter and two grandchildren, ages 4 and 2 1/2, for the past two years. Merula said her family ran for their lives when members of the Myanmar military showed up at their village and set it on fire.

“We thought we would be killed,” she said.

The children, Ismabela and Bibijan, participate in an educational program at the camp known as the Humanitarian Play Lab. Developed by the humanitarian group BRAC, the lab uses play to help young children learn and recover from trauma.

Read on to meet Noor and Aziz, the new Rohingya muppets.


Photo by Ryan Donnell for Sesame Workshop.

Video: Meet Noor and Aziz, the newest Sesame Street Muppets

Watch how these Rohingya twins bring playful learning to the world’s largest refugee camp

Noor and Aziz are 6-year-old Rohingya twins living in a refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. They enjoy learning through play, creating stories, and spending time with their family and friends. As part of Sesame Workshop and BRAC’s Play to Learn humanitarian program, Noor and Aziz will be featured in playful learning content to support children and families affected by the Rohingya refugee crisis.

Opinion: How to confront COVID-19’s cost to girls

If we have to prioritize one thing after a difficult year, let it be a stronger focus on girls.

Girls work on computers in a BRAC school in Bangladesh

By Asif Saleh


This piece was originally published here in The New Humanitarian. It has been reposted below.

No one comes out of a crisis without being changed in some way, and this pandemic is a crisis on a scale we have rarely seen: It has put years of progress in human development at stake; inequity is at its worst.

If we have to prioritize one thing, it should be ensuring that girls do not return to despair, teenage motherhood, and premature death. Girls deserve the chance to flourish and pursue a bright future in spite of COVID-19.

Girls are profoundly impacted by the pandemic in multiple ways: by the economic effects on their families and the resulting food insecurity, by the increase in domestic violence and child marriage, and by the closing of schools, among other factors.

In Bangladesh, for instance, research by the Power and Participation Research Center and the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development shows that COVID-19 is creating millions of “new poor” – people whose income was 40 percent above the poverty line but have fallen below it as economies are disrupted. A recent study by the Center for Research and Information, a Dhaka-based nonprofit, estimates that the “new poor” now totals 38 million – roughly one in five Bangladeshis.

Similarly, food insecurity is on the rise. Another survey by the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development found that Bangladeshi households are spending less on food as their incomes drop: Compared to pre-pandemic levels, food expenditure shrunk by 22 percent in rural households, and by 28 percent in urban slum households.

On top of this, depression, crime, and addiction are rising among urban youth in the absence of schools, which have been closed in Bangladesh since March. Violence against women, both domestic and outside the home, is growing. A study by the Manusher Jonno Foundation, a Bangladeshi NGO, in 53 of Bangladesh’s 64 districts found nearly 2,900 child victims of domestic violence in June, up from about 2,170 a month earlier.

Yet it is with the closing of schools that the potential damage may be most profound. When schools are closed for months, the loss is more than just the course material that would have been covered: Students forget what they learned before schools closed, and the knowledge that was skipped may never be regained. The consequences for educational inequity can be long-lasting – and all of this assumes that students do not drop out.

Education is integrally tied to the economy. Many students work as private tutors in cities to make ends meet. Today, those options have largely disappeared, and students’ savings are dwindling to nothing. Many private schools have been sold, their teachers left penniless.

In all of this, girls are especially at risk – of being the victims of violence, of being forced into a child marriage, of dropping out of school, of not having the opportunity to pursue their talents and dreams.

What should be done? Governments, donors, and non-governmental organizations, particularly in the Global South, all have a role to play.

First, community empowerment groups are a vital asset and must be given the resources and training needed to support girls, to understand the pressures on them, and to prevent child marriages. In Bangladesh, grassroots women’s groups like BRAC’s Polli Shomaj play a vital role in supporting girls and women, including reporting violence and referring survivors to services. Such groups must be strengthened so they have enough resources, the proper training to make referrals, and the political muscle to defend girls and secure their path to self-fulfillment.

Second, communication and information are crucial. Bangladesh made big strides in girls’ education over the last 20 years through a nationwide public campaign and outreach to parents to convince them to send their daughters to school. Now, the sudden economic shock, school closures, and a sense of fatalism are leading parents to marry off their daughters early, our research indicates. Governments must play a bigger role, nationally and locally, in public messaging and bolstering support.

Third, schools need to gradually reopen with proper safety measures. This is more crucial than ever, particularly for rural schools. Girls tend to have the least access to education, be the newest to education, and be at the highest risk of dropping out – challenges BRAC has tried to overcome in helping over 12 million students graduate from BRAC schools in Bangladesh and around the globe.

