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Krajai Chowdhury: Contributing to gender equality in Bangladesh’s health sector

Posted: 2 March 2023

Bangladesh, Alumni, Bangladesh, Experience, Gender Equality, Impact, Inclusion,

Alumna Krajai Chowdhury, a Gender Specialist from Bangladesh’s Indigenous Marma community, is striving to create a gender equal and inclusive health sector in Bangladesh. Over the past two decades, Krajai has worked with international organisations such as IUCN-Bangladesh, WaterAid Bangladesh, UNDP Bangladesh and Thailand’s Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact. Her work personifies this year’s International Women’s Day theme: ‘DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality’.

In 2011, Krajai completed her Master of International Development from Flinders University with the support of an Australia Awards Scholarship. Her studies in Australia motivated her passion for developing a gender-responsive approach in the health sector, paving the way for a more inclusive society in Bangladesh.

“My Australian degree and experience provided me with the strategic guidance to monitor the implementation of the Gender Action Plan, including regular reporting on Gender Action Plan activities and integrating gender data in digital health information systems,” Krajai says. “I believe gender data on health inequalities are important to promote improvements in gender-related policies and systems and to take evidence-based decisions for improving healthcare delivery.”

Currently, Krajai is working for the Urban Primary Health Care Service Delivery Project-II, implemented in 12 city corporations and 13 municipalities in Bangladesh. The project’s key objective is to improve the health of urban populations, particularly among women, children and communities living in poverty. This project aims to establish a primary healthcare service network with comprehensive reproductive healthcare centres, primary healthcare centres and satellite clinics to deliver necessary services.

Krajai has been instrumental in mainstreaming gender equality and inclusivity in this project. Her contribution includes supporting Project Management Units, Project Implementation Units and partner non-governmental organisations to implement a Gender Action Plan. Krajai emphasises that integrating gender into health statistics in Bangladesh requires proper education, training and guidance. She notes that it is essential to coordinate with Project Management Units to provide technical guidance on data that will be included in the health management information system.

Krajai has fostered a gender-inclusive environment in the comprehensive reproductive healthcare and primary healthcare centres by ensuring separate toilets for men and women, waiting areas, and breastfeeding corners to improve women’s safety and convenience. She also monitors gender-sensitive public awareness messaging in the partner organisations’ satellite clinics. Another of her significant contributions is monitoring and regularly updating the red card system, which is an essential service delivery package focused on maternal and child health in urban communities. The red card system enables the most vulnerable groups in the project areas, including women and people with disability, to receive free healthcare services and medicines from health centres nominated by the Urban Primary Health Care Service Delivery Project-II.

Krajai emphasises that this project significantly improves the quality of urban primary healthcare services. It also ensures that at least 20% of staff participating in all its capacity building of Project Implementation Unit and Project Management Unit on administering and coordinating urban health nutrition are women. The project also met its target of establishing a gender-responsive computerised health management information system in every partner area, with sex-disaggregated data fields focusing on primary healthcare centres and comprehensive reproductive healthcare centres integrated into the electronic system.

Krajaj conducts a community consultation on gender equality with stakeholders at Lama upazila in Bandarban Hill District, Bangladesh

Even though gender equality is an integral part of sustainable development, Krajai notes that there are many challenges in establishing, rolling out and implementing a Gender Action Plan. She highlights that gender mainstreaming in development does not happen quickly. Therefore, she strongly believes that every public policy discussion and state-level decision must incorporate a gender lens.