Save the Children Empowering Girls in Bangladesh

by Save the Children Federation
Rema feeds fish in the fish pond she started.
Rema feeds fish in the fish pond she started.

Rima is an 18 year-old girl from KharijJomal Char.  Rima’s father died leaving her family destitute. Rima hoped to take her secondary school examinations but feared that her family could not afford the examination fees. She was further frustrated to learn that her guardians were searching for a husband for her because there were few opportunities for Rima to earn money. 

Rima joined the Kishoree Kontha (KK) group, focused on developing the social and financial competencies of adolescent girls, empowering them to develop strong voices and shape a bright and healthy future for themselves.  Rima became a Peer Educator for the social competency unit and received 40 hours of basic training on the subject from Field Trainer Zinat.  Rima eagerly took part in the financial competency and educational support sessions and was excited when her group began “Safe Savings.” Rima started saving money each week from her school stipend and began to assess opportunities to engage in income-generating activities.  She yearned to practice her learning from the KK project and earn money to cover her examination fees.

Rima’s family possessed some unused land and a pond on its property and so at the conclusion of her Safe Savings cycle, Rima invested in tree saplings and fish so that she could cultivate both to sell. Rima currently has fish in her pond with a market value of 5000 Taka ($71) and she knows she can easily sell some to cover her examination fees.

Additionally, with the income she is earning, Rima can consider education beyond secondary school. “I am very happy that I could use the learning about finances to secure my educational future.  I now feel confident about pursuing additional education…I am really grateful to the project and Field Trainer Zinat who brought this program to us.”

Rima’s guardians have also been happy to see her become involved in income-generating activities.  Mujul Begum explained how Rima’s activities have reduced the household burden and helped prove that girls can be assets to their families. Mujul notes, “We are no longer looking for a groom for her marriage. We like the Kishoree Kontha activities. Before, girls spent any extra money [from their lunch or transportation allowances] on cosmetics and other unnecessary items. But now they are saving and this will help them have positive futures.” 

Rima has been encouraging other girls in her area to save and engage in income generating activities that can help secure their futures and change the way their families view them. Field Trainer Zinat is proud of Rima’s achievements and commented: “It makes me happy when I see how confident Rima is. When I met her for the first time, she was very introverted and scared about her education. Now she encourages other girls to continue their education and to earn money.  I think things changed for Rima because she regularly attended the [KK] peer education sessions and worked at applying her learning in her practical life. I now have high hopes for her future.”


Kishoree Kontha program
Kishoree Kontha program

During the past four years, over 42,400 adolescent girls in 458 villages were reached through Save the Children’s Kishoree Kontha (Adolescent Girls’ Voices) research program in southern Bangladesh’s Barisal Division.

The program’s goal was to reduce poverty by improving the health, education, economic opportunity, and social well-being of adolescent girls. Participants received a structured set of four different intervention packages, with each village within the target area randomly allocated to one of the intervention packages. In addition to a control group, the packages included: (1) a basic package of literacy, social competency, and reproductive health training; (2) a livelihoods package which included the basic package plus financial literacy training and participation in savings groups; (3) a full package which included all of the above, plus a nutrition incentive of cooking oil conditional on delayed marriage; and (4) solely a conditional nutrition incentive of cooking oil.

The program was implemented in partnership with the Bangladesh Development Society and the U.S.-based Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) at MIT, which serves as the research partner.

Initial quantitative and qualitative findings indicate that interventions positively impacted girls’ confidence, involvement in community activities, parental perceptions of girls, school retention, age of marriage and first pregnancy, and other indicators of girls’ empowerment. Using the Developmental Assets Profile[1]—a self-administered questionnaire measuring the personal and community assets young people need to succeed throughout adolescence—Save the Children found that girls who received the basic training package experienced an increase from a “fair” to “good” level of developmental assets. These assets included knowledge, skills, behavioral competencies, and positive experiences (self esteem, family support, reading for pleasure, etc.) that have a proven correlation with positive youth behaviors. A qualitative assessment in April/May 2010 found positive changes in community perception and treatment of adolescent girls, as well as increased social capital among girls in the program and cases of delayed marriage and first pregnancy.

In addition to targeted interventions designed to empower adolescent girls and increase age of marriage, Kishoree Kontha piloted Safe Savings Groups which developed girls’ financial literacy and laid the groundwork for economic empowerment. Save the Children found, through qualitative research, that this was a critical component in increasing girls’ well-being, giving families the means to realize positive changes for girls such as school retention and delayed marriage.



