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Executive Director's Message

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NUK has mostly focusing on it's restructuring and transition from its more donors dependency to self-sufficiency and sustainability reflecting on the organization’s bright future as a pathfinder in the field of its women’s empowerment agenda. NUK has working to seek out new opportunities and modify approaches built on NUK’s comparative advantages for the future.

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We believe that listening to the unheard voices of the women and adolescent girls of our country can provide us with a different, valuable perspective on the economic hidden power of women whose hand can also share a burden for living and help live life better than ever. This is why we help to provide opportunities for them to communicate their views in their own way.

Working together, we can contribute to building better lives for the most deserving and can look ahead to a better future for them.

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Women’s Citizenship and Representation Program

Introduction | Current Situation | Current Challenges | NUK’s Response |


The Millennium Declaration commits governments to promote more inclusive political processes, allowing genuine participation by all citizens, as well as to gender equality and women's empowerment. The Government of Bangladesh has stressed in its Poverty Reduction Strategy the importance of good governance and the role civil society plays in demanding responsiveness and accountability. NUK's programme contributes to this by its two-pronged approach focusing on women's representation in local government and women as responsible citizens. NUK works primarily with women elected representatives on the one hand and local women's organizations and the adolescents of the secondary schools on the other hand to build their confidence and capacity in realizing and protecting women's rights and promoting gender equality. The focus on these three groups is intentional; women as elected representatives is still a relatively new phenomenon and they continue to need support to effectively fulfill their roles; local women's organizations can participate in local governance and adolescents are the ‘ citizens of tomorrow' who can shape their social and political futures with knowledge and youthful motivation.

The programme combines and builds on three earlier projects around the single theme of enhancing women's civic engagement . NUK works in all 64 districts of Bangladesh both directly and, increasingly, through local women's organizations to provide training, mentoring and advisory services for women and girls to develop them as citizens and representatives with the political awareness and confidence necessary to influence decisions in the public arena

following the amendment of the Local Government Act in 1997 which made provision for reserved seats. Union Parishad elections were held in 1998 and 2003, Municipalities between 2001-3 and City Corporations between 2003-5.

Adolescent Rights Support Project, Strengthening Local Women's Organisations Project and Strengthening Women's Rights and Representation in Local Government Project.

Current Situation:

Currently, international development aid emphasizes promoting effective states by directly responding to Government-led poverty reduction strategies and providing general or sector budget support. However, an effective state must have a healthy relationship with its citizenry and it is this side of the equation, which NUK and others seeks to enhance.

As in other countries, Bangladeshi women face social, economic and institutional barriers to decision making in the household, community and at every level through to national level. They have fewer channels for political representation, to influence policy or to hold the state to account.

NUK deliberately focuses on the concept of ‘ citizenship' . A citizen is someone with rights, aspirations, responsibilities, dignity and the possibility to act. Being a citizen implies having social and political status as well as independence. NUK stresses the link between awareness of rights and agency (capacity to raise voice, participate in decision making and require accountability). NUK promotes the principle that effective citizenship involves both healthy vertical relationships (citizen –state) as well as horizontal relationships (citizen –community). For many poor women the first exposure to behaving as a ‘citizen' rather than being trapped in patron-client relationships has been as a member of a NGO group or informal labour group. These forums have provided opportunities for self identity, collective action and redressing of collective injustice. Building on these experiences, NUK seeks to assist women and girls to develop further their roles as citizens and enhance their political participation by becoming more active in seeking out opportunities to voice their concerns and make gender-sensitive change happen.

lthough the Constitution of Bangladesh as well as numerous legislative provisions and the Government's commitment to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) uphold the principles of gender equality and forbid discrimination against women, there are many challenges to making this a reality.

Current Challenges:



Rights to security, social justice and freedom of movement for....