Making up for learning losses will be difficult and will only get harder as school closures are prolonged. With rare exceptions, online education cannot replace in-school learning, particularly given a lack of connectivity in many regions. The risk of students dropping out only grows as a result.

Girls have the least access to the Internet, phones, and television – the other vehicles through which they could be learning while schools are closed. Clubs for adolescent girls, which have been so effective in Asia and Africa in preventing child marriage and teenage pregnancy, need to be revitalized and scaled up.

Fourth, access to vocational and skills training should be increased. All children need access to the best basic education possible, but this should be built upon with further formal education or training. Students and parents need good information about what opportunities are available – mentoring and call centers can be especially effective in helping them connect.

COVID-19 puts everyone at risk, but the social consequences for girls have been devastating. They must be at the heart of renewed efforts to ensure hard-fought gains made by women and girls are not rolled back.


Asif Saleh is Executive Director BRAC in Bangladesh.

Training unlocks a lifetime of knowledge for farmers in Liberia

Farmers like Ansu, Fatu, and Ciatta invest in agriculture training to produce more food, earn more money, and build climate-resilient communities across Liberia.

BRAC farmer Ansu in Liberia
By Annie Cameron


“Education has no end,” Ansu said as he looked out over his newly cultivated land. Ansu (pictured above), like many people in Liberia, has always had a desire to farm, but did not have the land or training he needed to sustain a livelihood. Then, Ansu was offered an opportunity through his neighbors. 

Revered for his dedicated work ethic and great enthusiasm, Ansu was selected by his community to be one of 15,000 farmers to enroll in a project designed to improve food security and reduce poverty and malnutrition in rural communities across Liberia. 

Farmer Ansu's land in Liberia

BRAC’s “Breaking the Cycle of Poverty and Malnutrition” project was launched in 2018 to train and organize Liberian farmers and help them increase their yields, boost their incomes, and improve their food security. One of the core features of the project involves facilitating training that empowers farmers with knowledge and skills.

Read more: Learn about BRAC’s agriculture programs.

Lead farmers, like Ansu, cultivate their land to demonstrate modern farming techniques to other farmers in their communities. Every two weeks, these groups of farmers observe, analyze, and learn about new crop varieties and farming techniques from Ansu. This peer-to-peer exchange offers an innovative means of sharing knowledge and fostering learning in rural communities. 

BRAC has trained over 11,000 farmers in modern farming techniques such as homestead gardening to cultivate nutrient-rich crops and climate smart agriculture to mitigate the devastating effects of climate change.

Farmer Fatu in her field in Liberia

Farmer Fatu in her field in Liberia

Fatu (above) used to be a rice farmer, but she struggled to maintain her productivity as climatic conditions became less predictable in Liberia. With less rain and more frequent droughts, her water sources dried up and she was forced to haul the water she needed for her crops for several miles.

But after enrolling in BRAC’s program, Fatu was able to use seeds from BRAC to diversify beyond rice and cultivate a wide variety of nutrient-rich crops like peppers, sweet potatoes, and cabbage. She also learned to plant her vegetables under mounds of dirt and use sticks and leaves to shield them from the sun and retain more moisture to make a smaller quantity of water go farther.

Equipped with new knowledge, Fatu is now more resilient to shifting weather patterns. With her improved productivity and better crop yields, she sees a future for herself and her family. Although her education was limited, she envisions a future full of opportunity for her grandchildren.

“By the grace of god, my grandchildren will go to college,” she said.

BRAC’s community-based approach reaches people who are disproportionately marginalized, especially women, who make up nearly 70 percent of the farmers trained in Liberia over the past two years. A portion of the enrolled farmers are trained in raising livestock and poultry, which provides them with an excellent source of protein and a productive livelihood opportunity.

Chickens raised by Ciatta, a farmer in Liberia

Ciatta, a chicken farmer in Liberia

Ciatta (above), who was trained as a chicken farmer, has become a profitable entrepreneur and leader in her community. She received startup inputs to raise her first batch of 100 chickens after participating in a BRAC training. Now, she has raised over 500 chickens, and she plans to expand her coop even further.

Ciatta’s well-manicured coop is a reflection of her training in action. She now has a wholesome source of food to feed her children, and has invested her earnings in a booming small business that employs others. Ciatta is a source of knowledge for her community. She aims to expand her business raising chickens and empower others with the same livelihood opportunities that she has had. 

Read more: Discover how one BRAC farmer is building a better future for his family.

When hardworking farmers like Ciatta, Ansu, and Fatu have the tools and skills they need to produce more food, they can feed their families and earn money to reinvest in their households, businesses, and communities. And when their children have enough to eat, they grow stronger and healthier, perform better in school, and become more equipped to be leaders of the next generation.

