Voices of the marginalised in Bangladesh
Last week, I was in Bangladesh with a wonderful group of researchers who have spent months collecting stories from their communities on the issues people living with disabilities, people with mental health problems and older people identify as being important to their lives. This is part of a project we are involved in with Sightsavers, ADD UK and Institute of Development Studies.
The research is to ensure people from vulnerable groups are heard in the post-2015 process, which will follow on from Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The research was participatory, that is to say, it is research with people, not on people. And many of the researchers themselves are affected by the same issues they are interviewing people about.
I had the privilege of joining them for a week's workshop, which involved analysing the research stories and discussing possible solutions to the problems identified (although neither I nor any of the facilitators were allowed to make recommendations; all of this had to come from the researchers!).
Poor access to healthcare
One of the most pressing issues which emerged from the stories was that older people and people living with disabilities cannot access or afford medical treatment. Government hospitals are remote and treatment is expensive. And if they do get to a hospital, many are offered paracetamol and salt water as medication instead of real treatment.
I can hardly imagine how awful it must be to not have access to treatment, simply because you cannot afford it, knowing that your condition will worsen. It is crucial that the health of older people and those with disabilities is addressed in the post-2015 framework.
Abandoned by family
Another major issue that the researchers found which affected many older people in Bangladesh is abandonment by children and families. Many children migrate for work, leaving their ageing parents behind. We heard some stories of children abusing their parents and denying them adequate food and care. It is stories like this that highlight the importance of making the fight for equality and non-discrimination a priority in the next development agenda.
This was the first time I had seen such fantastic, community-based research. What I noticed is that when you give people the opportunity to speak; they really speak! Many of the participants spent hours fighting the Dhaka traffic in the morning and evening hours, in 35 degree heat, to share their experiences and those of others. Battling those conditions is hard enough already, without being blind, visually impaired or with physical complications, as most of the participants were.
Their commitment to the cause was inspiring; they spent a full day revealing the stories they heard and analysing them. It was a completely voluntary process, which they did it because making these stories known is important to them. They have been collecting hundreds of stories and meeting the facilitators to evaluate this process for over five months now.
An empowering experience
Although there were some challenges such as language barriers, I was really impressed with the overall experience. The community researchers said they were very pleased to have a sense of ownership and be part of something so important. I felt that collecting stories from people who face the same issues they do must be an empowering experience. The level of engagement and analysis from the peer action researchers also showed how committed and well-informed they are.
I look forward receiving the full report from this workshop. It is written by truly inspiring people who are fighting for their voices to be heard and believe that the post-2015 process will make positive changes to their lives.