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Originally published in ADB Avenue, 17 March 2017

Unsung gender equality heroes: Md. Shahidul Alam

In celebration of Gender Month, we are honoring Asian Development Bank (ADB)s

unsung gender equality heroes. They went the extra mile to change womens lives through
their work in development projects. They have proven that anyone can advocate for gender
equality, even without a gender job title. Md. Shahidul Alam shares his experiences in
ADB projects in Bangladesh.

Why do you advocate for gender equality in your projects?

In Bangladesh, where there are more women yet remains male dominated, I simply
cannot imagine inclusive growth without womens
active participation in development. Let me quote a
very famous poem Naree (Woman), written by the
national poet of Bangladesh Kazi Narul Islam:
Whatever great creations done so far in this world,
whatever is ever virtuous;
Half of them were done by the women, other half by the

I strongly believe that without actively involving

women in every aspect of our development activities,
Bangladesh will not be able to achieve sustainable
development goals fully. I personally believe that all
men and women should enjoy equal opportunity to build capacity and enjoy the
benefits of our development projects.

Any experiences that have strengthened this advocacy?

For the last couple of years, I have been handling several projects in the agriculture,
natural resources, and urban sectors, which directly involve people. The projects were
categorized either as Effective Gender Mainstreaming or Gender Equality Theme, and
all have specific Gender Action Plans (GAPs). As the project officer of these projects,
I took it my as responsibility to be closely involved in all gender related activities
during the loan review missions, project completion report missions, and policy
dialogues related to agriculture /urban development sectors.

The enthusiasm and quality of involvement of the women at different levels have
encouraged me to work more in this deprived sector. I have seen this in their
participation in meetings, their eagerness to learn and develop, and in expressing
views and raising their voices when necessary.

For example, in the Second Crop Diversification Project (SCDP), women farmers
involved in production of high value crops achieved much better results than male
farmers. Although Bangladeshs
agriculture sector is male dominated,
54% of our SCDP project farmers were
women. Their willingness to access the
agriculture loan was encouraging (64%
of loan recipients were female). The
female farmers of Jhikorgacha at Jessore
set such a good trend in floriculture that
women entrepreneurs are now leading
the growth of our flower industry, which
we could not imagine a decade ago.
Some of them are now contributing
more than their husbands. Their story is inspirational. Some of them started out in the
project as landless widows, but now own brick buildings and have become prominent
market leaders. The ever-smiling happy faces of these women farmers and their
children are my inspiration to work more for them.

How do you go about doing this in your work?

In most of my projects, the activities outlined in the GAPs have been implemented at
a satisfactory level due to close monitoring of the executing agency (EA)/
implementing agency (IA). I think we always take special effort to achieve the project
outcomes from a gender perspective. I closely work with ADBs resident mission in
Bangladesh (BRM) gender team, and respect their capacity and willingness to help
women through the projects that I am responsible for. I always include a gender
specialist from the resident mission in my review team for achieving the optimum
result of GAP implementation. We have also introduced the inclusion of project-level
gender specialist and gender focal points in our loan review missions and we respect
their opinion.

What challenges do you face?

The biggest challenge in our country is the level of understanding of some

implementing agency officials of what gender mainstreaming is. Most of our project
directors are senior male government officers; although many of them have a clear
concept of gender mainstreaming, some of them still think that women are born to
cook and raise children only, specially at village level. Making them think in line with
our project perspective is usually our initial hurdle. Some of them do not want to
understand the concept of GAP, and take the terms of reference of the projects
gender specialist very lightly. To make them understand the importance of gender
equality, lots of motivational interventions are needed, as well as study tours, capacity
development workshops, inclusion in gender fora, high level dialogues with the
government, etc.

A good example is our Second Chittagong Hill Tracts Rural Development Project.
Initially the project director from the Local
Government Engineering Department was
not willing at all to achieve 30% womens
participation in rural road construction. He
offered many excuses that indigenous
people (IP) women are lazy and do not
want to work full time. But my experience
in working closely with IPs showed that IP
women were in fact very hard-working,
and really wanted to work in construction.

Shahid, serving as Mission Leader, with the IP So we talked to the Chief Engineer of the
women of the Taraban Watershed Management
subproject in the Rangamati Hill District
local government to recast the project
directors mindset. We arranged several
workshops for the project contractors on gender awareness and ADBs compliance
requirement for GAP implementation. We also ensured the link between the
contractor and the local IP women through the IP headmen/leaders, who were taken
as supervisor and labor suppliers for the contractors. Now, the IP womens
participation in road construction has gone beyond satisfactory level and women are
getting equal benefits as men.

Another example is our work with the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE),
our project partner, in pushing for a clear policy and work plan for Bangladesh. We
included the development of a Gender Equality Strategy in the revised GAP during
the midterm review mission. This led to the groundbreaking role played by SCDP and
DAE officials, and ultimately DAE developed its own Gender Equality Strategy, which
was approved by the Ministry of Agriculture. This is really an example of how a
strategic project intervention can bring change to the institution as a whole. Initially,
we faced serious problems convincing the micro-financing institute in the agriculture
sector to accept women farmers as competent entrepreneurs because they could not
think beyond the traditional concept of micro-credit. Through massive capacity
building/training activities, the SCDP has proved that women could be a potential
business partner in the agriculture sector.
For the first time in 7 years we will be unlikely to meet our 45% at entry
gender mainstreaming in operations target in 2016. What is your view
about this?

I think gender mainstreaming became a lesser priority item for some colleagues due
to their heavy work load and also
due to the greater focus on
contract award, disbursement, and
fiduciary risk management.
Because they think of development
through conventional project
management perspective only,
gender mainstreaming might not
have drawn their heartfelt
attention. Also, during quarterly
With school children from the IP community of Banderban Hill
assessment and validation of the
projects through the online project
operations system (eOPS), there is no item for rating the performance of GAP

I suggest the following:

Continuous professional development in gender equality themes and compliance
through workshops/training sessions, for both EA and bank staff, should continue.
High quality consultants should be selected by the EA for monitoring and
advocating gender elements, with prior consultation with resident mission gender
There should a control mechanism in the eOPS validation to thoroughly review the
GAP implementation status by project analysts. Separate rating (highly satisfactory,
satisfactory, unsatisfactory) for GAP implementation could be introduced, which will
be linked with the overall rating of the project.

Md. Shahidul Alam is Senior Project Officer (Urban Infrastructure) at ADBs Bangladesh
Resident Mission.

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