[1] Developed by the US-based SEARCH Institute

Sarah and girls discussing what they had learned
Sarah and girls discussing what they had learned

This spring, I had the opportunity to step outside my role of supporting our Title II food security programs to conduct a qualitative assessment for Kishoree Kontha (KK), a four-year project in Bangladesh funded by the Nike Foundation. KK, meaning “Adolescent Girls’ Voices” in Bangla, focused on developing the social and financial competency of adolescent girls, empowering them to develop strong voices and shape a bright and healthy future for themselves through four key strategies: 1) community mobilization; 2) peer education; 3) parental education; and 4) post-learning cycle practice. Working with rural communities in three coastal districts in south central Bangladesh, Save the Children established “safe spaces” within villages to enable 10-19 year girls to come together and learn about a range of topics including personal hygiene, health, early marriage, critical thinking skills, disaster preparedness and financial literacy. In addition, the project piloted group savings with a select number of the safe space groups to test the impact of operationalizing the project’s financial education and open up opportunities for girls to contribute to their families’ livelihoods strategies.

The purpose of the qualitative assessment was to enable Save the Children to gain a deeper understanding of the activities, accomplishments and challenges of the project and contribute to the learning through this pilot program. The qualitative assessment provides the insight and detail that complements quantitative methods and assists in triangulating findings. I reviewed project reports and materials, conducted focus-group discussions with project girls, parents and community members, and interviewed project staff and individual beneficiaries. The focus group discussions used participatory and exploratory methods to collect details to build a picture of the communities in which KK operated and the impact of the work on the people in these communities. Additionally, because I was dealing with young girls and some sensitive topics (e.g., early marriage, traditional women’s roles, personal hygiene), I used a lot of storytelling and alternative techniques (drawing pictures, ranking exercises) to allow the girls to distance themselves from the information if they wished.

The information I gathered from the focus group discussions, interviews, and meetings with staff painted a rich picture of the impact of the project on the beneficiaries and their communities. The girls had learned a great deal from participating in safe space activities ranging from proper nutrition to how to budget and save and, most importantly (from their perspective), about the physical and psychological dangers of early marriage and pregnancy. The girls demonstrated a new confidence, reported feeling more respected within their families and communities, and related a new desire to be more independent, to continue schooling and to demonstrate their ability to contribute to the household income.  The girls and their mothers also recounted a number of stories in which group members had supported each other to delay an early marriage or postpone pregnancy.

The chance to meet with project staff and beneficiaries in the field was invaluable. I now have a first-hand understanding of the impact of our programs, the many challenges facing Save the Children staff during program implementation, and the importance of documentation and sharing lessons learned.


Save the Children is providing life-saving healthcare to mothers and newborns in remote areas of Bangladesh where families live in poverty and lack access to essential services. Through community health workers and grassroots clinics, projects are addressing the leading causes of child mortality by providing antibiotics to treat pneumonia and newborn sepsis, rehydration salts for diarrhea and “clean delivery kits” containing basic items which help families make home-births safer for mothers and newborns. These items are low cost but, for families living in poverty, can mean the difference between life and death.

Please see below for pictures of our program in Bangladesh and a case study detailing Save the Children's efforts to help fight malnutrition.

Participants at the peer education session
Participants at the peer education session

Bill Brower is a Field Program Officer with GlobalGiving who is visiting our partners’ projects throughout South and Southeast Asia. An approaching cyclone meant he was unable to travel to the south to see this project, but Save the Children USA arranged a visit to another project also using the peer educator approach. On May 26th he visited a life skills education session in the Mirpur area of Dhaka. His “Postcard” from the visit:

Monira Akhter stands in front of thirteen of her peers in the sitting room of the home of one of the girls. She holds up a training manual as a visual aid as she leads a discussion on the obstacles in the way of young people in their community reaching their goals, and how putting in to practice some basic life skills can help overcome these barriers. The teenagers are Monira’s neighbors or friends, or came along with one who is. Monira, a peer educator trained by Save the Children’s local implementing partner HASAB, uses the situation of one of the young women as an illustrative example. She’s 14 years old and less than thrilled about her impending arranged marriage. It seems the preexisting trust among participants, as well as the educator, that would allow such a personal conversation is one of the chief advantages of this peer educator approach.

I ask the group why they came in their time off to this training. The education will help me in my daily life. It is practical. I’m close to the peer educator. HIV/AIDS is difficult to understand. We were looking forward to the training so much we came 30 minutes early (and stayed an extra hour for what was scheduled to be the first of three one-hour sessions).

Will you come to the other two sessions? Yes, we must complete the training. Besides, we’re on vacation from school. Do you know others who have done this training? I heard about it from a fellow garment worker. This is actually my second time going through this training. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned thus far? When changes happen during adolescents there is a lot of fear and pressure, but this is wrong. I learned how to achieve my goals.

HASAB and the Peace and Rights Development of Society youth group have reached over 4,000 young people through these sessions. Since people participate largely through social networks, they’re often able to stay in touch with their peer educator and other participants. These local NGOs also encourage them to visit their “youth-friendly corner” at their office with more information on topics covered. They say 15-20 youths do so each month.

Overall this seems like an effective approach to educating youth on important, personal topics. I hope the program is as well run by Save the Children USA’s partners in the southern part of the country.

Monira Akhter, peer educator
Monira Akhter, peer educator
A social map of the community
A social map of the community

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Organization Information

Save the Children Federation

Location: Fairfield, CT - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Megan McLain
Manager, Corporate Partnerships
Westport, CT United States

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