...Adolescent girls

UNFPA Report (2000) notes that 47% Bangladeshi women testify to physical assault by male partners, one of the highest incidences in the world. Large numbers of Bangladeshi women are victims of wife beating, battering, dowry-related violence, sexual and physical harassment, rape, trafficking, acid throwing, abduction and pervasive verbal harassment. Formal structures of law and policing fail to protect women and girls. Women fear the police. Furthermore, the lack of own financial resources, low literacy and lack of awareness of legal rights work against women seeking redress through the court system. Furthermore, security and formal justice institutions are male-dominated and often perpetuate discriminatory practices.

In 2008,UNESCO estimates that 72 million children worldwide are still out of school. Of these 57% are girls. Boys are still enjoy privileged position in terms of access to education, and for every 100 literate males, there are still only 48%are literate women. Even with affirmative policies in education and remarkable achievements in enrolment rates of girls, retention rates and standards of education are still low. Adolescent girls drop not only for economic reasons but also because of cultural pressures and unfavorable learning environment. Gender interacts with social, class,cultural and religious issues that effects girls differently. This includes intimidation on the way to and from school and at school and the lack of appropriate facilities, such as toilets, for girls. Research has proved that educated girls typically delay marriage and childbearing, have fewer children who, in turn, are healthier and more likely to be educated. However, adolescents' knowledge on sexuality, health and nutrition and substance abuse is poor. There is a lack of recreational space for girls to meet, interact and share experiences essential to developing adult skills.

Voting rights

Women leaders and party workers engage in the task of mobilizing and canvassing voters, particularly women, for their party candidates. By making special arrangements such as separate election booths for women, and females presiding as polling officers, the turnout rate of women voters has increased. However, voter harassment still exists, women are often expected to adopt the politics of their spouse, may experience strict religious prohibition (fatwa) and have little political education.

Direct election of women representatives to Union Parishad (UP) (Union Council: the lowest tier of government) for three reserved seats.

Women UP member's constituency covers three wards unlike men who cover only one. Women thus incur relatively higher costs associated with the election process and to adequately represent a large geographic area. Male relatives who are active politically and rely on these relatives for financial backing often put women forward. Most elected members are comparatively un-educated and have not served in this capacity before. Independent candidates are harassed and bribed to join established political parties. Newly elected women members report they lack knowledge about their role and Parishad procedures and lack confidence to actively participate in UP business.


At least three of the 13 standing committees of the Union Parishad should be headed by women

Compliance with this provision is variable. All three suggested committees are related to welfare and have little to do with disbursement of resources, thus reinforcing women's subordinate role. Women rarely head other standing committees or chair the UP.


Equality of Union Parishad membership

Women are either sponsored by politically active male relatives or have garnered their support base through NGO groups and federations. The latter are often poor and therefore challenge (but also threaten) the traditional power structure of the UP. Widespread belief still prevails that women should not get involved in politics. Most women UP members regularly attend Parishad meetings, but only a few of them participate in the deliberations and decisions. They are usually confined to involvement with social welfare such as mass education, family planning, immunization, handicrafts, relief activity, and shalish (mediation in the village court). Men withhold critical information; do not inform the women members of meetings and meetings are quarter without the participation of women. Women are asked to sign blank papers to secure their consent to resolutions without knowing what these might be. Men further sub-ordinate women members by suggesting that whilst they have been elected on merit women are there only by virtue of the quota system.


Village court

The participation of women UP members in village courts (shalish) has seen a remarkable increase but the cases they are asked to mediate are usually related to family disputes and not economic resources (e.g. land, property)


Municipality and City Corporations 1/3 reserved seats

Women Ward Commissioners are generally well educated and many are university graduates. Most come from politically active families. However, they do not have role models and find that they are marginalized from decision-making.


5 year term of office

The five-year term of office for all elected representatives means that there is potentially a constant turnover, creating a challenge for providing training and support. Composition of Forums of Elected members is also vulnerable to change and continuity needs to be protected.


Government sponsored training

The National Institute of Local Government has the mandate to provide (and regulate contracted-out) training for local government personnel. Prior to the launch of the nationwide Local Governance Support Programme , few UP members had received training. Research has shown that elected representative's need more than formal training and that local level mentoring is critical.


