New data reveals increased pressure on teenage girls in Bangladesh to submit to child marriage amid the COVID-19 pandemic

The data reveals an 84 percent increase in the number of child marriages prevented in the first nine months of 2020

Girls in a BRAC youth empowerment program

DHAKA, BANGLADESH — BRAC today released new data revealing the increased pressure on teenage girls in Bangladesh to submit to child marriage amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The data reveals the number of child marriages prevented by Polli Shomaj, the community-based women’s groups that are active in 54 out of 64 districts in Bangladesh. Among other activities, Polli Shomaj work to stop child marriages and other forms of violence, and help women access community and government resources. The data is released today, as the world celebrates International Day of the Girl.

The data reveals an 84 percent increase in the number of child marriages prevented in the first nine months of 2020, compared to the first nine months of 2019. In the third quarter of 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic widespread, the number of child marriages prevented grew by 219 percent, compared to the third quarter of 2019. The increase in child marriages prevented grew by 571 percent from the first quarter of 2020 to the third quarter of 2020.

The quarterly comparisons are as follows:

Months Number of Child Marriages that Polli Shomaj Prevented in 2019 Number of Child Marriages that Polli Shomaj Prevented in 2020
January- March 96 79
April-June 109 74
July-September 166 530
Total 371 683

 

BRAC’s Community Empowerment Program reports that while 683 child marriages were prevented by Polli Shomaj, a total of 778 child marriages were still reported between January and September 22, 2020. In 2019, 371 were prevented by Polli Shomaj, and 460 were reported. This is a rise of 84 percent in prevented cases and 69 percent in reported ones.

The number of child marriages prevented is a key indicator, because it reflects awareness by Polli Shomaj of local incidents and trends. The women in Polli Shomaj are well connected in their communities and understand the pressures that girls and families are under.

“These numbers are of enormous concern. This is just a glimpse of the social disruption that COVID-19 has brought on. An immediate concerted effort on socioeconomic recovery by public, private, and social sectors is critical to prevent child marriage; otherwise, we will fall behind on the progress we have made so far on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Asif Saleh, Executive Director of BRAC Bangladesh.

Among the factors that Polli Shomaj cite as contributing to the growing attempts at child marriage are a range of social conditions enhanced by COVID-19. They include increasing job losses and poverty; growing food insecurity; the closing of schools, which reduces options for girls and increases the likelihood that they will not return to school; social distancing, which makes it easier to keep knowledge of child marriages from other members of the community; the reduced cost of a wedding, because large gatherings are not allowed; closed government offices, which makes it hard to check birth certificates; distraction of local government officials by the pandemic and efforts to reduce it; and the return of men who made money at overseas jobs. The range of these factors underscores the difficulty of combatting child marriage amid a pandemic.

According to the United Nations Population Fund’s recently released State of the World Population report, COVID-19 may exacerbate the already concerning numbers around early marriage, violence, and sex ratio at birth. Its recent projections estimate 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.

 

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.

About BRAC USA

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

BRAC USA

Sarah Allen
[email protected]

Video: Ritu grows her business with BRAC Dairy

Discover Ritu’s story

After being married at a young age, Ritu had no source of income. She purchased a cow and sold milk at the local market, but her earnings were modest, and her family was trapped in a cycle of poverty. Now, as a client of BRAC Dairy, Ritu has a consistent place to sell her milk for a fair price, and she has grown her business into a thriving dairy farm with over 25 cattle.

Opinion: Three lessons from the Global South on combating the pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, more and more people around the world are struggling during lockdowns and economic shutdowns.

By Dr. Muhammad Musa

 

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

The coronavirus could nearly double the number of people facing acute hunger, according to the World Food Programme. Recent data collected by BRAC reveals that many families across the Global South can only sustain their food needs for seven days or less; many are trying to cope by eating less.

Top-down measures to curb the spread of the virus – dramatic steps like lockdowns and bans on large gatherings – pose an immediate threat to families in the poorest communities.

Even in developed countries, local opposition to top-down decrees is undermining the impact of public health initiatives. Resistance to these mandates will only grow if they are not tempered with solutions and leadership from the hardest-hit communities.

