Bi-directional impacts of the Anchal program and gender were found. The program was influencing gender norms, roles and relationships in the communities, while also adapting its delivery to cater to these. The results are discussed below as per the types of gender impacts along the framework domains. No findings were reported against the domain of Legal rights and status as this refers to impacts of the wider rights and status of women under law.
Access to resources
Involvement in the program led to changes in access to resources for Anchal Maas and Anchal Assistants hired in the community. As part of the program, Anchal Maas and Assistants opened their own bank accounts to receive their salary.
Women in communities previously had few opportunities for formal employment due to constrained economic conditions and cultural limitations on appropriate work for women. Employment in the Anchal program provided a rare opportunity for women to earn an income.
“The Anchal Maas or Assistants … find it a good opportunity. Because community people, especially females, work at home. They do not have access to any income generating activities through which they can earn.” - [Supervisory Staff, Male]
With access to income Anchal Maas and Assistants contributed to family expenses and businesses which reduced financial stress. Anchal Maas purchased fertiliser for their farms, materials for trade or invested in goats and chickens. They contributed to better education for their children with admissions into private schools and tuitions. Greater access to resources such as mobile phones, refrigerators, TVs and other electrical devices improved their overall quality of life.
“She makes assets with her earnings, such as making gold ornaments…They also utilize the money in their family businesses.” - [Anchal Mentoring Officer, Female]
“I have children and I spend my money on them. I admitted my son in a better private school and their fee is costly.” - [Anchal Maa, Female]
In addition to material impacts for Anchal Maas and Assistants, access to income improved financial independence. Anchal Maas became less reliant on male family members for money and showed more discretion and efficiency when spending. For example, Anchal Maas were able to quickly purchase emergency medicine if their child was sick.
“Previously I would have to demand from my husband if I wanted to purchase anything and ask him several times. Now I can buy anything that I like to buy. There is no problem now.” - [Anchal Maa, Female]
Knowledge, beliefs and attitudes
Within communities, women were considered responsible for household domestic duties and child rearing as per prevailing gender norms. The Anchal program was acceptable to communities as it catered to these gender norms by largely taking place in the women’s homes and involving the care of children.
“Still, there are some who don't allow their daughters and daughters-in-law to work outside the home, but as they are working inside the home, they [the Anchal Maa’s family] accept it.” - [Supervisory Staff, Female]
Although the Anchal program upheld norms pertaining to women’s roles, it simultaneously influenced the breakdown of constructive attitudes towards mobility. Culturally, most women in these communities did not travel beyond a few homes alone due to gender-based norms and fears for safety. Anchal Maas, however, travelled within and between communities for training, child enrolment and community meetings. Many Anchal Maas and Assistants’ families were initially concerned about this outside exposure but became accepting as Anchal staff became settled into their roles and fears around safety dispersed with experience. Anchal Maas gained more independence and access to resources as they were free to travel outside the community to places such as markets without taking permission. Anchal Maas and Assistants appeared to be self-assured in their right to independence and chose to ignore negative perceptions from their communities around their mobility.
“She goes house to house now. She would not go outside of the home earlier because of criticism, as she is a wife. Now she does not think about that criticism.” - [Supervisory Staff, Female]
Involvement in the program also challenged the norms preventing women from entering formal employment. Families became more accepting of women working and interacting with program implementing staff, including men. Some Anchal Maas were able to access additional employment because of the knowledge, skills and experience they gained through the Anchal program. Anchal Maas and Assistants developed their own identity as teachers and advisors in addition to their role as a mother, wife or daughter-in-law.
“Nobody gave me any attention before. But now I have become a President for one NGO a few days ago. I go for a meeting every Friday. We receive 20,000 taka and I have the responsibility of managing this money.” - [Anchal Maa, Female]
These changing perceptions around women’s work impacted the perceived value of educating girls. Anchal Maas also reported that community girls they interacted with felt encouraged to continue their education so they may also one day find employment. Lack of exposure to working women also meant that communities may have viewed women as unable to effectively engage with formal work. However, according to both program providers and community members, exposure to the Anchal program shifted community beliefs around the capability of housewives in conducting complex tasks and contributing in the wider community.
