To mark International Women’s Day, HSBC and WaterAid are celebrating a story of female entrepreneurship in Dacope, southwest Bangladesh. The Dacope Upazila is a coastal area extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, which is increasing water scarcity in the region. Here, a network of women are working together to provide sustainable and climate-resilient water sources for their community.

With its vast low-lying areas of land, Bangladesh is a country which is being severely affected by climate change. In the coastal area of Dacope, rising sea levels and prolonged dry seasons are among the factors contributing to increased salinity in local water sources. High salinity makes water undrinkable, and forces communities to drink from contaminated water sources which can cause sickness. 

In situations of poverty, the burden of climate change often falls disproportionately on women, with stark gender inequalities within climate-related policy decisions and implementation. However, there are many examples of where women’s inclusion at the local level has led to improved outcomes of climate related projects and policies in developing countries - decreasing existing inequalities and increasing effectiveness.

Since 2012, WaterAid and HSBC have been working together in Bangladesh to provide climate-resilient clean water resources as part of the HSBC Water Programme. The programme is now supporting an entrepreneurship for female empowerment initiative in Dacope.

Shila’s mission

35 year old Shila Bawali lives with her two children in the village of Khona Khatail in Dacope, where she owns a grocery shop which she manages while looking after her family. The effects of climate change are visible in the village, with long stretches of dry land and high salinity within ground and surface water. Shila’s community regularly suffered from sickness, skin conditions and water-borne diseases due to the daily consumption of unsafe water from their only water sources – ponds and canals. Shila wanted to address this problem once and for all.

After months of discussions and knocking on doors, Shila was successful in building a 45-member women’s association called “Khona Khatail Mahila Samity”, which she leads with 15 other women. The association provided a platform for these women to help their community tackle everyday problems, with their primary objective being establishing a reliable and sustainable safe water source.

WaterAid and HSBC have been working in the Dacope upazila for four years, providing water, sanitation and hygiene services to people living in the communities there. Shila and the other association leaders approached local project staff to share their difficulties around access to clean water, and to seek a solution. After multiple village meetings, Shila was successful in motivating her community to set up an operation and maintenance fund to support the installation of a reverse osmosis plant for the village.

Through this plant, salinity will be removed from ground water, making it safe to drink for the 1,300 residents of Khona Khotail. A network of 16 women are being supported to manage the plant, and are receiving business training and mentoring through the scheme. As well as increasing access to clean water, this project is also providing business opportunities for the women involved. The women use their role to raise awareness of sustainable resource management and encourage sustainable practices at the household and community level to reduce the problem of water scarcity.

The water will also be available for people from other communities at a lower price than what is offered by commercial vendors, making it affordable for everyone. The success of this model has led to plans for it to be established in other climate vulnerable areas.

With the new plant now open, Shila says she spends much less time collecting water. She is excited to be able to dedicate more time to running her shop, and see her community thrive without the burden of having to drink dirty water.

This International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate women like Shila who take on challenges and risks to solve crises that are not created by them, but which they can help to solve.

Over the past seven years, WaterAid and HSBC have worked together to transform lives in six countries: Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Ghana and Nigeria. Together, we have reached over 1.65 million people with clean water and over 2.5 million people with sanitation and hygiene, tackling key issues such as climate change and water security. The work funded by the HSBC Water Programme allows communities to build skills, increase their productivity and future-proof economies of the regions they live in. Find out more about WaterAid’s work in partnership with HSBC.

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