The key to turning this resistance around, and dealing with a pandemic long term, lies in the Global South. What’s needed is a renewed commitment to community engagement, rather than top-down mandates. The Global South has great experience on which to draw. Here are three examples that have proven effective.

First, local leaders – elected, civic, or religious, in various combinations depending on the community – must be consulted when creating public health strategies. Their concerns must be heard and addressed. In the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh, for instance, many Rohingya religious leaders are working with BRAC to use their platforms to share life-saving information and dispel myths about COVID-19.

This is an age-old principle of community development, but in the rush to stop the spread of the virus too many officials around the world forgot about it and simply issued decrees. In India, for instance, when the government called on 1.3 billion people to stay home for three weeks, millions were left stranded, without work, and potentially hungry.

Second, existing community networks must be engaged. Community health workers are a great example: These are trusted, trained workers who live in the communities they serve. They can be especially persuasive in informing residents and convincing them to adopt needed measures such as mask-wearing, social distancing, and hand-washing.

Half of BRAC’s 100,000 frontline staff and volunteers across 11 countries are community health workers. During the pandemic, we’ve found they’ve been vital in working with local leaders to raise awareness about COVID-19 and to enact preventive measures.

Non-governmental organisations and other civil society groups have a crucial role to play. They are a vital link between centralised policy conversations and grassroots networks.

Third, hard-won experience with health crises is a powerful asset. In West African countries with a history of Ebola, for instance, adopting social distancing and other public health measures has been far easier. People who went through that emergency – both decision-makers and the public – understood more quickly what was at stake and what was needed. People knew where to turn for trusted information and how to respond.

COVID-19 isn’t the first public health crisis we’ve seen, and it won’t be the last. Large populations depend on daily wages to put food on the table. Economic activity and public health measures must co-exist.

We need to involve local leaders in crucial public health decisions to develop interventions that work. Solutions that rise up are better than those that drop down.

 

Dr. Muhammad Musa is a physician, public health expert, and Executive Director of BRAC International, a Bangladesh-based NGO.

Opinion: From Cox’s Bazar — how to address refugee needs amid COVID-19

BRAC’s Hasina Akhter shares insights from her work responding to COVID-19 in the largest refugee settlement in the world.

A mother with her child in a Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh

By Hasina Akhter

 

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

Addressing the needs of the largest refugee settlement in the world is daunting enough. Now, the challenge is compounded by the coronavirus pandemic. The combination is a crisis within a crisis.

The largest refugee settlement in the world is in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, where around 900,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are sheltering. As of June 30, 50 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in the Rohingya settlements, but the full extent of infection is not known. The pandemic is widespread in Bangladesh — with more than 260,000 cases confirmed — and the tightly packed conditions of the camps make their residents especially vulnerable.

To address this extraordinary set of circumstances, BRAC — the largest nongovernment responder to the humanitarian crisis in Cox’s Bazar — has developed a three-pronged approach that reflects its experience creating programs in the global south by listening to those most in need. The approach may prove instructive to aid workers facing other challenging settings around the world.

 

Prioritizing primary health care

First, one of the lessons we learned from the West African Ebola crisis was the importance of maintaining essential primary health services.

More than 11,000 people died from the 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak, but the closure of health facilities resulted in thousands more preventable deaths. Pregnant women who lacked medical care, for instance, were found lying unconscious outside of closed maternity centers. The COVID-19 pandemic similarly threatens the availability of primary health services and, with them, more lives.

Amid the pandemic, 11 health facilities we run in the Cox’s Bazar refugee camps, including two primary health care centers and nine health posts, are open. Each has a maternity unit providing essential health care to pregnant and lactating women, while also making contraceptives available to help reduce the risk of pregnancy and limit the number of babies being delivered during the health crisis.

To maximize safety at maternity units, each patient must call in advance to book an appointment, at which time a midwife asks questions to determine if the patient has symptoms of COVID-19. When screened patients arrive, they must immediately wash their hands, their shoes and sandals are sprayed with disinfectant, and they are met by midwives in personal protective equipment. The clinics are also sprayed with bleaching powder on a regular basis.

By maintaining and scaling primary health services, responders facing the pandemic in the most challenging situations can reduce excess preventable deaths.

