Monday, December 15, 2008

Marriage and the rights of urban poor women

by: Franziska Landesberger

Finally I got the opportunity to do my first interview with a family living in New Zimkhana a slum area in the center of Narayanganj which is threatened with eviction. According to Municipality plans at the very same place a green park should be created.

The seven-member family I was invited to conduct my interview with lives in a small one-room building with the kitchen stove on the pathway like many others in this neighbourhood. On that stove the mother makes small coconut-rice cakes and sells them seven days a week and has sold them for 18 to 20 years now. She has learned how to cook these cookies from her mother and neighbours. Her husband is very old and had been unemployed for a longer time but si
nce his stroke three months ago he is not able to work at all. Therefore her income and that of her two daughters has to feed the family. Normally it is not enough to be able to afford meat thus they eat cakes prepared for the petty business and rice sometimes with vegetables.

Both of her adult daughters are married and work in the garment sector. However the husband of the elder o f the two daughters has abandoned his wife following the birth of their daughter. He has not been seen by the family for almost 15 years. While discussing that issue with my supervisor he explained to me that this practice is very common in Bangladesh (and probably in many other countries too).

lthough there is no legal statute requiring a marriage registration the majority of recent marriages adheres to it. With promoting this practice officials and NGOs try to strengthen the rights of women with stipulations related to separation. If the husband deserts or divorces his wife she can claim for a specific amount of money, fixed on the day of registration. But especially within slum areas and among urban poor people many marriages are not registered. And men coming to the city to earn money to send home to their wife and children can easily remarry urban poor woman without registration and leave after a few weeks. They seldom have relatives in the city to whom the wife’s family can go to complain. This does not mean that the registration of marriages gives women all opportunities but there are cases in which this practice strengthens woman’s rights.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Rally Bagan poor community

by: Franziska Landesberger

On 9th of September 2008 I visited Rally Bagan poor community for the first time. The area is located next to the busy main road of Narayanganj but hidden behind walls and houses. To enter this poor community one has to make it through huge bamboo, which is sold to build houses out of. Many of the pathways within Rally Bagan are even narrower than in the last visited community and several alleys have only partly footpaths and because of late monsoonal rainfalls during the last days it was very muddy. In contrast to Rail gate 1 a lot of smoke was hanging in the air because many women were cooking in doorways or even in open spaces between houses. After walking along a labyrinth like net of pathways I found a lively, very colorful marketplace with numerous shops and several people trading with vegetables and fruits. But this appearingly crowded and bright place should not hide the fact that Rally Bagan is a very poor, densely populated community. And especially with a lot of garbage lying around and even human excrements found next to a tube well diseases could spread easily. Within this community SHORUVI and PROTTOY two NGOs along with World Vision have built up pre-primary schools and children can reach primary education centers within walking distance, but while making my way through Rally Bagan I was surrounded by hordes of children all the time. Sadly but true, there is even a school formed for children who work in the morning. And to make sure that her students can attend her classes Ms. Labina teaches only in the afternoon. She also lives in Rally Bagan and told me that she has had to send her
eldest son to work because of serious financial problems a few weeks before he could have done his final examination. He works now in the garment business but could not finish his education so far. This sad story might be the reason for her, once working as an actress in traditional Bangladeshi plays, to teach children who have to work in the morning to support their families.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Visiting a countryside like spot in Narayanganj: Deara commuinty

by: Franziska Landesberger

Deara is located in the south of Narayanganj and with reaching the area you feel almost like visiting the countryside. Across the street people are tilling fields and cows are grazing. A well paved, surprisingly low populated road separates Deara from a neighboring area. But to get to know the community I had to leave this road to dunk into a jungle of pathways and to meet very friendly and open minded families. The north boarder of Deara community is an almost naturally looking cannel, which glamorizes this area together with many open spaces, some beautiful houses and a lot of trees, between which clothes are drying. People have been living here for generations and many have relatives within Deara. Three years ago a local organization was founded in this community and today 124 inhabitants are members, most of them female. On the one hand this organization is helping poor people, by organizing internships or trainings for young people who have left school before completing and giving credits to elder inhabitants. But on the other hand it is not reaching the families who need it the most. Some household just cannot pay the weekly fee which amounts to 10 Taka (about 10 Euro Cent) and are therefore excluded from all benefits. Although this area seemed to have countryside flair there are people living here who cannot afford this small amount of money and in which every hand is needed to contribute to income. I met a 10-year old girl who cannot attend school, because she is in charge of the housework and her younger siblings while her parents and her elder brothers are working in garment businesses.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Railgate No.1

by: Franziska Landesberger and Toni Kaatz-Dubberke

(Above: entering Railgate No.1 community)

My first experience in a poor community in Narayanganj is a visit to the Railgate area in the beginning of September. I’m not sure what I expected but I am really surprised: the area is quite clean and many of the women we meet are very well dressed with colorful saris.
Four men stand around a table playing Carrom (finger-billiards), a common game on the streets of Bangladesh. One can only tell their economic background by the state of their teeth. As the name suggests, the area is located next to a railway station and the land on which the houses are built is owned by the Bangladesh Railway Company. For that historical reason houses made from solid bricks are almost exclusively occupied by railway workers, sometimes families who have been there over a number generations.
In contrast (see picture on the left), poorer people who settled in the area later use corrugated iron or straw and bamboo to build their houses. The space they live in is very small and inside these tiny huts it becomes very hot when the sun hits the tin roofs.In its function as Dhaka’s main river port Narayanganj is well connected with the capital by several railway lines. The inhabitants of Railgate No.1 use this very cheap logistical connection to trade seasonal fruits. Several narrow alleys and the surrounding buildings are piled up with thousands of bananas brought from different rural districts around Narayanganj. Compared with other poor communities, people tell me life here is relatively comfortable.
Unfortunately, more and more of the former living space in this area is getting converted by business men into storage space for their goods as a result of the advantageous location close to the station. These men are not interested in living here and the inhabitants are afraid that they could be evicted from their homes to make way for commerce. In these circumstance most people would have little chance of claiming a right to live here because only a few of them (about 20%) own their houses and nobody owns the land But for now it is only possible to touch on this subject; later stories will follow up on what is probably the most complicated and contested issue in the whole of Bangladesh: the ownership of land.


by: Franziska Landesberger

Many rural people who are attracted by opportunities and amenities of urban centers often see their dreams failing. In Bangladeshi cities about 53 % of people live below the national poverty line. Migrants often end in one of the many slum areas which in most cases do not provide basic amenities like running water, sewage systems, enough latrines, waste disposal services or schools and health clinics.

In those areas different NGO a
nd municipality programs are working and trying to improve the living conditions. But a comprehensive understanding of the situation of the slum population is missing so far. To gain that knowledge the Pourashava (Municipality) in Narayanganj a secondary city about 17 km southeast of Dhaka undertook a baseline survey in selected poor communities.

The following posts have the purpose to introduce the selected six areas
: Railway 1, Railly Bagan, New Zimkhana, Rishi Para, Sweeper Colony and Deara.