This report looks at a five-year, £17 million ‘Community Legal Services’ (CLS) project recently funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) in Bangladesh. The project provided grants to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who aimed to support improved community legal services, particularly for women and girls. We analysed the work of seven NGOs in four districts of Bangladesh, conducting over 100 interviews, focus groups and observations.
We found DFID’s support to CLS NGOs to be commendable. As their starting point, they took the day-to-day legal problems faced by poor and marginalised groups in Bangladesh. As such, huge numbers of people gained greater awareness of the formal law and avenues for redress. Some progress was also made in improving the fairness of the processes and outcomes of justice in diverse institutions and places across the country.
However, we also found a number of problems and challenges. The CLS project only focused on legal services, yet many of the problems they engaged with (such as domestic violence and child marriage) required a broader approach. There were risks in encouraging women to report violence, without adequate protection for them in place.
The report concludes with a series of recommendations for both implementers and international donors when designing and implementing new CLS projects. At the core of these is the suggestion that they need to get to grips with power – to work in ways which subtly engage with, and shift, unequal power relations.