Finding Fatima

Finding Fatima

WHO would have guessed, that the world-wide-web would make it possible to empower a little extremely poor girl in Rampal, a remote corner of Bangladesh?

A livelihood programme  that works for the economic empowerment of the poorest  gives livelihood packages – of skills, coaching and assets - to 350,000 extremely poor families (or 1 million people) to help them join the mainstream economy and break the inter-generational transfer of poverty. To manage a programme of this scale, we use software called CMS 2.

CMS 2 has revolutionized the way we do our work by enabling us to monitor online, real-time, how our beneficiary families are progressing.  Beneficiary profiles are created within the system and updated monthly by field officers using smart phones.  The data is available instantly online, showing the families' progress across various indicators such as income, savings, nutrition and access to safety nets.  This level of monitoring is critical because the extreme poor face multiple vulnerabilities that require tailored support.  

With CMS 2, we were able to identify which of our beneficiary households have adolescent girls vulnerable to child marriage.  We selected three such families to visit in the Rampal/Khulna region to see what could be done to protect them. The three girls we met were indeed in terrible situations.  All were in school, doing very well, but due to scarcity of funds and lack of male guardianship, were facing pressure from their mothers to get married. We spoke to the mothers and offered counsel, related to the dangers of child marriage, but their replies showed us the stark reality.  

The direst of the lot was a girl named Fatima, who had scored an A+ in school, but who, for lack of funds and vulnerability, had not been allowed to enroll for further studies.  Both Fatima and her mother were heart-broken.  Disheartened, we wondered what use this monitoring tool was if there were no options to offer vulnerable beneficiaries once they had been identified.  As a writer, my weapon is my pen, so I decided to battle this demon with a story. .  I wrote about Fatima's dilemma in Daily Star.   Luckily a compassionate, generous reader was moved to action and has offered to pay for the remaining few years of Fatima's education!  This outcome was unexpected and beautiful.  Fatima was thrilled.

What about the rest of our girls?  Technology can help us identify vulnerable girls, but we will need to develop sustainable alternatives to empower them sustainably.  One option would be to offer vocational skills training and then jobs to girls who are 16, vulnerable to child marriage, and searching for an escape.  But where are these private sector companies that can provide these jobs?

 Of course, digital livelihoods programmes alone will not be enough.  We also need massive growth in job creating industries, especially ones that are environmentally friendly and rurally located, to absorb our 8 million extremely poor youths, we need extreme-poverty-focused reforms in public services such as health and education, and we need a robust safety net system to care for our elderly extremely poor citizens.   

The writer is Advocacy Advisor at [email protected]


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