 

Innovating to adapt preventive measures

Second, aid groups should prioritize adapting preventive measures for challenging contexts, such as facilitating hand-washing without running water in environments where water is scarce.

Masks are also a critical preventive tool. Amid global shortages of personal protective equipment, one innovative solution has found a way to provide masks for refugee families.

Through a program funded by UN Women and led by BRAC, women in the camps of Cox’s Bazar are learning to make reusable cloth masks, enabling 127 refugee women to earn income to support their families while sewing masks for camp residents. Mask-making began in April and operates in women’s centers in two camps, with hygiene measures maintained to keep the women safe from the virus. Together, refugee women have made more than 30,000 masks.

By adopting creative and cost-effective preventive solutions that enable hand-washing and mask-wearing in even the most under-resourced contexts, we can save countless lives.

 

Spreading essential knowledge through community-based outreach

Finally, the need to educate the public is essential and ongoing. This has two key components: conveying vital information about COVID-19 and dispelling myths that can become dangerous.

In Cox’s Bazar, we must draw on the expertise of the refugee camps’ community health workers, who are part of the largest nongovernmental pool of community health workers in the world. These health workers, who live and work in the communities they serve, are trained to make regular visits to households, provide basic health information and screenings, and link the households to institutional care.

Since the onset of COVID-19, community health workers have played a critical role in sharing information about how the virus spreads, educating refugee families on its symptoms, and instructing them on what to do if they get sick. Community health workers know the ins and outs of the refugee settlements and how people communicate within them, enabling them to dispel rumors and myths about the spread of the virus.

Responding to COVID-19 in an already dire humanitarian crisis is an unprecedented challenge. Refugee needs are extraordinary without a pandemic, and COVID-19 only adds to the complexity. But by using lessons learned from experience providing health services, engaging refugees in taking preventive measures, and drawing on the network of community health workers, we can help create the conditions needed to defeat the pandemic.

 

Hasina Akhter is area director for BRAC in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. She currently oversees the organization’s multisector response to the Rohingya refugee crisis. She previously served with BRAC as country director for Uganda, where she led BRAC’s holistic suite of development and humanitarian interventions in the country, including a response to the Ebola outbreak and a portfolio of activities to support South Sudanese refugees.

A quarter of Bangladesh is flooded. Millions have lost everything.

The country’s latest calamity illustrates a striking inequity of our time: The people least responsible for climate change are among those most hurt by its consequences.

By Somini Sengupta and Julfikar Ali Manik

 

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

Torrential rains have submerged at least a quarter of Bangladesh, washing away the few things that count as assets for some of the world’s poorest people — their goats and chickens, houses of mud and tin, sacks of rice stored for the lean season.

It is the latest calamity to strike the delta nation of 165 million people. Only two months ago, a cyclone pummeled the country’s southwest. Along the coast, a rising sea has swallowed entire villages. And while it’s too soon to ascertain what role climate change has played in these latest floods, Bangladesh is already witnessing a pattern of more severe and more frequent river flooding than in the past along the mighty Brahmaputra River, scientists say, and that is projected to worsen in the years ahead as climate change intensifies the rains.

“The suffering will go up,” said Sajedul Hasan, the humanitarian director of BRAC, an international development organization based in Bangladesh that is distributing food, cash and liquid soap to displaced people.

BRAC addresses devastation from Cyclone Amphan amid COVID-19 in Bangladesh

Response and recovery efforts supported by $300,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

BRAC responds to Cyclone Amphan

DHAKA, BANGLADESH — In the aftermath of Cyclone Amphan, the super cyclonic storm that devastated coastal communities in Bangladesh in late May, BRAC has been carrying out response and recovery efforts, made more complex by the COVID-19 pandemic. With more than 200,000 homes reportedly destroyed or damaged, families sought refuge in neighboring homes and shelters, increasing the chance of contracting COVID-19 in the absence of social distancing.

