Community-designed improvements to bathing facilities increase women's confidence in Bangladesh

Bathing used to be time-consuming and embarrassing for Rebeya Begum*, who lives jointly in a small residential area with six other families in Teknaf, Bangladesh.

The families, living in poverty, did not have enough resources to develop a better bathing facility for all 22 people in the surrounding homes to use. A small makeshift bathing hut meant there were long queues and waits each day.

Women in particular were embarrassed and scared about using the bathing shelter. The entry was covered by a thin plastic sheet, which had many holes, and the building was located on a busy roadside. Women were especially scared to use the bathroom at night, as the roof was opaque tarpaulin with no lighting, and they were always worried someone could be watching them. There was nowhere to hang clothes, and the space was not large enough to wash properly.

Through the Australian Humanitarian Partnership (AHP) response in Bangladesh, partner NGOs have been supporting host communities in Cox’s Bazar as well as displaced Rohingya living in camps to improve their living conditions.

Above: The improved bathing facility in Rebeya’s community. Women and girls now feel safer using the facility. Photo: NGOF

Oxfam’s implementing partner NGO Forum for Public Health visited Rebeya’s community to carry out a baseline survey, situation analysis, focus group discussions and meetings. The community-led process decided that Rabeya’s group of households were among the poorest in the area, and that improved bathing facilities should be supported.

Through consultation with the targeted families, a new bathing facility was designed with separate male and female cubicles. While the bathing facility is still near the main road, everyone is happy to use it as the walls are thick and new, with proper roofing and privacy. The new translucent roofing allows light in, making it more practical to use at both day and night, and wait times have reduced due to the additional cubicle. There’s also a space to hang clothes, and water doesn’t leak out from the facility like it used to.

Women feel safe using the bathing facility now and aren’t worried that people will peek in or watch them. Some young girls from nearby areas have also started to use it.

“Personally I feel so happy when I see many little girls beyond our houses come here to use it,” Rabeya said.

The seven families have formed a committee among them for maintenance and cleaning of the bathing facility, and if they need to purchase items for it, they work together to raise the funds.

It has also inspired surrounding groups of homes.

“After seeing the facility, lots of people in our area are inspired to make this type of facility according to their capacity,” Rabeya said proudly.

The AHP response in Bangladesh, supported by the Australian Government, involves all six Australian NGO partners, along with 10 national implementing partners. Focus areas include WASH, education, health, protection, gender equality, disability inclusion, localisation and disaster risk reduction.

*Name changed

Bangladesh, WASH, WomenAHPSUComment