A recent BRAC study quantified this impact, finding that on average, participants in BRAC Liberia’s agriculture and livestock programs in 2018 increased their income from poultry farming by 92 percent, from growing rice by 29 percent, and from growing cassava by 22 percent.

BRAC believes training is the foundation to unlocking a lifetime of knowledge and skills for farmers to become self-sustaining and resilient to climate shocks. We are proud to work hand in hand with rural communities to build a stronger future for families in Liberia.


Annie Cameron is Program Officer for Health and Agriculture at BRAC USA.

Opinion: Maker spaces vs. COVID-19

How the pandemic is bringing the small manufacturing revolution to the development sector

A BRAC community health worker wearing PPE cares for a mother

By Kuldeep Bandhu Aryal and Nishat Tasnim


This piece was originally published here in NextBillion. It has been reposted below.

Rina is one of the nearly 50,000 community health workers trained by BRAC, a global development organization based in Bangladesh. She serves as many as 20,000 people in her community. With COVID-19 raging across the heartland of Bangladesh, there’s a lot of misinformation spreading. She provides people with health advice and primary health services, and acts as a center of referral to hospitals and health complexes. She has fear of contracting COVID-19, but it’s less of a personal fear and more of a concern for her own family members and the community she serves. Rina knows that without her, the situation will be much worse on the ground for these people. So she focuses on equipping herself with whatever personal protective equipment (PPE) is available, and continues with her work.

The need to protect frontline healthcare workers like Rina has become particularly clear, despite the “fog of war” that has clouded many decisions since the early days of the pandemic. When COVID-19 first struck, the global health sector did not know what we were up against. Yet it was obvious that essential workers had to be on the frontlines, and in Bangladesh, as in many countries, it soon became apparent that there wasn’t enough PPE to go around. Almost all of the country’s PPE was made abroad, especially equipment like face shields and goggles. This has resulted in price gouging and acute scarcity: To take one example, at the height of the shortage BRAC was paying US $12 for goggles that cost $2 before the pandemic.

And of course, this hasn’t happened only with face shields and goggles, but also with every other product needed during the crisis, from ventilator parts to test swabs. Bangladesh is still struggling to meet the demand for these items, as are countries across the developing (and developed) world.


Dealing with medical supply chain disruptions

Early on in the crisis, the pandemic caused severe disruptions in the global medical supply chain, leading the net exporters of PPE to become net importers practically overnight. Though increasing demand had made this equipment pricier than ever, many governments and organizations had enough money to pay for it. But they had no way of sourcing these products due to acute shortages, and over-dependence on the international instant order and express delivery supply chain system. And whatever they could source did not meet traditional quality standards.

In developing economies, these challenges around supply chains become complicated very quickly and in unexpected ways. Obstacles in these markets can include “sudden and unpredictable spikes in demand, difficult to access locations, disruptions due to conflict or disasters, as well as normal supply chain problems of leakage, spoilage, and other losses.” This means that simple procurement orders for items like medical disposables can take weeks and sometimes months to fulfil, severely impeding humanitarian operations.


Leveraging frugal innovation and maker spaces

One way of addressing this issue in developing countries is to look for frugal innovations which can be scaled. In South Asian contexts like Bangladesh, the concept of frugal innovation is known as “Jugaad,” a Hindi/Bhojpuri term which means “to make use of what you already have (because you don’t have access to external resources).” Under normal circumstances, Jugaad is generally considered an alternative coping and adaptation mechanism for people with an acute lack of resources. But BRAC has tapped into this approach to generate local solutions which are affordable as well – and the model, developed through our Social Innovation Lab, has played an important role in our COVID-19 response.

When the pandemic started, BRAC realized that we could not depend upon traditional PPE procurement processes, which were designed to operate in situations where the procuring organization has adequate resources and demand doesn’t exceed supply. We had to find new ways of working with materials that were locally available, and to consider alternative manufacturing partners and processes based on the kind of machinery and technical capacity available inside the country. 

But manufacturing was not the only piece of the puzzle. Local designs were also needed, because there were patent and copyright issues that prevented us from using local manufacturers to produce many internationally marketed products. Even simple products like face shields are patented, so we had to use open-source designs. But these designs also had to be adjusted based on local manufacturing capabilities and material availability, which required redesigns so extensive that it was almost like creating a new product from scratch. In addition, the strict lockdowns that were imposed across Bangladesh resulted in a massive logistical challenge. For example, while this initiative was underway, some simple machinery parts were not available in Dhaka, the capital city where BRAC is based, and had to be sourced from a small mechanical shop in Pabna, which is about 153 kilometers away.