“The people of the village think that housewives can’t do anything. But now, they realize that if we let her train a little then she would be able to do a big job.” - [Anchal Maa, Female]
Gender attitudes affected program monitoring staff. Female Supervisors experienced initial difficulty in engaging with male community leaders due to limiting norms around interaction between genders and little community exposure to women in leadership positions. Compared to male Supervisors, female Supervisors sometimes required more time to build rapport with community leaders and gain permission for implementing the Anchal program as leaders were slower to trust and engage productively with them. However, female Supervisors were better able to access households and engage mothers at a community level than male Supervisors due to cultural barriers on interactions between members of opposite genders.
“The male Supervisors are better able to connect with the decision makers. Suppose a Supervisor met a chairman at a tea shop in the evening and they sat together and had some tea and a chat. My female Supervisors can’t do it…The females get more access to connect with the local people but the males connect better with the decision makers.” - [Supervisory Staff, Male]
Hiring women local to the area as Anchal Mentoring Officers or Supervisors mitigated some of these challenges for female program monitoring staff, as they had pre-existing relationships with the communities.
“… the AMOs of Kalapara are new in the job. I am working for a long time. I was an administrator in a local NGO...It is better for me.” - [AMO, Female]
Practices and Participation
Employment in the Anchal program led to limited changes in the roles of Anchal Maas and Assistants at home. Anchal Maas and Assistants’ responsibilities were still constrained by their defined domestic gender roles and their lower position in the household hierarchy. Anchal Maas and Assistants were expected to carry a double burden, being responsible for both domestic work and child rearing. Anchal Maas and Assistants worked long hours to ensure all their work was completed. Some received support from other women in their family, but often only in return for sharing their income. A major reason for Anchal Maa and Assistant drop out was difficulty in managing responsibility at home with work in the Anchal program.
“They have to make the baby’s food, take care of the father-in-law, her husband’s needs, demands of the office. She does a lot of jobs. And we have to create a suitable environment for her to do her jobs well and support her.” - [Supervisory Staff, Male]
Gender roles also reduced the ability of the program to engage effectively with fathers of Anchal children. Although fathers were usually the final decision makers on children’s attendance in the Anchal program, they were more likely to be away for work and rarely available for engagement due to their roles as family breadwinners. Many fathers in the region are fishermen who are absent for weeks at a time. This often slowed initial enrolment. Fathers were also less likely to be educated on the Anchal program activities and injury prevention methods through parent meetings.
“If you analyse our parent meetings, VIPC meetings, any kinds of meetings that we run, the fathers are not found. The number of fathers is very low. All the mothers remain present. Because most of the people in this area are fishermen.” - [Supervisory Staff, Male]
Male and female program monitoring staff reported being treated equally within the implementing organisation. However, the lack of differential support catering to gender differences meant that staff were not always able to produce the same outcomes. Female staff struggled with transport and mobility. As it was not culturally appropriate to ride their own motorbikes, female Supervisors were spending more time waiting for shared transport which impacted their productivity. They were also less able to respond to community problems or engagement opportunities that required night-time return travel due to safety concerns.
“If office provided vehicular support to female staff while working in field it would be very helpful for us. It's needed only for females, males don't need it.” - [Supervisory Staff, Female]
Conversely, male Supervisors faced difficulty in engaging with Anchal Maas and mothers due to cultural constraints on contact between genders. Male Supervisors were not able to provide Anchal Maas feedback or engage with mothers as effectively as female Supervisors. This was a problem in more conservative communities which follows the parda system, where women covered their faces in public and were unable to speak directly to men. This system prevented community women from talking to male Supervisors face to face. This adversely impacted quality control of Anchal activities and community engagement for male Supervisors.
