A piece of land, a piece of hope: Char Development and Settlement Project (CDSP) – Phase IV, Bangladesh

Secure access to land for poor women and men living on newly created coastal islands – known locally as “chars” – in Bangladesh is one of many benefits resulting from the Char Development and Settlement Project. Over 11,800 families have been granted land titles, and a further 2,200 are in the process of doing so.

The 143 communities with 29,000 households in the chars are vulnerable to cyclones and storm surges, floods and drainage congestion, droughts and salinity intrusion, erosion and deteriorating ecosystems. The chars are also culturally and socially conservative, leading to profound gender inequalities that affect the well-being of women. Then there is the issue of the illegal nature of land occupation, which results in a high degree of lawlessness and the risks of loss and physical harm for char settlers, especially women.

The land titles are registered in the names of both wife and husband, with equal ownership shares. And the wife is named first on the title, which means that if she is widowed, divorced or abandoned, the land belongs entirely to her.

Many beneficiaries have reported that as a result of receiving titles to their land, they feel confident and secure. This security has given many of them the impetus to improve or construct new housing and to increase their livestock, poultry and agricultural activities. The land titles and training provided are strengthening women’s influence in the family and society and giving them a legal role in many decisions. For example, child marriage still takes place, based on security reasons, household poverty and the misbelief that girls who have their first period are physically ready to become a mother. As a result of the social and gender awareness that the project provided, rates of child marriage have fallen – with 93 early marriages prevented between 2012 and 2016. Legal registration of marriage has increased, and violence against women is also less common.

Through the project support to microcredit groups, women have been able to access credit and acquire machinery, such as small irrigation pumps and rice threshers, that reduces their manual labour. They have also taken training to improve their skills in livestock, fisheries, crop production, post-harvest technology and in other money-making activities, including tailoring. About 28,239 women borrowers have been provided (205 times) with credit and a total balance of saving accumulated is BDT 111 million, with a recovery rate of 98%. Access to water for domestic use has been vastly improved, and the average distance to a safe water source has fallen from 382 to 55 meter, saving women time and energy. All the household have hygienic latrines.

Without a doubt, land titling has been effective in helping households to escape from insecurity and social marginalization, to form assets and to improve their livelihoods. Women in particular have taken great strides, strengthening their self-confidence and organizational skills and taking on decision-making and leadership roles for the first time. Mr Bazlul Karim, Deputy Team Leader and gender focal point of the project, says, “The government has been very supportive because when landless people started getting the land, their activities started revitalizing the whole area's economy. The land is used for farming and to build houses, and it brings large positive economic consequences.”

IFAD Gender Awards winner 2017
The Gender Awards spotlights a programme or project in each of IFAD’s five regions that has taken an innovative, transformative approach to addressing gender inequalities and empowering women. This year’s awards celebrate operations in Bangladesh, Colombia, Mauritania, Morocco and Mozambique.