This provided a unique opportunity for spaces like fab labs and maker spaces to jump into action. Not only were they capable of making original designs or “hacking” existing designs to suit local need, they also had some form of small- to mid-scale production capacity. In addition, they were tied into the international open source product design community and could tap into the global movement to create local PPE solutions, which started through the Facebook group “Open Source COVID-19 Medical Supplies” and Slack channels like “Project Open Air.”

These makers focused on rapid prototyping and using human-centered design principles to create solutions, and their work helped push the maker movement toward demand-driven frugal innovation. They were able to make their own designs, develop rapid prototypes and get prompt user feedback, then share these designs with other makers in countries like Bangladesh. To take one example, a designer stuck in quarantine in Bosnia shared a digital model for a face shield with BRAC, and the prototype of that face shield was made at Fab Lab Sher-E-Bangla Agriculture University, a maker space in Dhaka. The face shield was tested by BRAC staff and their feedback led to subsequent design iterations, and BRAC community health workers are now using it in the field.

Our maker space partners initially used 3D printers to make a modest number of products. But as demand increased among our health workers, faster means of production were needed, so the maker spaces started using computer numerical control (CNC) machines and laser cutting, adjusting the designs so they could fit into these two-dimensional machines. This is the true essence of frugal innovation at work. But it also created a new series of challenges, from material sourcing to design changes. It also meant that BRAC had to be involved in rapid prototyping and reiteration to adopt this new manufacturing process. This brought BRAC further into the innovation process, and we gradually became an integral actor in the digital fabrication of PPE to support Bangladesh’s COVID-19 response.

Along with leveraging our extensive network on the ground to distribute frugal innovations for this humanitarian response, BRAC also advocated to the government of Bangladesh that fab labs employees be designated as essential workers during the pandemic. This was a major milestone for the maker movement. We also supported local maker spaces by purchasing the raw materials they’d need for manufacturing and product packaging. This was a very rare move from a development sector organization, as BRAC went out of our way to accommodate the challenges on the ground and provide the flexibility that fab labs needed to innovate and experiment.


Why the humanitarian sector should embrace the maker movement

To make the best use of design and manufacturing in any emergency response, ecosystem players, NGOs, development partners and government agencies need to have strategies to integrate and accommodate maker spaces as platforms for rapid responses to humanitarian crises. Without proper policy buy-in and strategic support, agile maker spaces like fab labs can only reach a limited number of people. That’s why BRAC has worked to mainstream our partnership with fab labs and other maker spaces as part of our emergency response mechanism. To that end, we have established agreements with maker spaces to provide dedicated funding for their capacity building and internal teams, while boosting our efforts to integrate the products they can manufacture into BRAC’s general procurement and logistics functions.

We’re not the only ones moving in this direction. In Bangladesh, the World Bank has funded seven university-based fab labs to foster the growth of digital fabrication and manufacturing – an effort that started even before the pandemic. And DFID’s Frontier Technologies Hub, in collaboration with the Royal Academy of Engineering, is building a technology and innovation pipeline for local production and local solutions for their #COVIDaction projects. Globally, innovators are being encouraged to develop novel approaches to shorten supply chains using local raw materials, and to pivot domestic manufacturing to meet local needs. One of the biggest examples of this momentum in South Asia involved Maker’s Asylum in India. Their M-19 initiative started with the goal of providing 1,000 M-19 face shields to the country’s frontline workers. However, in 49 days they were able to activate maker spaces in 42 cities, towns and villages through their open source design, and produce over 1 million M-19 face shields.

These successes show the power of open source design and collective movement in times of need. To advance these efforts, BRAC Bangladesh has received the Frontier Technologies Hub grant, which will support our work testing out digitally fabricated PPE. We will assess the cumulative demand for this PPE in BRAC operation areas, and the supply will be met through collaboration between BRAC and university fab labs.

However, there is a common misconception about maker spaces and digital fabrication. It is not just about 3D printing: There are other types of equipment and technologies involved, from CNC machines and laser cutting, to injection molding, printed circuit board milling and other fabrication technologies. If these innovations are harnessed, it could help mainstream niche efforts like BRAC’s and bring the maker culture to the broader humanitarian sector.

Digital manufacturing has taken a big jump since COVID-19 started. If the humanitarian sector takes a coordinated approach toward maker spaces, working with government and non-government agencies and international development partners, we can further bolster this massive small manufacturing revolution.


