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COVID-19 has had an unprecedented effect on humanitarian planning and operations. In Bangladesh, the pandemic dramatically affected humanitarian operations supporting approximately 1.3 million people in need of humanitarian assistance including 855,000 refugees combined with a host community population of 444,000 in Cox's Bazar. Following the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, an access control system was established by the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner (RRRC), limiting daily access to the refugee settlements to a preapproved list of vehicles.  Consequently, local, and national authorities had to manually cross-check each vehicle against the RRRC approved list to ensure access to authorised vehicles only. This procedure created long waiting times and bottlenecks of up to two hours, leaving less time to deliver essential life-saving relief items such as food and medicine to the camps.

In April 2020, the Logistics Sector and its lead-agency, the World Food Programme (WFP), the Inter-Sector Coordination Group (ISCG), and the RRRC launched the Humanitarian Access Project which aims to support government authorities regulating vehicle access to the refugee camps, helping to avoid bottlenecks and provide faster entry to humanitarians in compliance with COVID-19 regulations.

Today, three women who grew up in Cox's Bazar are leading this initiative as data collection assistants, facilitating the regulation of vehicle access to the camps. Eismat Zahan, Miftahul Jannat, and Golap Sha joined the Logistics Sector in 2020 to support the implementation of the Humanitarian Access Project, and to challenge themselves in what seemed to be exclusively a "men's job."  

Miftahul Jannat
Miftahul Jannat. Photo: Logistics Sector/ Avishak Pranta

Why did you decide to join the Logistics Sector and fill this role?

[Eismat] As the eldest of five sisters, I started working when I was 17 to support my family. Whilst pursuing my degree, I was hired at the Society for Health Extension and Development (SHED), where I gained experience in data collection, field mobilisation, reporting, biometrics, registration, and deduplication. It was not easy to find a balance. I had to juggle between my studies, work, and family, but the hard work paid back and brought me to my present job in the Logistics Sector. 

Did you face specific difficulties as a female data collection assistant?  [Golap] It is not easy to be a woman in this position. Many drivers and workers often ask me why I work on the roads being a female. Also, there is a lack of prayer rooms and restrooms for ladies. I believe there is a need to promote inclusion and make humanitarian logistics more women friendly. 

How is your typical day?

[Jannat] I wake up very early in the morning on time for the Fajr prayer. Then after a quick breakfast, I run to work, where I spend my day on the roads, at different points, to check the QR codes of the vehicle before granting them access to the camps. Then, I go back home and study. Every day I am learning new skills, and I look forward to continuing working in logistics. I feel empowered. I enjoy the independence this job has enabled me to have. But the best part of my day is that I get to share it with other female professionals who are a constant inspiration! 

Eismat in Action
Eismat checking the QR code of a vehicle. Photo: Logistics Sector/ Avishak Pranta

When people think of Logistics they think of a male-dominated world, but logistics is changing! The increased focus on diversity and inclusion, especially on gender diversity, has meant that women are being identified as talents and play a vital role in humanitarian logistics. Tania Regan, Logistics Sector Coordinator.

The project is assisting an average of 600 vehicles entering the camps daily to provide relief items, ensuring the continuity of essential humanitarian aid operations.

Learn more about the work of the Logistics Sector in Bangladesh here.