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New dawn for women in Bangladesh as they learn life-saving skills

13 December 2011
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New dawn for women in Bangladesh as they learn life-saving skills
•Women in the disaster-prone country defy tradition with the help of the Red Cross

Five years on from the twin tragic cyclones Sidr and Aila which devastated Bangladesh, the disaster-prone country is emerging from the rubble spearheaded by troops of women volunteers trained the Red Cross.
Against traditions, thousands of women have received training on disaster preparedness and response; as well as first aid, through the Building Community Disaster Preparedness Capacity Project (BCDPC) programme which is coordinated by the British Red Cross and the Bangladesh Red Crescent societies.
Ali Asgar, the BCDPC project advisor said: “The two cyclones hit in succession of each other, giving communities little time to recover. To compound matters, traditions and beliefs meant that women could hardly leave their homes, leaving them disempowered and extremely vulnerable.
“During Cyclone Sidr in 2007, hundreds of children and women died simply because the men weren’t at home to give them permission to leave the house and seek safety in a cyclone shelter. We responded by setting up women’s forums to provide training on how to respond to cyclones and also to create a safe space where women could talk, share information and build their confidence,” he added.

The BCDPC project has so far reached out to more than 206,000 people mainly fishermen who work in the disaster-prone deltas and female volunteers who can spread the messages to other women.

BCDPC forum member and housewife, Nazma helps circulate information about cyclones and how to prepare for disasters.
She said: “We have worked with the most vulnerable groups—particularly pregnant women and children. Women are very vulnerable for a number of reasons, including their long, traditional dress and long hair.
“Also, women will not go outside even when they receive information that a cyclone is coming unless their husband tells them to, and women can’t swim because they have not been allowed to learn. Men are in an advanced position, but we are all human beings. God gave us the same number of hands and feet, the same physical strength, and we are really the same, which is why we are trying to change the situation.”
The Red Cross/Red Crescent workshops for Imams and Madrasha teachers (religious leaders) to inform women about the work of the Bangladesh Red Crescent and ask them to endorse women’s participation have yielded positive results. The Bangladesh Red Crescent now has a volunteer force of 175 000 strong with increasing numbers of women who are becoming more vocal within their communities.
When Cyclone Sidr hit Bangladesh in November 2007, more than 3,300 people lost their lives. Over 400 more people were killed when cyclone Aila swept across Bangladesh in May 2009, leaving about a million people homeless.

Alongside women and children it is fishermen who died in the greatest numbers in Bangladesh during the two cyclones. The Red Cross/Red Crescent programmes have thus focused on remote fishing communities, with some of the country’s worst levels of poverty and literacy, to help people prepare better for cyclones.

Asgar said: “Most of the fishermen involved in the programme don’t own a boat but are hired as daily labour. They are sent to sea in a boat with up to 15 men for around two weeks at a time.

“W have given them training involving a simulation of before, during and after a cyclone and sometimes those involved became quite emotional. They were eager to take part in the training because cyclones are not some remote idea, but a terrifying reality most of them have already experienced. The programme has helped them feel they are not alone in the dangers they face. It’s given them new skills, which make them feel that bit stronger,” he added.


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Notes to editors

• For press enquires, images or to arrange an interview, please contact Henry Makiwa on 02078777479 /
• Ali Asgar, the BCDPC project advisor is in the UK and available for interviews between 12 December 2011 and 15 December 2011
• For more on the British Red Cross work in Bangladesh, please visit: or

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