Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Says Female Empowerment Is The Key To Development

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While we are waiting with baited breath to see if the United States will finally elect its first female president, it should be noted that we are well overdue because a quick look around the world shows that many countries, of varying development levels, have already passed this milestone.

New Zealand, Australia, The UK, Central African Republic, Liberia, and Croatia are just a few nations that can boast a female head of state, but there are plenty more. Bangladesh is also included in this list, as their current Prime Miniser Sheikh Hasina has been their leader three times. The first time was from 1996-2001, she was elected for the second time in 2008, and was recently re-elected in 2014. She is also ranked #47 in Forbes’ 100 most powerful women in the world.

Needless to say, Sheikh Hasina is a powerful world leader and we are always excited to write about women like her.

If we were to judge Bangladesh only according to what the media portrays, we’d have a very negative view. It’s no secret that being the second largest producer of textiles in the world, there is plenty of corruption and human rights abuse going on, as we saw come to a head in the Rana Plaza building collapse in 2013 where factory workers were crushed to death.

There is a lot of political and societal reform needed on all levels when it comes to the garment industry in order for factory workers to earn a living wage and not put up with unsafe working conditions.

But there are also some positive stories of female empowerment that we have shared on our platform. This young girl became the country’s first female surfer, and is a symbol of a generation willing to go against social taboos in order to break the cycle of poverty and sexism. This group of women are taking part in an awesome program initiated by the International Labor Organization to give men and women below the poverty line a chance at learning a trade or skill in order for them to have careers they can live off. Part of the program teaches girls to become mechanics, breaking stereotypes along the way.

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And if there is one person who believes in the power of women, it is Sheikh Hasina, who gave a speech at Columbia University, invited by the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality, titled “Girls Lead The Way” (video below) where she outlined the important intersection between female empowerment and national development.

“I am going to speak to you about a topic that is close to my heart: girls’ and women’s empowerment,” she opened with.

Megan Fillion writing for the Columbia Student News website states that Sheikh Hasina has been credited by leaders worldwide in her ability to implement key development programs that include women and other marginalized groups and allow them to participate in the future of the country.

One of the areas she has managed to make a huge difference is education. School is free for boys throughout primary and secondary school, and was only free for girls up to second grade. She changed that to allow girls of all ages attend school for free, and implemented a stipend program that rewarded families for sending their children to school.

Girls (and boys) having an education is the very foundation to creating a sustainable economy, where more of the population has the opportunity to learn a skill or a trade and contribute to the workforce.

By also creating women’s welfare programs, the percentage of women in the Bangladeshi work force has grown from 24% to 36%, which is being credited as the huge increase in the country’s GDP since 2009 – 50% to be exact!

According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2012 Bangladesh was ranked 8th globally in terms of political empowerment of women due to Sheikh Hasina government’s pro-women policies. Bangladesh outperformed its neighbors India and Pakistan in the Gender Inequality Index (GII), a composite index that measures the cost of gender inequality to human development. It ranks 111th on the GII compared to 123rd for Pakistan and 133rd for India.

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Sheikh Hasina is determined to lower poverty rates and increase the percentage of the educated population, because she wants to see Bangladesh become a middle-income country by 2021, and a fully developed country by 2041. In a speech at the United Nations ahead of the signing of the Sustainable Development Goals being signed by world leaders, Sheikh Hasina shared why in her view, making the world safer and more prosperous for girls should be everyone’s priority.

“We will create more opportunities and access for women to participate in politics, business, labour market and higher education. We have already taken a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to trafficking in persons, particularly women and children. The new development agenda offers us added impetus to bring positive change in the lives of our women and girls. We should seize this opportunity. Let us, once again, take a vow to achieve gender parity in all aspects and make the world a better place for our women and girls,” she said, adding that we all have a responsibility to be “agents of change”.

Her forward thinking outlook is something we need to see more of, as it falls right in line with the new Sustainable Development Goals which were signed into agreement by leaders all around the world. One of the 17 goals that are designed to end poverty around the world is focused on gender equality, as heads of state, NGOs and development programs are finally recognizing the need to harness the power of equip with with the ability to earn money and contribute to the economy.

Today there are over 66 million girls globally who are not in school. Women make up 70% of the world’s poor population. In many countries there is still a gaping wage gap and other social and cultural barriers that prohibit women from becoming full participators in financial development. But we also make up half the world’s population, so when you ignore us, you are missing out on a vital part of what will make any economy grow.

Since Sheikh Hasina has been in power and upped her fight to take her country into the future, the national poverty level has dropped from 57% to 25%. The media doesn’t necessarily boast about that, but we sure will! That is a positive sign that what she is implementing is having the desired effect.

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By tackling issues such as education, maternal health, combating violence against women, creating opportunities for women in leadership positions and implementing social and economic measures, Sheikh Hasina has become a formidable world leader in showing how alleviating poverty is possible.

She believes it is everyone’s responsibility to do their part to make the world a better, safer and more prosperous place to live.

“I challenge the leaders of tomorrow to rise to the occasion and help the world become a better place,” she said in her speech.

Aside from her focus on female empowerment, education and economic empowerment for women, Sheikh Hasina is focused on the environment, and in an article written for the Huffington Post, she talks about how this issue is crucial to making the Sustainable Development Goals a reality by 203o.

Her attitude toward taking the country forward is not one of pity or powerlessness, in fact it is quite the opposite and clearly this mindset is having an effect nationwide,” she said.

“Bangladesh was the first developing nation to create a Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan. We cannot do it alone, which is why we need the international community to stand up for nations such as ours through the SDGs and the climate-change process. Bangladesh has been leading by example, and we are ready to share our experiences on climate resilience with rest of the world,” she concluded, very proud of what she is doing and the part they are playing globally.

You can watch Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s full ‘Girls Lead The Way’ speech from Columbia University below:


 

 

 

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