Kuldeep Bandhu Aryal is a Social Innovation Fellow and Nishat Tasnim is Deputy Manager, Innovation Ecosystems and Partnership at BRAC’s Social Innovation Lab.

BRAC releases new data on gender-based violence in conjunction with 16 days of activism

Data underscores that gender-based violence is rising amid COVID-19

A girl from a BRAC youth program in Bangladesh

DHAKA, BANGLADESH —BRAC today released new data on gender-based violence in conjunction with 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. The 16 Days are recognized annually from November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to December 10, Human Rights Day.

Over 25,000 complaints of gender-based violence received by BRAC through October 2020

Even with restricted mobility because of lockdowns for a limited time, a total of 25,607 complaints of gender-based violence were received by BRAC’s 410 Human Rights and Legal Aid Clinics across Bangladesh in the first 10 months of 2020.

Of these complaints, 15,047 were resolved through alternative dispute resolution; legal counsel was provided to 3,239 survivors, and 1,724 complaints led to civil and criminal cases being filed. In addition, almost $USD 4 million in dower and maintenance was recovered for survivors.

Community-based women’s groups report spike in incidence of violence against women

This spike is supported by data from Polli Shomaj, BRAC’s community-based women’s groups. Polli Shomaj are active in 54 out of 64 districts in Bangladesh and work to stop violence and help women understand their rights. They reported a 24% rise in incidents of violence against women in 2020 compared to 2019.

Greater pressure on teenage girls in Bangladesh to submit to child marriage amid COVID-19

The number of child marriages reported by Polli Shomaj in the first 10 months of 2020 grew by 68%, compared to the same period in 2019. There was also a 72% rise in the number of child marriages prevented by the women’s groups during the same period.

In the third quarter of 2020, with COVID-19 widespread, the number of child marriages prevented was 219% higher than the same period in 2019. The number of child marriages prevented rose by 571% from the first quarter of 2020 to the third quarter of 2020.

Child brides more likely to experience gender-based violence

The reported rise in child marriage is particularly concerning because child brides are more likely to experience gender-based violence. Globally, girls who marry before the age of 15 are almost 50% more likely to experience physical or sexual violence from a partner than girls who marry after 18. Child brides are also more likely to believe that a man is justified in beating his wife.

“Combating gender-based violence and ensuring gender equality are top priorities for BRAC, and the COVID-19 pandemic is only making the fight harder,” said Asif Saleh, Executive Director, BRAC Bangladesh. “BRAC has major initiatives, highlighted above, that demonstrate that with community mobilization and awareness, significant progress can be made in tackling this challenge. During COVID-19, it is more important than ever that  a more concerted commitment and effort are made from all tiers of government and society to  ensure that gender-based violence is  stopped and rights of women are protected.”

New study in Tanzania reports exciting progress in combating intimate partner violence

A new study from Tanzania highlights exciting progress in the effort to improve sexual and reproductive health among adolescent girls and young women and reduce intimate partner violence. The study was conducted by UCLA’s Global Lab for Research in Action in partnership with BRAC in Tanzania, where one-in-three 15-24-year-old females experiences intimate partner violence. BRAC operates 150 Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents (ELA) clubs for girls and women throughout Tanzania. Engaging those ELA clubs was crucial to the research.

A key finding of this study is that the two interventions that significantly reduce intimate partner violence are ones that are rarely used in these types of health programs across Africa or other parts of the world. Fortunately, they are both low-cost and easy to replicate: engaging and inspiring adolescent boys and young men to make better choices around their sexual and reproductive health; and empowering adolescent girls and young women using a goal-setting exercise focused on staying healthy. More information on the study is available here.


Notes to the editor

About BRAC

BRAC is a global leader in developing and implementing cost-effective, evidence-based programs to assist the most marginalized people in extremely poor, conflict-prone, and post-disaster settings. These include initiatives in education, healthcare, microfinance, women and girls’ empowerment, agriculture, human and legal rights, and more. BRAC’s vision is a world free from all forms of exploitation and discrimination where everyone has the opportunity to realize their potential. In 2020, BRAC was named the number one NGO in the world by NGO Advisor for the fifth consecutive year. Founded in Bangladesh in 1972, BRAC currently operates in 11 countries in Asia and Africa, touching the lives of over 100 million people.


Based in New York, BRAC USA is the North American affiliate of BRAC. BRAC USA provides comprehensive support to BRAC around the world by raising awareness about its work to empower people living in poverty and mobilizing resources to support its programs. BRAC USA also works closely with its international counterparts to design and implement cost-effective and evidence-based poverty innovations worldwide. BRAC USA is an independent 501(c)(3) organization.


Media contact


Sarah Allen
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