Rubi’s Story: Exulted, Rubi ran home. As fast as her fifteen-year-old legs could carry her, she ran, exam in hand, excited to share the results with her family. The results, she believed, would shape her fate.
Yet when she got home, the elation dissipated with the dust. Her father had his own news to deliver. She would not be going to secondary school, as she had worked for, as she had wanted. Instead, she would be getting married, an economic necessity for Rubi’s family as well as a common practice in Bangladesh. Early marriage is on the decline in Bangladesh, but high rates continue to prevail; 59 percent of all girls are married by age 18 and 16 percent by age 15.
The Advocates: When little, Rubi had been denied access to primary school because her parents hadn’t registered her at birth. Rubi’s mother got her daughter a birth certificate, and with that, she was admitted to school, a place where she thrived.
At 15, smart, ambitious Rubi did not want to get married. So she found advocates in her teachers and Plan International, a child rights organization. With their support, Rubi went to the Union Council Office where the chairman informed her parents about the legal ramifications of child marriage. She was not old enough and her birth certificate proved it. She was underage. So Rubi went back to school and on to graduate at 18.
Intimate partner violence (IPV) is the most pervasive form of violence globally—with 1 in 3 women physically or sexually abused by a partner in her lifetime. Despite knowing a lot about prevalence and detrimental impacts of IPV, we are still at the infancy of knowing what works to prevent violence. Recently, development economists have begun exploring the potential of anti-poverty programming, including cash transfers. Cash transfers are a widely used policy tool for decreasing poverty and improving human capital, reaching up to 1 billion people across Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Cash is often given directly to women, thus potentially changing power dynamics within the household. Their scale and reach to the most vulnerable populations have led many to ask, "If cash can change household well-being and power dynamics within households, can cash transfers also be used to decrease IPV?"
Recent studies from Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa have shown that several cash transfer programs have decreased physical violence against women.A mixed methods study in Ecuador found that key factors there were decreases in poverty-related stress (leading to less tension and fewer arguments over women needing to ask men for money to buy food) and increases in women’s empowerment due to being targeted (which improved their bargaining power in the household, self-confidence, and freedom of movement). However there is still a lot we do not know. For example, many cash transfer programs—including those in the existing studies—combine transfers with other components, such as nutrition trainings and conditions related to education and health, which may affect women’s social or human capital distinctly from the transfers. So far, no study has been able to disentangle the impacts of cash versus the other components on IPV.
Moreover, the evidence to date on cash transfers and IPV has come from limited contexts. Given that the effects on IPV may depend on gender norms that vary by context, we need to collect evidence from other regions before concluding that transfers can reduce IPV globally. Importantly, we still do not know enough about whether in specific contexts or sub-groups, women might actually be put in danger from receiving cash, due to men utilizing IPV as a method to extract the cash or due to male backlash if men use IPV to re-assert their authority after a shift in power dynamics.
Our ongoing Bangladesh study with co-authors John Hoddinott and Akhter Ahmed, recently awarded funding from the World Bank Group and the Sexual Violence Research Initiative, will help to fill some of these knowledge gaps. First, the intervention has both transfer-only arms and combined transfer-and-child-nutrition-training arms. Since the intervention arms are assigned randomly, we can disentangle whether a transfer is enough for impacts on IPV or whether adding training is really necessary. Second, the study comes from a context where IPV is very high—about 53-62 percent of women in Bangladesh report experiencing it in their lifetimes – and where gender norms are very different from Latin America or Sub-Saharan Africa. For example, female seclusion (women staying inside the home) is a strong sociocultural norm in rural South Asia. This could limit how much power dynamics shift when transfers are given to women, since women may have restricted mobility to use the transfers independently; on the other hand, it could increase the benefits of trainings for women, since trainings provide rare opportunities to leave the home and build social capital. Patriarchal norms in Bangladesh could also plausibly contribute to backlash if large transfers to women subvert traditional power dynamics.
This is the fourth in our series of posts by PhD students on the job market this year.
Giving livestock to poor households can increase theirincomes substantially. This naturally raises the question: why were households not investing in such livestock before? One obvious answer is that they are poor – this means they can neither afford to invest themselves, nor get a loan from a bank (or microfinance organisation). But the puzzle is more subtle than that. When facing a crisis, even very poor households borrow informally, from a network of friends, family, and neighbours, to fund consumption. In addition, households in these networks collectively have the resources needed to invest in livestock. So the real question is: why don’t households pool resources to allow investment? What makes borrowing to invest so different from borrowing to smooth consumption?
Not long after her husband suddenly died in 2012, Kunti Rabi Das struggled to put three square meals on the table for her family of three. Kunti, a member of the minority ethnic dalit community and living in the remote Rajnagar upazila under the Moulvibazar district of Bangladesh, simply didn’t have the means to produce enough to live on. Moreover, her prospects for any work that could support her family were dim.
That was her predicament until a Union Parishad (or village administrative council) representative introduce her to the Performance Based Maintenance Contract, or PBMC, program. Under PBMC, Kunti cleans drains, fills pits, clears minor blockades and plants trees on roadways near her home. Working six days a week, she earns up to 4,500 Taka per month.
The program provides a cost-effective and time-saving approach to keeping Bangladesh’s rural roads in optimal riding condition during every season. At the same time, it improves the lives and livelihoods of the country’s poorest women, who are given priority among other contractors vying for the work, according to the World Bank’s women’s empowerment principles.
Geological hazards – or geohazards, natural or human-induced disruptions of the earth surface that may trigger landslides, sinkholes, or earthquakes, present serious threats to communities, cost extensive damage to infrastructure and can bring traffic and services to a standstill.
