I recently had the opportunity to travel to Bangladesh to visit a USAID-supported project, the Cost of Violence Against Women. As we drove along the crowded streets of Dhaka, I noticed something very peculiar – there were only men everywhere I looked. Once I arrived at the hotel I was greeted by Julia Ahmed, the team leader for this project. Julia is an extremely enthusiastic and positive woman. As a trained medical doctor, she has been working in public health and development for the last decade.
Early the next morning the two of us left Dhaka and headed out to one of the project sites where Julia’s team was conducting a study that measures the economic cost of domestic violence against women. The moral imperative to end violence against women certainly can’t be understated, but for many policy makers, having data that ties this issue to the status of their nation’s economy helps them to make the case and justify the allocation of resources to combat it.
In addition to providing hard data on the economic ripple effects of brutality against women, this project is raising awareness among community members about the harms of domestic violence and helping them to understand the impact it can have on a family’s ability to generate income, save money and provide for children.
The community members broke into two groups to show me how they calculated the costs of domestic violence. One group was a mixed group of men, older women and adolescent boys, and the second group was young women and adolescent girls. Both groups came up with a scenario of an incident where a woman was hurt as a result of domestic violence. Each group then proceeded to calculate the costs on large poster sized paper. They factored in the costs of a taxi to and from a clinic for the woman and accompanying relatives, fees paid to the doctor, medicine, fees paid to village arbitrators, and fees paid to district court, etc.
During the discussion, men from the mixed groups seemed to dominate the conversation. The older women remained quiet and simply observed. However, the adolescent girls were very vocal and animated. These meetings helped them feel empowered, and many of them told me they planned to finish high school.
At the end of the meeting I had the opportunity to meet with the project’s change facilitators, and two active members of the Cost of Violence Against Women team that worked in the community. Both had recently been elected into the Village Development Committee. The woman who was elected into the committee attributed her success to her involvement with this project. By organizing dramas for communities that mimicked real-life situations, people began to understand the greater effects of domestic violence and the implications it can have for a family’s economic situation. After the dramas discussions are held, and she was able to answer many questions and voice her opinion, therefore giving her a lot of visibility in the community. Both of the newly elected officials plan to address the issue of violence against women.
As we left the island community where the project site was located, a young change facilitator held my hand and helped me onto the boat. She continued to hold my hand as we rode back to shore. In the short time we spent together there was a special bond created. And although we couldn’t speak the same language we understood each other.