Collective voice

Women representatives are systematically experiencing isolation and vulnerable. Unequal distribution of power, resources, patriarchal domination, their mobility constraints limitations result in minimal exposure to experiences that would enrich their capacity to affect change in their constituencies. The elected women representatives in different tiers of local government formed border federation and highlighted their problem of the lack of integration of small voices and detachment of policy makers from grassroots experience.

NUK’s Response:

i. Elected Women Representatives

NUK has been working with elected women's representatives since 1993 and is unique in that as it works with women representatives at all currently operational tiers of local government; and its elected representatives of Union Parishads, Pourashavas (Municipalities) and City Corporations. The training of women's representative's addresses two main aspects; i. the capacity to fulfill their role and responsibilities and ii. The capacity to actively advocate for gender awareness and action.

NUK and its local women's organization partners provide training for women representatives in more than 50% of all Union Parishads, while NUK directly work with the municipalities and all City Corporations. The training comprises understanding roles and responsibilities, gender issues, gender budgeting and advocacy. NUK directly provides similar training for Union Parishad Chairpersons. NUK increase encourage horizontal and vertical exchange visits among women representatives of local government institutions to experience good practice and will broker informal and formal mentoring and coaching relationships between women in Municipalities and City Corporations and Union Parishads.

NUK and its local women's organization partners also support potential electoral candidates and assist them to mount campaigns, use the media effectively, mobilize resources and define their political affiliation. Support is given to the increasing numbers of women who are contesting for election as independent candidates within an environment of partisan hostility. Nomination to women by existing political parties not yet the reality in Bangladesh .

As local government institutions recognize the value of the gender training provided by NUK and its local women's organization partners and have increasing access to their own financial resources, there may be opportunities for increasing cost recovery. Having training and advisory support embedded locally through the local women's organizations means that costs can be minimized, women representatives do not have to attend residential training or travel long distances, continuity can be assured over consecutive election terms, and ongoing mentoring support based on local knowledge and networks can be provided.

Recognizing the importance of mutual support and collective action for women representatives who may be physically and socially isolated, NUK supported the establishment of Upazila, District and National Forums for Women Union Parishad members as well as a Forum for Women Ward Commissioners at Municipality and City Corporation level. NUK continues to provide advice and secretariat support for these Forums. NUK has brokered a formalized link with the Government's National Union Parishad Forum and, in particular, with its Women's Policy Committee to provide technical assistance and collaborate in advocacy.

ii. Local Women's Organisations

Local women's organizations are mostly small, comprising a mix of salaried and volunteer staff, and which act locally to promote women's issues. They are included in NUK's programme when they demonstrate potential to be important local civil society players and can contribute to good local governance by demanding accountability of service providers, conducting local level research and monitoring, providing training on gender issues, lobbying for enhanced gender sensitivity and encouraging citizen engagement with the state.

Recognizing the generally weak institutional capacity and capabilities and resource limitations of these small organizations, and with the endorsement of the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs, NUK has been working with many of them since 1993 to build leadership, strengthen organization, promote networking and improve gender programming. Since the inception till 2008, NUK trained to some 1296 women’s local organizations in 64 districts will have received basic training on project design, planning as well as organizational and financial management from NUK. Many of these became sufficiently capable to run their organizations and programmes more effectively and independently.

However, NUK gradually shift from emphasizing generic capacity building to focus on the skills and competence needs to engage in local level advocacy and protection of women’s rights as well as provide training of trainers to scale-up its work with women elected representatives and adolescents. Key skills for this include negotiation and conflict resolution skills, presentation and ICT skills, training and sensitization of critical change agents such as local police, male local government officials and the media. NUK encourages local women’s organizations to use innovative ways to highlight the debate on women’s issues in the public domain.

