BRAC’s Polli Shomaj (PS) programme aims to bring together a critical mass of poor rural women at the community level to participate in the local power structure, ensure proper use of local resources, and prevent and protest human rights violations. This report presents six case studies on the relationship between the PS and the Union Parishad (UP), the lowest level of government administration in rural Bangladesh. It focuses on the space that the PS occupies in rural power structures, and the ways that it colludes with and disrupts them. Semi-structured interviews were held with BRAC Programme Organizers (PO) for the PS programme, PS presidents, UP chairmen, and PS general members from six PSs in Bogra and Jessore districts.
Stakeholders identified two main themes in the relationship between the PS and UP. Firstly, the PS lobbies the UP to grant social security resources to deserving candidates. Secondly, under certain circumstances the PS will approach the UP to protest human rights abuses and ensure that justice is served. The PS can improve resource allocation by 1) gathering information about incoming government resources, and 2) building rapport with the UP hairman. For politically or socially uncontroversial legal issues, the PS is able to engage UP members’ help to see that justice is served. PSs relationship with the UP is supplicatory and non-confrontational, combining a good relationship and persistence and normative pressure. PSs do not broach contentious issues such as corruption or the influence of power interests in the justice system. The PS operates within existing power structures, aiming to maximize their benefits for poor women rather than promoting structural change.