“The women of this area are very sheltered. If our office staff go to them, they [the women] do not want to come out. They do not want to talk. There is a village where the women there will not even come out of the fence. Our supervisor talks with them from outside of their house.” - [Supervisory Staff, Male]
Although the program encouraged shifts in thinking around women’s participation outside the home, their power to make autonomous decisions remained limited due to their lower place in household hierarchy and men’s roles as main decision makers. Family support was vital for Anchal Maas and Assistants to work. Anchal Supervisors spent considerable time ensuring family support before Anchal Maa and Assistant recruitment. In some instances, family members were invited to visit field offices to meet the larger team to gain their trust. Ongoing permission from Anchal Maas and Assistants’ in-laws, parents or husbands was essential for them to continue in the program. The family decision-making hierarchy where women were often at the bottom usually remained intact.
“Because when a girl is married her parents don’t have any control over her. Her husband becomes everything for her. She has to do what her husband tells her to do.” - [Anchal Maa]
“Some family members like fathers and mothers-in-law also don’t keep their word. They say they will provide a room for the Anchal centre and will give support to Anchal Maa, but they don’t. At that time, it becomes very difficult for the Anchal Maa to continue and then they drop out. If the family doesn’t support the wife, it becomes difficult for that Anchal Maa.” - [Supervisory Staff, Male]
Varied experiences of Anchal Maas as compared to Anchal Assistants
Anchal Assistants had lower educational qualifications and fewer responsibilities during centre hours, but were present with the Anchal Maa four hours a day and took sole responsibility of the children when Anchal Maas attended monthly cluster meetings. As their salaries were one third of Anchal Maas’, here was a less pronounced effect on access to material resources and financial independence. Many Anchal Assistants were motivated by the social cause of the work and some were foregoing other activities that may generate more income by working in the program.
“You would be able to earn a lot working in tailoring. I would get at least 5000 taka wage. If I spend 3 to 4 hours here, I do not get that money…Society considers us [Anchal Maa and Assistant] good as we do great work...I like it very much.” - [Anchal Assistant, Female]
For some Anchal Assistants, the low pay reduced their value in their family or community as it wasn’t considered enough for the number of hours worked. Some Anchal Assistants felt shame and lied about their earnings to others. This partially explained the higher dropout rate of Anchal Assistants compared to Anchal Maas reported by Supervisors.
“I do the job, I get 1000 taka – but I do not tell anyone how much I earn. I tell them that I get about 2000 or 2500 taka otherwise there exists no honour for me.” [Anchal Assistant, Female]
Anchal Assistants were also provided fewer opportunities for skill development and support from the Supervisors and AMOs, who concentrated their efforts on Anchal Maas. This led to lower engagement in the program and poorer development of their capabilities, possibly reducing their ability to access other employment or opportunities compared to Anchal Maas.
“There she [Anchal Maa] learns so many things, so many tips. Since we are Assistant, we have to learn from her. That’s it. In addition to this, if something more is required to learn, then there should be one training for us as well. Suppose, if there will be one training for us in each month, then shouldn’t we participate in it? Couldn’t we learn so many things?” [Anchal Assistant, Female]
The Anchal program as Gender Accommodating
We found that the Anchal program was gender accommodating as per the Gender Integration Continuum(7). The program provided some opportunities to change gender norms and roles for community-based program providers, namely the Anchal Maas and Assistants. Communities became more accepting of women’s employment and mobility and Anchal Maas showed greater financial independence. However, the program did not actively implement strategies to address gender equity issues. Supervisors staff largely continued to function within gender-based constraints and roles, such as limiting norms around engaging with the opposite gender. Anchal Maas and Assistants also continued to have limited autonomy over domestic decision making. Mothers in the community were not exposed to any activities that challenged harmful gender norms despite opportunities to do so, such as through the regularly held parent meetings.