Active networking among the local women’s organizations provides opportunities for enhanced solidarity and collective action. NUK established and continues to advise 13 combined District Forums of local women’s organizations covering all 64 districts. These forums meet every quarter and actively mediate in dowry disputes and cases of early marriage and collectively campaign on gender issues, particularly gender-based discrimination and abuse. Participants of the Forums learn from each other and gain confidence to deal with similar situations in their own working areas. The operating principle adopted by the local women’s organizations is to provide advice and backstopping for local persons to exercise voice and agency rather than intervening on their behalf. The mutual support offered within the Forum has led to increasing demands to join by other local women’s organizations and the efficacy of Forums can be judged by increasing demands for their representation in other committees and consultative forums.

To intensify networking among women’s organizations and build alliances between NGOs, government, media and others to collectively campaign on gender issues and build a critical support to affect positive change, NUK also convened the only National Coalition of Local Women’s NGOs’ in Bangladesh and continues to provide secretariat services for this Coalition. The Coalition acts as a national platform for lobbying policy makers, in particular those from the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs and other government departments principally via its bi-annual convention A half-yearly newsletter highlighting the significant achievements of local women’s organization members is also published and distributed by NUK. NUK is taking an increasingly less pro-active and more backstopping role as these Forums develop their own capacity and prioritize their own action.


iii. Adolescents – ‘Citizens of Tomorrow’

NUK started working with adolescents in high schools and colleges since 1993. More recently, it has been able to expand the programme to nearly 300 schools and colleges in six districts by working through ten local women’s organizations it has trained.

The training and sensitization programmes are targeted at both female and male students and cover gender, human rights and health issues and are conducted at their schools. Adolescents attending the training courses are encouraged to work with their peers to share experience and disseminate messages. NUK continually encourages them to search for innovative ways to peer educate (though sports, recreation, mentoring etc). Teachers and School Management Committees also receive training on gender issues and facilitation of gender-friendly school environments.

Upazila-based Student Forums have been established and between 2004-7, 60 such forums will have been set up. Comprised of students, teachers, community leaders and law enforcing agencies, they meet regularly to review and mediate on issues of abuse and insecurity facing adolescent girls. These Forums draw up, implement and monitor their own annual action plans which address-prioritised gender issues facing adolescents at school and in the community. As well as the benefits of dealing with such issues collectively, students’ involvement on formal action-oriented committees provides invaluable experience of raising their voice and taking action in the public sphere.

The Forums of Local Government Women’s representatives are encouraged to link with Student Forums to listen to their young constituents, provide guidance and act as role models. NUK encourages students to participate in diverse forums which support civil society/government interface.

Monitoring, research and advocacy

Local women’s organizations allied to NUK undertake continuous local level surveillance of gender issues and change processes and thus provide an important connection to local reality. NUK emphasizes the importance of evidence-based advocacy and has thus always undertaken grassroots research to complement the work of the local women’s organizations. Currently it supports,

• Intensive monitoring of violence against women in local level,

• Research on the “Role of women-headed NGOs in mainstreaming gender and establishing women’s    human rights
• Research on the gender dimension of the secondary and higher secondary schools curriculum

At the request of District Forums, NUK plans to set up district communication and advisory centers where data, research documentation and campaign materials will be held. Journalists,. police, members of the public as well as representatives of women’s organizations will be encouraged to use these centers to assist in local level advocacy.

NUK’s achievements

Established National Coalition of Women NGOs with 1300 memembrship;
Established the first and only City Corporation Forum of Women Elected Representative, Who Court    upheld this in 2005. Provided training on leadership, gender, human rights and internal transparency    to all UP chairpersons during 2005-6
Developed and promoted the first module on gender-budgeting for all City Corporations, and all    Municipalities
All UP Chairpersons provided with Gender, Human rights and internal Transparency Training;
All UP Chairman jointly convened district level press conferences to make public statements on their    position on rights issues;
At least 6% of schools working with NUK have mobilised their own or private funds to construct    toilets reserved for female students only as well as girls-only common rooms
Students report significant reduction in verbal abuse, harassment and teasing of girls both in school    and on the way to school.
Students report that they are able to raise issues, even of a sensitive nature, without fear of    negative repercussions.


International development partners primarily fund this programme. NUK is continually seeking funding to expand the programme. NUK also seeks ways to increasingly recover costs e.g. by charging for training and consultancy services.

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