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Dhaka Tribune

‘Bangladesh is on the right track to achieve gender parity’

Rabab Fatima speaks to Dhaka Tribune about the challenges ahead for Bangladesh as a developing nation trying to achieve gender parity, improve girls' education, and more

Update : 06 Apr 2023, 02:04 PM

Rabab Fatima, high representative for the Least Developed Countries (LDC), Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, and secretary-general of the LDC5 conference in Doha, is the first Bangladeshi diplomat to be appointed the UN under-secretary general. A staunch advocate of gender parity, Fatima spoke to Dhaka Tribune in Doha about the challenges ahead for Bangladesh as a developing nation trying to achieve gender parity, improve girls' education, and more. 

Bangladesh is graduating in 2026 to become a developing nation. As an advocate of gender equality, what are the challenges ahead to achieve gender parity as a developing nation in your opinion?

Bangladesh is doing extremely well in terms of achieving gender parity. Bangladesh has already made great strides in education through some sustainable and bold policies. Investing in education can be the most effective tool to empower women. I believe Bangladesh is already on the right track with regard to achieving the objective of achieving gender parity. It has been clearly stated in the Doha Program of Action that development cannot take place without having women fully anchored equally in that process.

What is the role of women in the development process? Are they one of the key players?

The Doha action plan aims to ensure the effective integration of women in the development process. The Doha program of action is aimed at ensuring gender parity in Bangladesh as a graduating country. If we look at the development trajectory of Bangladesh, we can see that  women in Bangladesh have been the active agents of this transformative development.  This has been possible because of the transformative role women have played at every level. The commitment and the leadership come from the top and then it filters down to all sectors. First and foremost, investing in girls' education is the first step towards empowering women. Secondly, creating opportunities for women's economic integration play a significant role. One of the most successful sectors in Bangladesh is the manufacturing sector where the bulk of the workers are women. Most of these women come from rural areas and their contribution creates a multiplier effect as they can send money back home and their family and children can attend school and have a better life.  

What does it feel like to be in a leadership position as a Bangladeshi woman?

I believe that women are slowly entering the boardrooms in Bangladesh's many industries and companies. As a Bangladeshi woman who is now leading this process from the UN, I feel very proud, and I take inspiration from women in my country who are contributing to the development process.  

Implementing online universities is one of the deliverables of the Doha Action Plan. How is it going to help the education sector?

Online schools are not at all a substitute for regular schools. Online universities target young people to enhance their capacity, especially in the STEM field. Young people in the least developed countries can access education at a higher level from home and get the same recognition with universities which have international accreditation. One of the challenges least developed countries are grappling with is brain drain. In many of the least developed countries, young people go abroad to get their education and become very accomplished in their fields whereas those countries are importing foreign graduates to come into the same job at a much more expensive rate.  I think it is very important that we can actually stop this outflow and provide them with education online at home. 

Recovering from the pandemic is one of the priorities of this action plan. What about recovering from the shadow pandemic? Child marriage increased significantly which caused massive school dropouts. What kind of programs and plans must be in place to bring these children back to school?

What happened during the pandemic is very sad. During the pandemic, millions of our children, coming from poorer families just stayed home. There was a spike in early marriages not only in Bangladesh but in many other countries where there is a propensity toward child marriages. Now it is important to see whether the girl children come back to the classrooms to continue their education. Bangladesh also has programs in place to retain students such as providing stipends. I think many women and girls in Bangladesh now have the agency to decide when they should get married. They know it is illegal to get married before the right age and they have a little bit of more voice. Bangladesh now has one of the lowest birth rates in the LDCs and that was achieved because the women have more voice in the decision making about how many children they would have. I think for those girls who have been married off, it is a crucial decision to make to stay in school.

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