Surveying the needs of children and women in Bangladesh through ‘MICS’
By Naimul Haq
BAGERHAT, Bangladesh, 4 August 2009 – It is hot and humid when Madhuri Samaddar, 28, reaches Boalkhali Bazar in Swarankhola, south-west Bangladesh. In the crowded neighbourhood, she walks to Sheresta Bari, a tiny slum with a few makeshift houses on a piece of land measuring about 20 square feet.
Ms. Samaddar is one of 8,000 field staff conducting the nationwide household survey known as the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), which is supported by UNICEF.
Data collected from the survey will be analyzed to monitor the situation of women and children globally, enabling countries to track their progress against national goals and global commitments, including the Millennium Development Goals.
On her surprise visit to Sheresta Bari, Ms. Samaddar finds Manik Das, a cobbler, and his wife, Shanti Das – both in their twenties – at home. No one in this neighbourhood attended formal school; most make a living by stitching and mending shoes on the roadside.
Smart, serious and energetic, Ms. Samaddar begins her interview with Ms. Das, a maid, explaining why she is seeking the information. Her questions include: “When did you deliver the last child? Who assisted with the delivery of the child? Did you ever breastfeed the child? How long after birth did you first put him to your breast? Has his birth been registered with the civil authorities?”
Ms. Das responds to each question with her son perched on her hip. “I have heard of such surveys before, but they never came to us,” she says.
Lack of information
In the dingy courtyard of Sheresta Bari, Ms. Samaddar also interviews Mowna Das, who lives with her two grown sons in a dark room hardly big enough to accommodate one person.
Ms. Das cannot answer questions about birth registration; in fact, she does not know what it is.
“Half the families I have interviewed in this neighbourhood are illiterate,” Ms. Samaddar points out. “They don’t understand issues like birth registration, delivery in the hands of qualified birth attendants at hospitals, HIV/AIDS transmission and nutritious food.”
Reluctant to answer
Mohammad Shah Alam, another MICS interviewer, is conducting 40 house-to-house surveys over 10 days in Morolganj, Bagerhat district. Today, he is conducting an interview in the home of Asharf Ali Farazi, 75, a community elder.
Mr. Farazi’s eight-member family lives here on half an acre of land. They are moderately well educated and well off. Mr. Farazi runs two grocery stores, while his elder sons are in the fishing business.
“How old are you?” Mr. Alam asks Mr. Farazi’s wife, Nasima Begum, but she is reluctant to answer. Her husband answers for her. “Nasima is my second wife and she is very young, as you can see,” he says. “She is 32.”
After asking Ms. Begum a series of standard questions about the family, Mr. Alam turns to the topic of reproductive health and HIV/AIDS.
“Can people protect themselves from getting infected with the AIDS virus by having one sex partner who is not infected, and also having no other partners?” asks Mr. Alam, as the woman turns away to hide her shyness.
“Most women would shy away from such personal questions,” Mr. Alam says later. “This is quite common, and I have learned to overcome it.” Using techniques learned during their MICS training, the surveyors encourage respondents to speak in private settings with friends or family members present.
UNICEF responds to MICS request
Launched in the mid-1990s, MICS is part of a UNICEF-supported global initiative to produce statistically sound, internationally comparable estimates on a range of issues – including health, education, child protection, HIV/AIDS and water, sanitation and hygiene.
Mr. Alam and Ms. Samaddar were selected as surveyors based on their educational level and previous research experience. MICS field staff receive 3,000 taka (about $45) for each fully completed survey.
UNICEF Bangladesh responded to a request from the Government of Bangladesh to conduct the survey in order to update data on the country’s progress toward the MDGs. The survey report is expected to be released by the end of October.