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Female leadership in Kurmitola slum

In Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka more than 20% of the population, or 3.4 million people are estimated to be living in urban slums. Chasing employment in the city and pressures on land in one of the most densely populated countries in the world, contribute to growing numbers of people moving into informal settlements as there are limited decent affordable housing options available. Dhaka’s slums are characterised by poor access to essential services, especially sanitation and waste management, and vulnerability to regular water logging and flooding as slums are generally developed on low lying marshy land without adequate drainage. A lack of security of tenure means that families are reluctant to invest in improving their homes, as the risk of losing any investment they make through eviction is too high. As living spaces are so cramped, families can’t build their own toilets and rely on shared latrines, or temporary hanging latrines built above waterways.
To address some of these challenges, with the support of the Australian NGO Cooperation Program, Habitat for Humanity is implementing an Urban Resilience program which aims to empower communities to improve and better manage their own services. The program conducts vulnerability assessments with the community, and through meetings, resident feedback and surveys, creates a long-term Community Development Plan which is managed by a Community Committee. Subsequently a range of infrastructure interventions and trainings are provided to increase the resilience of the slum. Regular coordination meetings are held between committees set up in each informal settlement where the program has worked, to share learning, motivate them to stay active, and facilitate their engagement with service providers from government and civil society.
In Kurmitola, the fourth community where the project has been implemented, work is under way with the first priority of improving drainage being addressed through the construction of two long drains with a paved top. This will reduce flooding of houses and allow people to easily move through the community. Work is being overseen by the Community Committee led by Asma Begum, the community elected Chair.

Drainage works underway in Kurmitola slum
Prior to being elected, Asma said there were limited opportunities for women to be involved in leadership and decision making roles in the community. However, there have been no challenges to her leadership and she is enthusiastically leading the committee overseeing construction of the drains. The Committee safeguards the materials delivered to site until they can be used, and then ensures that local labourers are undertaking construction to the appropriate standard. Asma says that so far it has been easy to motivate the community to be involved in the project. I’m very proud to be Chair of the Committee, she said. I have the opportunity to communicate and work with different people, and the power to solve some of the community’s problems.\

Even before the drainage is fully complete the community has indicated its satisfaction with the work. Flooding has reduced and it’s been easier for children to get to school during the heavy monsoon rains in the past weeks. Previously, the muddy and flooded access deterred them from going out. There is also the unexpected bonus that the paved drains are also providing a welcome community space. During rolling power outages, the tin houses quickly become unbearably hot with no fans to cool them. The paving provides a clean open space to sit and take some relief from the heat indoors.

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