BRAC has quickly started to provide multi-purpose conditional cash support (repairing of houses and latrines, and installation of tippy taps) to 4,600 cyclone-affected households to enable families to return to their own homes in 10 sub-districts in the districts of Satkhira, Khulna and Bagerhat. The cash assistance of approximately $60 per household is being provided by mobile money transfers in two installments. Training is also being provided to residents to install hand washing stations through demonstration efforts, maintaining social distance, so they can wash their hands safely and reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread.

Without access to clean water, it is difficult to maintain basic hygiene practices to prevent contraction of COVID-19 and diarrhea. Awareness messages on basic hygiene practices and COVID-19 infection prevention and control are being disseminated by BRAC staff, who are trained on COVID-19 prevention practices.

BRAC’s emergency response is supported by a $300,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The grant funded relief and recovery efforts to people suffering the impact of Amphan in Bangladesh.

BRAC’s disaster response efforts in Bangladesh have benefited from funding by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation several times in the last 13 years, starting with Cyclone Sidr in 2007. Most recently, the foundation provided a grant of $300,000 last year for flood relief.

“BRAC has always looked to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as a key partner in our effort to provide life-saving services to the most vulnerable people, especially during humanitarian crises,” said Asif Saleh, Executive Director of BRAC. “This support was no exception. It allowed us to mobilize resources quickly, during the COVID-19 pandemic, to provide much-needed cash support to the families most affected by Cyclone Amphan so they can get back on their feet.”

 

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.

About BRAC USA

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

BRAC USA

Sarah Allen
[email protected]

Video: BRAC Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative – Audacious announcement 2020

An Audacious plan to lift millions out of extreme poverty

Today, BRAC was named a 2020 winner of the Audacious Project. BRAC’s Ultra-Poor Graduation Initiative will receive more than $60 million to scale our proven Graduation approach through governments and help 21 million people lift themselves out of extreme poverty.

Learning in a pandemic: 4 tips for parents and caregivers with young children at home

As more than a billion students around the world put their schooling on pause, families are doing more than ever to bring learning home.

Play lab leader and children in Tanzania

BY SARAH ALLEN, MIA PEREZ, AND ROSA TAYLOR

 

According to UNESCO, more than 90 percent of the world’s learners have been impacted by school closures during the coronavirus pandemic. As more than a billion children around the world are forced to put their schooling on pause, parents and caregivers are left in challenging situations, often balancing work with child care or home schooling to keep their children from falling behind.

Since 2016, BRAC Play Labs have offered quality, affordable play-based learning for children, ages three to five, in underserved communities. Play Labs deliver education through a community-based model and engage caregivers in their children’s learning beyond the classroom. Here are four tips from our Play Labs to help your family bring playful learning home.

 

 

1. Create spaces that facilitate learning

Learning environments are a crucial factor in learning. Play Labs are designed to encourage play and facilitate learning, incorporating child-friendly elements such as windows that are low to the ground and zones for different types of play, such as make-believe, music, art, and reading.

While this works for Play Labs, caregivers who are bringing learning home do not need to designate a separate room or special furniture for learning. Instead, consider creating learning spaces from regular home settings, such as a corner of a common room or an outdoor space. Try identifying areas that can be used for different purposes, such as a table for arts and crafts or a corner with floor space for play with toys. Creativity and imagination help create safe and engaging learning environments.

 

 

2. Use everyday items as low-cost learning materials

Play Labs are unique for their low-cost and sustainable learning materials. Parents and caregivers meet on a quarterly basis to decorate learning spaces and create contextually appropriate toys with locally sourced materials. For example, families in East Africa use banana leaves to create dolls, jump ropes, and balls, and in Bangladesh, families use clay to create produce for a make-believe market.

For young children transitioning to at-home learning, everyday items can be engaging play materials. Household staples like flour; dry rice, beans, or pasta; and shaving cream can be used for sensory play. Kitchen items such as pots and pans, utensils, and plastic containers can become musical instruments or building blocks and facilitate pretend play. Outdoor objects like rocks, leaves, or flowers can be used for art, science, or counting and sorting.

 

 

3. Harness play for learning and resilience

Emerging research indicates that play can promote resilience and establish a sense of normalcy for children in crisis settings. To support children, Play Labs favor playful and participatory activities over rote learning, and caregivers are encouraged to play with their children at home to support social, cognitive, and language development.