Most geohazards are linked to climate activity such as rainfall and thawing of ice or snow. In many places, recent climatic changes have increased the intensity of rainfall and raised mean temperature, increasing hydrological hazards, such as debris or earth flows, erosion, and floods.
South Asia is particularly vulnerable to geohazards. A study completed in 2012 found that from 1970 to 2000, the number of geohazards quadrupled in the region, resulting in damages of over $25 billion in 2008-2012 alone.
This week, the World Bank Group and its partners will gather at a first-of-its-kind South-to-South learning workshop to devise practical solutions to help South Asia become more resilient to landslide and geo-hazard risks.
Sometimes, the drive comes from the senior echelons of government – a reform-minded government leader, an important minister or an agency head. At times, there is pressure from donors. Often, the two combine: The initial idea comes from a donor, which a powerful person in government then takes up as an agenda.
Many reforms happen in this top-down way. But, often, there are questions about their sustainability. Commitment to reforms may not be widespread. Once donor pressure wears off, or once the bold reformer at the top moves on (or loses interest or energy), reform initiatives dissipate. Sometimes, the reforms happen on paper, but implementation remains deficient. Top-down reform initiatives often fail to take on board the front-line officials. Implementation thus suffers, especially when the attention of the top-down driver shifts elsewhere.
The 2015 World Development Report, Mind, Society and Behavior, thus points to the need to understand the motivations and behavioral characteristics of different players, such as politicians and government bureaucrats, and how these affect their decisions and actions. The WDR argues that such an understanding helps design policy interventions and reforms that stand a chance of success even in seemingly intractable situations.
This brings us to a third way of reform, less common but potentially more powerful – one that is driven by the middle tiers of bureaucracy. Reforms initiated in the trenches enjoy, almost by definition, the commitment of those responsible for implementation. Reforms may also be better designed, since the officials know exactly what is feasible and where there are pitfalls. A single bottom-up reform may not be very bold. But one reform may lead to another, and the cumulative impact may make a big difference.
Donor programs usually don’t regard mid-level officials as key drivers of reforms. It is often assumed that such officials will oppose reforms and they should thus be bypassed or, at best, co-opted in some fashion. Such assumptions lead to many lost opportunities. Mid-level officials can often be good initiators of reform if they are properly inspired and engaged. The attitudes and perceptions of this important tier of the bureaucracy have an important bearing on the formulation of policies and regulations, as well as on their implementation. These attitudes are shaped by an awareness of business-related issues, or a lack of it.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim celebrated Bangladesh’s dramatic progress fighting poverty on End Poverty Day, October 17, at a special event in the heart of Dhaka.
More than 20 million people have lifted themselves out of poverty in Bangladesh in the last two decades. By 2010, the extreme poverty rate fell to 18.5 percent, down from 33.7 percent in 2000.
Speaking in the Bangla language, the prime minister said Bangladesh’s journey has never been smooth, but strong leadership and the resilience of the population have helped it become a lower middle income country and a model for others to imitate.
October 17 is the international day to end poverty. There has been much progress toward this important milestone: the World Bank Group’s latest numbers show that since 1990 nearly 1.1 billion people have escaped extreme poverty. Between 2012 and 2013 alone, around 100 million people moved out of extreme poverty. That’s around a quarter of a million people every day. This is cause for optimism.
But extreme poverty and the wrenching circumstances that accompany it persist. Half the world's extreme poor now live in sub-Saharan Africa, and another third live in South Asia. Worldwide nearly 800 million people were still living on less than $1.90 a day in 2013, the latest year for which we have global numbers. Half of these are children. Most have nearly no education. Many of the world's poor are living in fragile and conflict afflicted countries. In a world in which so many have so much, it is unacceptable that so many have so little.
Skills recognition is changing the lives of informal workers in Bangladesh
In 2014, Nikhil Chandra Roy was struggling to find and keep regular employment. He had extensive experience dating back to 1977, doing the work of an electrician. But because he had no formal training or certification, Nikhil couldn’t win the confidence of employers in Bangladesh to give him anything more than episodic, relatively low-paying work.
At age 55, just as he was giving up hope for career progress, Nikhil saw an advertisement that ended up turning his outlook and life around. The ad introduced him to the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) program, aimed especially at people like Nikhil, who have real skills and experience in a particular occupation but no formal, independently recognized qualifications.
Not long later, Nikhil participated in a three-day program, which entails one day of assessment and two days of training. That led to the recognition he had long awaited and needed to boost his career: a Government-endorsed skills certification from the Bangladesh Technical Education Board (BTEB) in electrical installation and maintenance.
“From that point on,” Nikhil said, “there was no looking back. With my years of experience, knowledge and now skills certification, I was ready to progress my career from just an electrician to an entrepreneur.”
Nikhil was one of the many vulnerable informal sector workers in Bangladesh who have no regular jobs and who work on ad hoc opportunities, making it difficult to sustain livelihoods. These workers, with enough experience to perform the technical work well but not the credential many jobs require, improve their employability and bargaining power in job markets when they get the proper certification. And with that certification, workers gain social status in their communities.
The RPL program, which evaluates the skills level of workers and issues government certification to workers who pass an assessment, has operated since 2014 as a pilot activity under the Skills and Training Enhancement Project (STEP). STEP aims to give more Bangladeshis the technical skills they need to compete successfully in domestic and international labor markets.
The demand for RPL certification has been enormous. Since its inception, RPL has assessed more than 9,000 applicants from all over Bangladesh. Every month, RPL offers 600 applicants certification trainings in electrical installation and maintenance; IT support; block, boutique and screen printing; sewing machine operation; tailoring and dress making; motorcycle servicing; plumbing; and welding.