Gender mainstreaming in the CHT
Published : Saturday, 29 October, 2016 at 12:00 AM Count : 3381
The Chitta-gong Hill Tracts (CHT), with its wide range of rare scenic beauty, naturally amazing, is an important region of Bangladesh. So, overall sustainable development in the CHT is very important through an explicit strategy in the plan, which is appropriate to the local cultural and social context. The CHT is an ethnically, culturally, and topographically diverse region extending over 13,295 square kilometres, or 10 per cent of Bangladesh's land area. About 55 per cent of the population is tribal, consisting of people of Tibeto-Burmese and Chinese stock.
There are at least 12 tribes in the region. Total population is around 1.6 million. About 90 per cent of the tribal population depends on agriculture for livelihood. Cultivated land area in the three hill districts: Khagrachhari, Bandarban and Rangamati is about 214,000 acres.
Despite the rich biological, cultural, and environmental resources, the CHT has remained one of the most disadvantaged and backward regions in the country. Most of the people live in absolute poverty. Although the whole of Bangladesh faces challenges of widespread poverty, the development challenges faced in the CHT are different to those in other parts of the country, because of its special socio-cultural and geographic situation.
The incidence of poverty in the CHT is about 50 per cent; considerably higher than the national average of 31 per cent. For those reasons, favourable policy and institutional support is required for achieving equitable growth and reducing poverty in the CHT.
Mainstreaming gender in the CHT development
Many challenges are unique to the CHT communities. Above all, women are the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in the areas due to many reasons including gender-based violence. The women are rarely acknowledged as agents of change with responsibilities, knowledge and skills. They are excluded from political participation and decision-making. Women's lack of market information and bargaining power allows the traders to exploit the producers. These hard-working women and girls of mountains contribute much, but in return they get less/ little due to gender inequality and deprivation of their human rights.
The vulnerability in the CHT areas is particularly high, where poverty intersects with discrimination, be it because of gender, caste, or ethnicity. The very burning issues--how gender can be considered, and accounted for in times of rapid change. In terms of physical changes including climate change, urbanization, infrastructure and land use changes. Also the changing aspirations and identities of mountain people, especially women and girls are matters.
Climate change is an additional threat. The impacts include rising temperatures, increased rainfall variability with more intensive rainfall events, and increased runoff. The already vulnerable agriculture-based livelihood systems face immediate risk of increased crop failure and new patterns of pests and diseases.
It is also imperative that women of the CHT areas must be heard. In order to accelerate progress, women must be given a collective voice and listening mechanisms within the policy-making process. Data, particularly demographic data, must be made available to guide suitable strategies for diverse sets of women including young women, girl children, adolescent girls, women in reproductive age, women farmers, employed women, women with disabilities, and others. Appropriate attention must be paid to gender-responsive budgeting to support implementation of plans, projects and reach the national and international goals including SDGs.
We need to know how mountain women define and view their 'empowerment', and how they want to address those issues. The government and other stakeholders should urgently consider and address the importance of ending gender inequality, food insecurity and malnutrition, violence against women, discrimination and deprivation that women and girls of the CHT have long been passing through. The print, electronic and social media should accommodate the issues giving emphasize. These are the parts of placing the CHT issues at the forefront of policy action.
"Development of eco-tourism, small and cottage industries, homestead vegetables/food production activities, availability of power supply are the demand of time. So, all the sustainable development initiatives must be friendly to the women and girls in the CHT so that those make positive changes in the lives and livelihoods of them", said Ms. Emily Dewan, a school teacher in Khagrachhari.
Dr Golam Rasul, a senior economist and Nepal-based think tank, authored an informative book titled 'A Strategic Framework for Sustainable Development in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh'. While contacted, Dr Golam Rasul said, "Promoting non-farm activities and supporting labour mobility, both farm to non-farm, internal and external migration, could be key elements in a rural development and poverty reduction strategy for the CHT region. It could help to address the growing population pressure." This strategic framework will also help policy makers and planners design and implement sustainable development approaches for the hill and mountain areas of other Himalayan Hindukush (HKH) countries, as well. Comprehensive strategies are required to promote faster and inclusive development of the CHT, Dr Golam Rasul added.
Over the past few decades, the CHT has experienced massive population growth. So, settling land disputes, improving productivity, and transforming jhum into more productive systems, remain major challenges in the CHT. The CHT has considerable potential for the development of agri-business, which could be supported through provision of the necessary support services, including technology, finance, marketing, and tourism development. Because of poor social networks, low human skills, and limited access to finance, people from the CHT have been reluctant to migrate for better livelihood opportunities.
The Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs (MOCHTA) has been working for the development of the CHT. Mr Naba Bikram Kishore Tripura, ndc, Secretary, Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs and Chair, Board of Governors of ICIMOD said, "As the majority of people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts are farmers and have little cash income; so, efforts are being made to promote alternative livelihood options, both farm and non-farm based, through value chain development, increased market access, and tourism development." The 7th five-year plan of the government of Bangladesh has adopted some measures for sustainable development in the CHT, Mr Naba Bikram added.
Research shows that high value mountain products promote sustainable livelihoods. In terms of marketing of products that both women and men produce in the CHT, mountain women typically face many difficulties in producing, marketing and selling high quality and high value products. Mountain people rarely explore the market potential. Dr Surendra Raj Joshi is High Value Products Specialist, Livelihood Thematic Area at the ICIMOD Nepal. He mentioned, "Strengthening linkages between value chain actors, service providers and enablers is important in achieving sustainable growth in the mountain areas like the CHT."
Scholars recommended that alternative farming systems appropriate for hilly areas should be developed. This is because the current agricultural practices on hill slopes are most unsustainable. The solution lies in research and development aimed at developing sustainable technologies in the CHT. Studies should explore viability for the CHT to create equal ground of sustainable development. Government and inter-organizational coordination should be strengthened. Environmental protection and natural resource conservation should be incorporated in the curriculum at all levels of education.
So, let us take holistic approach and make platform for women of the CHT for their equal participation in decision-making, development, economy, health, education, gender relations, political participation, their real empowerment and social progress. Those will help us making a 'Just Society', in which the rights of minorities will be safe from the whims of intolerant majorities, and political sensitivities. So, considering all the issues, technologically sound, economically viable, socially acceptable integrated farming systems need to be developed, and transferred to improve the vulnerable situation that exists in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. The Time is now for urgent action.r
Parvez Babul is a journalist and an author. Email: email@example.com