While many children have had their routines interrupted, play can help them build a new sense of normalcy. Rather than focusing on teacher or parent-led activities, caregivers can incorporate spontaneous, voluntary activities at home. Block out time for free play and follow your child’s lead. You can also incorporate playful learning into everyday activities. For example, use cooking or baking to explore numeracy skills, or practice colors and sorting while doing laundry.

 

 

4. Prioritize your mental wellbeing

A caregiver’s mental wellbeing can have a big impact on their child. In Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, where we have adapted our Play Lab model to support children affected by the Rohingya humanitarian crisis, psychosocial support is integral. BRAC trains teachers to recognize signs of psychological distress in both children and caregivers. When necessary, the teachers refer family members for specialized support.

With major shifts in child care, employment, health, and daily life, many caregivers are facing exceptional stress. It’s important to learn to recognize and respond to stress and anxiety in our children, but also in ourselves. Mitigating your own stress using common approaches like meditation, exercise, and journaling can help you better support your child. If you need additional support, consider options like tele-counseling. This is a challenging, destabilizing time, but virtual resources are more accessible than ever.

As COVID-19 continues to impact the families we serve, BRAC is committed to protecting and engaging children and caregivers. We have paused in-person learning to ensure participant safety, and are working to adapt our education services and launch remote resources to support learning at home. Our priority is to ensure children and families keep healthy, stay connected, and continue learning throughout the pandemic.

Learn how you can support families affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

 

Sarah Allen is Communications Officer, Mia Perez is a Program Associate for Education and Youth, and Rosa Taylor is a Program Officer for Education at BRAC USA.

Webinar: BRAC’s global response to COVID-19

Global leaders from across the BRAC family discuss COVID-19 response

Join global leaders from across the BRAC family as they discuss our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, informed by nearly 50 years of experience helping communities recover from emergencies. Moderated by Lord Mark Malloch-Brown, the webinar features Dr. Muhammad Musa, Executive Director of BRAC International; Asif Saleh, Executive Director of BRAC Bangladesh; and Hasina Akhter, Area Director for BRAC’s humanitarian response in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

Hope for a renewed fashion industry as we remember Rana Plaza during COVID-19

Seven years on from Rana Plaza, Bangladesh’s garment sector faces unprecedented challenges that will fiercely test its resilience. Can COVID-19 serve as a catalyst for a more responsible fashion industry?

BY LINDA PATENTAS

 

Global brands and retailers have canceled over $3 billion worth of apparel orders in Bangladesh since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The canceled orders comprise 980 million pieces, enough for three articles of clothing for each person in the United States.

These canceled orders spell devastation for Bangladesh’s most significant sector, which accounts for 84% of the country’s total exports. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association estimates that broken promises from fashion partners will affect over four million garment workers, the majority of whom are women living in poverty.

 

 

A humanitarian crisis with a public health dimension

For millions of garment factory workers and 10 million day laborers across Bangladesh who rely on daily wages to feed their families, the COVID-19 shutdown has already caused acute poverty and food insecurity. According to BRAC’s executive director Asif Saleh, “For Bangladesh, COVID-19 is a humanitarian crisis with a public health dimension.”

In early April, several hundred workers filled the streets protesting overdue salary payments, some alleging they had not been paid since February.

Loss of income and food insecurity can lead to conflict. BRAC’s human rights and legal services offices across the country have seen an increase in gender-based violence cases, including women who lost their jobs in the garment sector.

When garment factories closed in late March, Rakeya* filed a case against her husband, who physically abused her at home. The daughter of a landless farmer, Rakeya had moved from a rural community to Dhaka, shortly after giving birth to her first child, to find a job at a garment factory.

After COVID-19 took her job, Rakeya refused to give up the small portion of land to her husband that she had purchased with her savings. Her husband beat her and drove her out of the house, keeping their young daughter. BRAC helped Rakeya to file a case with the police and reunite her with her daughter.

BRAC’s director of human rights and legal services and social compliance, Jenefa Jabbar, says that stories like Rakeya’s are not uncommon. As both men and women lose jobs and income, domestic violence cases are on the rise. BRAC is seeing an increase in incidents of rape, suicide, child marriage, and domestic violence.

