I still cherish a nice childhood memory of enjoying various kinds of competitions in schools and colleges. Apart from annual sports competition, there were mesmerising and hotly contested cultural events. There were music, theatre play, debate, impromptu speech and storytelling relay where a teacher would initiate a story and then the students had to extend it one by one. A comment by the World Bank’s Managing Director of Operations Axel van Trotsenburg, who recently visited Bangladesh, reminded me of the important role of carrying on the story.
World Bank MD said, “After 50 years of independence, Bangladesh is now one of the world’s best development stories. Bangladesh is telling the world a remarkable story of reducing poverty and economic growth.” He said, “At birth, Bangladesh was one of the world’s poorest countries. But now it is one of the world’s fastest growing economies. The economy of the country has been growing by more than six per cent on average since 2000, lifting millions of people out of poverty. Bangladesh’s national per capita income has increased 21 times since 1972, and the country became a low-middle income country in 2015. It is now on the way to becoming a high middle income country.” He also promised that the World Bank will stand by Bangladesh on its journey to becoming a higher middle income country.
He said, “Bangladesh has made tremendous progress in women empowerment, human resource development and strengthening climate change resilience.”
His comment also echoes the comment of Nobel laureate Amartya Sen. A couple of years back Amartya Sen said, “India, Bangladesh and some other regional countries have registered significant economic growth. But Bangladesh has surpassed all in terms of women’s empowerment.”
Bangladesh has had a woman prime minister for a decade and a half in a row. The current Speaker of the National Parliament is a woman who is also the Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. A few members of the cabinet including the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament are also women.
In fact there is no scope to underestimate the role of women in the developmental journey of Bangladesh. Importance of women’s role is recognised and duly appreciated not only in urban areas or civic life, but also everywhere in the country.
It is evident that the empowerment of women in Bangladesh has increased significantly compared to any time in the past. Women have played a tremendous role behind the meteoric rise of Bangladesh in terms of socio-economic development and overall economic growth.
Apart from this, women continue to advance in important administrative roles. According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics survey, 1,795 women were appointed to important positions at the secretariat in 2014. The figure increased to 2,123 in 2017. As of 2017, the rate of women officers in charge of various first class positions was 22.3 percent. The number of second class female officers was 43.4 percent, which was almost twice the number of first class officers.
In 2017, the rate of women officers (first class) in Divisional and Deputy Commissioners was 27 percent. According to BBS data, during 2011-13, the percentage of women chairpersons in Union Parishad was 0.6 percent. By 2017, this rate increased to 1.2 percent. That year, the post of chairman in 31 Union Parishads were held by women. According to the 2014-2018 survey, the number of women vice chairmen in upazila parishads is 486.
In spite of some nagging socio-cultural discriminations and psychological barriers, the womenfolk of the country are defying all odds and making important contributions to nation building. Looking back down the memory lane, we can see that Bengali women fought shoulder to shoulder with men in 1971 during the war of liberation as well as the anti-British movement. A Bangladeshi woman was once the VP of DUCSU, one received the Grand Master title in international chess competition and another has flown the flag of Bangladesh at the top of Everest. Thus the women’s impressive march forward keeps going on.
Now let us come to the topic of tackling the impact of climate change. Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change. The Government of Bangladesh has identified floods, cyclones, droughts, tidal waves, tornadoes, earthquakes, river erosion, inundation, and sea level rise and soil salinity as major natural hazards. The government has identified the risks caused by climate change and made a lot of progress in disaster risk reduction in the past few years. It has increased annual allocations to development and non-development sectors to mitigate adverse impacts of climate change and improve resilience against climate change. The amount of money spent in this regard is no less than 100 million dollars a year. As a result, the country has not only become more resilient to climate shocks, but also the people are much more aware about the harms of climate change.
Of the various initiatives the government has taken to tackle climate change, the notable ones are implementation of seventh Five Year Plan with an aim to strengthen climate change resilience and adoption of various policies to ensure environment-friendly economic growth and sustainable environment. Besides, in cooperation with the development partners, Bangladesh has acquired much needed technical skills and knowledge regarding early forecasting and preparedness. Overall, the country’s capacity to tackle the impact of natural disaster has increased remarkably.
Bangladesh has led the world forum of countries most affected by climate change. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been awarded the highest environmental honour “Champions of the Earth” for her leadership as a spokesperson of the least developed countries.
Nearly a decade ago the World Bank had backtracked from providing loan for construction of the country’s longest bridge Padma Bridge, raising unfounded allegations of corruption. But under the bold leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the government has already built the bridge on its own fund and inaugurated it last year. The bridge is considered a symbol of what Bangladesh can do. Besides, Bangladesh has constructed its first ever Metro Rail in Dhaka. The Metro Rail is already running in Dhaka much to the delight and convenience of the commuters. Another fast track mega project – Bangabandhu tunnel under the river Karnaphuli in Chattogram will be opened to the public soon, while construction work of several other mega projects are going on in full swing.
Thus the impressive development story of Bangladesh, as pointed out by the World Bank Managing Director, goes on and on. Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had initiated the story in 1972. His worthy daughter, the current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has been carrying forward the story with passion, creativity, vision and love for the nation. Under her leadership, we all the citizens of Bangladesh are scripting the extraordinary success story of Bangladesh. Therefore, credit goes to the people and their leader Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
The writer is the President of the All European Awami League. He can be reached at: [email protected]