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Educating more girls in Bangladesh and lifting families out of poverty

This week, the Department for International Development (DfID) announced a strategic partnership agreement with the largest non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Bangladesh to help the country meet its millennium development goals (MDGs).

The UK has been working with the NGO, the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), for over 20 years and in 2010 contributed around a third of BRAC’s funding for its development programmes in areas such as education, poverty reduction and maternal health. Given the success of these programmes, DfID has decided to funnel a significant portion of its aid to Bangladesh directly through BRAC over the next five years.

With the new strategic partnership signed on Wednesday, BRAC will receive 226 million pounds from DfID. In addition, the NGO will receive 132 million pounds from AusAid, the Australian government’s international development arm. (AusAid joined in the discussions with BRAC around 9 months ago.) To ensure the money is well-targeted, the UK will provide 3 million pounds for independent monitoring and evaluation of the partnership.

Under the new agreement, BRAC expects to support 239,000 children through five years of primary education, the majority of them girls. Bangladesh has made good progress in encouraging the enrolment of nearly all children into primary school. Part of this progress has been achieved by the offering of a girls’ education stipend to poor families, to ensure gender parity. But currently, this incentive does not cover families in urban areas. The extra funding will therefore allow BRAC to offer support to struggling families in these areas in order to keep their children in school. (BRAC operates 24,000 primary schools and 13,000 nursery schools across the country.)

Recent research has shown a strong link between extreme poverty and gender. Female-headed households are more than twice as likely to be extremely poor than male-headed ones. BRAC operates a programme to support ultra-poor households. Through the programme, Bangladesh’s poorest, the bottom 10% or ‘ultra poor’, are provided with assets such as a cow or a goat, along with a cash allowance of around £3.50 per month for two years. The aim of the scheme is to provide families with enough for them to break out of the poverty trap. (These families are so poor, they don’t even qualify for microfinance loans.) In 2010, BRAC reached almost 600,000 households through this programme. With the support of the new strategic partnership, the NGO expects to lift a further 225,000 women and their families out of extreme poverty.

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