“When millions of people quickly fall back into poverty, it can result in a rapid increase in human rights abuses,” said Jenefa. “This is damaging to any society.” Indeed, one BRAC program received nearly 700 reports of violence across three weeks in late March and early April, a number of which were directly linked to the economic effects of COVID-19.

 

 

Broken promises from the global fashion industry

As governments around the world have imposed lockdowns, several major brands and retailers sent letters to Bangladeshi manufacturers calling for the immediate cancellation of orders, totaling more than $3 billion worth of goods. After an outcry from activists, some brands have promised to pay for their orders, while others have pledged to defer payments to an undefined time in the future or asked factory owners for discounts.

Bangladeshi manufacturers are also responsible for $1.96 billion worth of fabrics that go into manufacturing clothes. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association estimates that Bangladesh will lose nearly $6 billion this fiscal year as a result of order cancellations.

As we commemorate the seventh anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, where 1,134 garment workers lost their lives and more than 2,500 were severely injured, the fashion industry’s promise to be more collaborative and accountable is paramount.

This crisis demands responsible supply chains that support the millions of workers who are the backbone of the fashion industry and a commitment to inclusive partnerships that advance the dignity, safety, and opportunity of garment sector employees, especially women.

 

 

Supporting garment workers during COVID-19

It has always been BRAC’s ethos to support the most vulnerable communities. Its global response to COVID-19 has reached more than 60 million people worldwide with public health awareness activities across 11 countries.

In Bangladesh, nearly 200,000 families have received cash support of about $18, which will provide emergency relief for two weeks. BRAC has also distributed more than a million hygiene products and spread public health information about COVID-19 to 24.5 million people.

Many of these efforts have targeted geographic areas with high concentrations of apparel factories, such as Gazipur, Savar, and Tongi. According to BRAC University’s Mapped in Bangladesh, an online tool to map exporting garment factories, there are nearly 2,500 factories in Gazipur and Savar, collectively employing 3.5 million workers. Since 2017, BRAC has operated one-stop service centers for garment workers in these neighbourhoods, providing more than 125,000 people with healthcare, skills training and job placement, legal aid, microfinance, health insurance, and more.

To minimize direct contact and overcome barriers to financial inclusion, BRAC is partnering with the mobile money provider bKash to expedite new account registration and is looking to work with factory owners to digitize payments to garment workers.

BRAC has also set up hand washing stations outside of its service centers and at entrances to slum communities where garment workers live and continues to offer health, legal aid, and mental health counselling to community members through call centers.

In Bangladesh, the rate of reported COVID-19 cases is increasing at an alarming rate. Though the majority of cases remain in Dhaka, a lack of testing capacity makes it difficult to understand the full picture. As the country rapidly approaches 5,000 reported cases, BRAC is committed to standing with communities affected by COVID-19.

 

Hope for a renewed garment industry

In the short-term, BRAC will continue to provide immediate relief for garment workers affected by the crisis. However, the long-term implications for the global fashion industry require attention and action.

The impact of COVID-19 has highlighted the significant power imbalances between industry stakeholders across the supply chain. BRAC is eager to lead broader conversations on rebuilding a responsible industry.

Since Rana Plaza, key stakeholders in Bangladesh have been working tirelessly to ensure that the “Made in Bangladesh” brand represents a new way of manufacturing ready-made garments, where safe, decent work opportunities are the norm.

BRAC teams are exploring approaches that support vulnerable workers who have been left behind, from reskilling programmes to interventions that combat projected spikes in trafficking.

Our late founder, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, said, “BRAC has always believed that change is human-made. At the heart of everything we do is the conviction that everyone can be actors in history.”

Even as the impacts of COVID-19 destabilize the sector, can we build a renewed industry that distributes value beyond shareholders and supports the economic and social rights of workers?

The fashion industry and garment sector must unite during these challenging times so that the suffering experienced after Rana Plaza is never felt again.

*Name changed to preserve anonymity.

 

Linda Patentas is Program Manager for Cities, Supply Chains and Migration at BRAC USA. Support communities where garment sector workers live by donating to BRAC’s emergency relief efforts for COVID-19.