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Counterpart International’s Civic Champion Award

As part of Counterpart International’s pledges to the Global Democracy Coalition in advance of the second Summit for Democracy, Counterpart International hosted its first award ceremony for its Civic Champion Award. Announced in March, but awarded in person in April, Counterpart International was proud to honor Dalit and Gram Bikash Shohayak Shangstha (GBSS) as the awardees of the inaugural Civic Champion Award. Both organizations partner with Counterpart International as part of its Promoting Advocacy and Rights (PAR) project in Bangladesh. The Civic Champion Award was created to celebrate partners and leaders who make a difference and honor their sacrifice and commitment to advance civil society, human rights, and democracy. Within an environment marked by mass arrests, widespread political violence, intense surveillance, and the suppression of public discourse leading up to the 2024 parliamentary election in Bangladesh, Dalit and GBSS demonstrated resilience, flexibility, and a politically savvy approach to provide a platform for marginalized communities to participate in the election process. Counterpart International is proud to honor and celebrate their achievements over the past year.

Dalit represents the historically marginalized Dalit community in Bangladesh. In Bengali, Dalit means oppressed, exploited, neglected and deprived. Millions of Dalit people live in Bangladesh, with most living well below the poverty line, and are limited to the most taxing professions in society because of their birth identity. They are often deprived of their basic rights and access to services such as healthcare, education, clean water, and secure housing. They face discrimination in every facet of their lives, but often lack the skills and knowledge to demand justice. With no previous experience in political engagement, PAR supported Dalit to organize meetings with 56 political leaders and seven parliamentary candidates – through which it secured 63 pledges from political parties to support their citizen-led priority issues post-election. Dalit further refined their citizen-identified issues in eight clear demands, which they strategically advocated for by cultivating relationships with mainstream Bengali political parties and media organizations. In doing so, they leveraged their relationships with the media to get over 70 articles published in Bengali media spotlighting the Dalit community issues and demands at a critical moment in Bengali politics. These articles attracted national media attention to their demands. Because of the work done by Dalit, political parties Bangladesh Awami League (AL) and Jatiya Party (JaPa) included Dalit issues in their election platforms for the first time. With PAR support, their major first foray into election advocacy successfully raised the profile of the Dalit community and helped them claim their political voice to demand accountability from policymakers.

GBSS is a female-led civil society organization working in Bangladesh since 1988. GBSS works to support the political, social, and economic empowerment of disadvantaged and socially excluded Bangladeshis, with a focus on women, youth, and persons with

disabilities. Their goal is to empower these groups to become self-reliant and participatory citizens of Bangladesh. GBSS partnered with Counterpart International in April 2022 to promote the rights of the Cobbler community, one of the most marginalized groups in Bangladesh, which has long struggled to access basic rights such as healthcare, education, and legal services. GBSS empowered the Cobbler community to advocate for their rights by establishing community-based youth platforms and facilitating connections with political parties, election candidates, like-minded civil society organizations, and media. In 2023, GBSS supported their Cobbler youth advocacy forum members to conduct advocacy meetings to share the priority recommendations of the Cobbler community with political leaders and candidates. The event marked a significant milestone as the inaugural opportunity for Cobbler youth and women to directly address the press. Through their advocacy, the GBSS-led Cobbler youth forum secured 20 commitments and pledges to advance the rights and access to services for Cobblers and marginalized communities after the election. Commitments were also made by two prominent Members of Parliament, Saber Hossian Chowdhury and Jahangir Kabir Nanok, who were both recently appointed as cabinet ministers after the January 2024 election. The Cobbler community priority recommendations supported by GBSS are well-aligned with the ruling AL party’s election manifesto, which, for the first time, called for the establishment of the National Commission for Minorities and Minority Protection Act and safeguarding of minority rights, including those of the Cobbler, Dalits, and Horijon communities.

The award ceremony took place on April 30 in Dhaka, Bangladesh with representatives from USAID and Bengali civil society in attendance. Counterpart International’s Vice President of Programs, Gwendolyn Appel, presented the award. USAID Mission Director to Bangladesh, Reed Aeschliman, attended and spoke at the event on behalf of USAID. Mr. Aeschliman was joined by members of the USAID Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance Office’s Society and Rights Team Habiba Akter (Team Lead), Sumana Binte Masud, and Marufer Khadim. The ceremony celebrated the work of Dalit and GBSS and highlighted the importance of their work continuing. Both Dalit and GBSS continue to demonstrate a deep commitment to advancing civil society, human rights, and democracy. Their sacrifices for and work on Bengali democracy over the past year have resulted in significant gains for marginalized communities in Bangladesh, as well as put a spotlight on their power. Their work embodies the spirit of the Counterpart International Civic Champion Award, and Counterpart International is honored to be able to celebrate our Bengali partners who will continue to advocate for advances in civil society, human rights, and democracy.

To learn more about Counterpart International’s awardees Dalit and GBSS, please watch this video.