As part of our campaign in Bangladesh, Save the Children is working with local youth advocates and communities to raise awareness on and find solutions to challenges faced to access essential services. The project mobilises the community to influence the government to increase health budgets and adapt differential programming policies in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to address differential health needs and attaining Universal Health Coverage.
Using regular citizens hearing, we create community engagement at the regional, national and international level regarding pressing social issues. These hearings include the local government, school teachers, community support groups, locally elected officials, local mayors, religious leaders, civil society, parent groups and community influential elites. The hearings are organized and initiated by a group of ‘youth advocates’ who are trained on community mobilisation and information dissemination on eradicating child marriage and teenage pregnancy, improving access to health facilities, ensuring facility delivery and eliminating preventable deaths.
The discussions are held on a variety of topics –
- curriculums at the school
- services through law enforcement agencies
- health service provision at community clinics
“There are discussions related to socially stigmatized issues which perhaps, may not have received as much importance as required typically, such as child marriage, HIV/AIDS, family planning, pregnancy, sexual and reproductive health, importance of facility delivery and access to healthcare,” Dr. Md. Mijanur Rahman, the Health and Family Planning Officer at the Union level explains as he regularly attends the hearings at the Kulaura sub-district of Bangladesh.
The dialogues between the stakeholders highlights the major challenges faced by the community. The discussions are collated and combined by the youth advocates to map out the overall gaps in health service provision and the required interventions in policy and practice, rising concerns of child marriage, teenage pregnancy, and etc. “This entire process exercises a two-way accountability mechanism upon the different groups such as the locally elected government, community health care providers, community members, and community support groups,” says, Md. Azizur Rahman, the local Chairman of Kulaura district. He further adds how the discussion has effectively generated strategies to be adapted for overcoming the challenges faced by the community starting from health center equipment, upgradation of schools, parents being more responsive towards child marriages, the importance of facility delivery and more.
Youths raise funds for the community
Furthermore, the youth advocates of Kulaura mobilized the community to raise some funds. The funds were raised from the community members under the joint leadership and supervision of the locally elected Chairman for making a road and available transportation facilities for easy access to the health centers, install solar panels, ensure accountability of service providers, etc.
Youths become agents of change
Youth advocates have benefited a lot from these hearings. Not only do they feel that their opinion matters in the society, they are motivated to be the agents of change in the community and disseminate knowledge and awareness regarding the pressing issues. “We have come to know about the many ill-effects of child marriage, pregnancy, health risks and preventable deaths. But most importantly, we get a chance to voice our opinions through these meetings. Our parents feel more comfortable to discuss these matters with us and so do we. I think it ensures a great transparency within the community,” says youth advocate Tanjila Begum, age 15, studying in grade 10.
With these citizen hearings, we are working to create higher awareness within the community and enabling them to voice their opinions and demand for change. The community support groups ensure that each stakeholder within the community identify and acknowledge the importance of a positive and cohesive setting around them. They are keen to monitor the progress on the commitments made and decisions undertaken at the citizen hearings. The hearings have become a prime example of child participatory advocacy which encompass local policy makers and community support groups to commit for a change.