This is a guest blog by Md. Rakib Uddin, Senior Sector Specialist. Water Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH), BRAC Bangladesh.
The use of mobile money for sanitation has created a great opportunity to secure basic human rights and ensure the wellbeing of the population. Adequate access to hygienic sanitation facilities is a crucial public health need, and loans can help those who need financial assistance gain to access these facilities. Providing sanitation loans through mobile money makes the process more efficient and convenient, cutting down on travel and transaction costs.
One of the cornerstones of BRAC’s approach is the empowerment of women and individuals who live in disadvantaged positions. The programme seeks to transform traditional gender roles and improve the power balance between men and women in society. In rural Bangladesh, women and girls perform most of the unpaid labour associated with WASH in their households and communities. This reduces the time women can dedicate to education, leisure and economic activities. Moreover, women often do not contribute to wider decision-making, especially relating to finances, most often controlled by the men of the household. They are therefore often excluded from decision on site selection of household latrines and community water points. BRAC strongly encourages the communities it operates in to support women’s opinions and concerns regarding the locations for latrines and water points. For this reason, BRAC disburses its loan to adult female member of the family or households, empowering them with increased decision-making power. With improved access to WASH facilities, women can have more time to undertake income-generating and other productive activities.
BRAC’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Programme has been providing loans to poor households for constructing latrines since its inception in 2006. In 2015, the programme sought to digitise this process through a pilot project, “Sanitation Loan through Mobile Money” which was carried out in the Northern part of Bangladesh. However, the pilot showcased that disparity in mobile ownership and use between men and women remains large. In several cases, the only the male members of the household owned a mobile phone and had a mobile money wallet, therefore retaining control over household resources. A report on mobile access and usage in low and middle-income countries shows that women in South Asia are 38 per cent less likely to own a mobile phone. Disparity between men and women is also reflected in financial inclusion. According to the Wave Report FII Tracker Survey, men in Bangladesh enjoy three times more growth in financial inclusion than women, growing from 38 percent to 48 percent between 2014 and 2015. However, the report also showed gradual growth occurring amongst women’s financial inclusion between 2015 than in 2014, growing from 35 percent to 38 percent.
The fact that women are lagging behind in terms of financial inclusion is partly due to the fact that mobile money agents, who train and enable users, are typically men operating from local market or other busy places. Women in rural areas typically do not visit marketplaces, especially not for business purposes, therefore cannot access the necessary tools to become a mobile money user. Basic training can provide women in rural areas with a great opportunity to overcome this disparity. BRAC’s WASH programme staff conducted regular training sessions through which 350 women learnt how to operate mobile phones and use bKash (a mobile money service provider), including how to send money from one account to another and airtime recharge as well. The 100% timely payment rate (i.e. no overdue or late payment) through bKash shows a great opportunity to work more intensively in this sector in more areas.
Sultana Parvin, a 29 year old woman living in Dadra Fakirpara village in Joypurhat district, Bangladesh, stated:“My dreams came true when I installed a latrine in my household premises through a loan”. She also added “I had no idea what bkash was. I was afraid of losing money and was afraid of using mobile money, but BRAC staff trained me in this regard”.
It is imperative that development projects address existing gender inequities as a central issue, and aim to bring about gender-transformative changes in communities. In order to do so, projects must understand and address the specific needs of men and women, empowering them socially and economically, and shifting away from harmful norms and unequal power relations. The BRAC WASH Programme will pursue the diversified opportunities & use of mobile money in its regular activities in the upcoming days to overcome these inequalities.