Statement by PM Sheikh Hasina at Columbia University


Statement by PM Sheikh Hasina at Columbia University, USA

Mr. President,
Faculty members and students,
Ladies and gentlemen,

A very good afternoon to you all.

I convey my warmest greetings to everyone in the audience. It is indeed a privilege to speak in front of you today. I thank you, Mr. President, for inviting me to this hallowed seat of learning.

I have chosen to speak on an issue which is close to my heart: Women’s and Girls’ empowerment. I wish to see our girls breaking all barriers and taking the lead in our nation building. This plays a crucial role in my vision for peace and development.

My father, our Father of the NationBangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who led Bangladesh to independence in 1971, was an ardent champion of democracy, social justice and secular values. Women’s education and emancipation were central to his development ideals. It’s primarily to his vision I owe my conviction in girls’ education.

Our world has done well in sending our children to schools, with more girls than boys going to schools in places like Bangladesh. Yet, the progress is uneven, with conflict-ridden places lagging behind. Around 60 million children still remain outside schools. 75% of them are girls. We must have these children at the heart of our 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We cannot afford to leave them behind.

Distinguished audience,

Our Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman recognized education as a fundamental right in Bangladesh’s Constitution in 1972.

He also formed an Education Commission for developing a universal and uniform education system. Unfortunately, in August 1975, he was brutally assassinated along with 18 members of my family. What followed was a period of military rule when hiseducation policies were discontinued with.

I had, therefore, made it a mission in my political career to bring education to the forefront of our national development policies. My Government attaches the highest importance to educating our nation. For obvious reasons, we give some added attention to promoting girls’ education and literacy. Our development pursuits on the international stage is also informed by this priority.

During my first tenure in office from 1996 to 2001, we firmly embedded the education-related MDGs into our national development strategy. To start at the basics, we introduced a nation-wide “Total Literacy Movement”. In five years, we doubled the national literacy rate to 65%. Unfortunately, in the next seven years, when our party was outside office, there was no further increase in our national literacy rate. In fact, it went down. Likewise, we had also introduced an innovative non-formal education system targeting school drop-outs in our rural areas. Sadly, that initiative was also closed down by the successive Governments.

After returning to office in 2009, our government wasted no time in revitalizing the entire education sector. By 2010, we formulated the country’s first forward-looking National Education Policy through broad-based consultations. It was supported by a National Plan of Action to ensure ‘Education for All’.

We made education completely free for girls up to the 12th Grade. We have started reaping the dividends as we see more and more of our girls opting for education and employment instead of getting married at an early age.

To complement their efforts, we have introduced a host of other measures for an enabling and safe environment in schools. On the first day of each school year, we distribute free text-books to every single student from pre-primary to secondary schools. In 2015 alone, we distributed 326.35 million free text-books to students across the country. This is perhaps the biggest such undertaking anywhere in the world.

We have introduced mid-day meals in schools to enhance nutrition and productivity among our children. Weprovidestipends to insolvent students from primary through undergraduate level. In 2015, 13.4 million students have received such stipends, of which 75% are girls.

We have taken a tough stand to make sure that our girls feel safe at, and while going to schools. Bangladesh has already attained the MDG targets on gender parity in schools through considerable efforts. We shall not allow any adverse elements to make a dent in those gains.

Distinguished audience,

In broad terms, we are now shifting our focus from quantity to quality in education. We have updated curricula and introduced creative questioning system from primary through higher secondary level. This allows our students to move away from the traditional methods of learning, and use their creative and analytical skills.

In keeping with our vision to build a “Digital Bangladesh” by 2021, we are investing in providing access to ICT to our students in rural and remote areas. In addition to setting up over 5,275 Digital Centres at the grassroots level, we are introducing multi-media classrooms and computer labs in secondary schools across the country.

Madrassa education is also being upgraded with the introduction of science and technology teaching. Efforts are being made to expand vocational and technical education that we consider essential for our human capital formation.

Our long-term goal is to give our young people the skills to turn them intotruly global citizens. Our young men and women will be our front-runners in turning Bangladesh into a Middle Income Country by 2021 and a Developed Country by 2041. I am confident that we shall be able to reach these goals. It is for no reason Bangladesh is often termed as a “development surprise”.
Distinguished audience,

In many parts of the world, girls continue to face difficulty in going to school safely.They often struggle to continue their education up to marriageable age, and face resistance from certain vested groups. We want an end to this. It needs a ‘whole-of-society’ approach to change certain traditional mindsets.

I attended the first Girl Summit 2014 in London. There, I stressed the need for realizing girls’ right to education to combat different forms of discriminatory and harmful practices against them that are still prevalent in many societies.

I pledged to end child marriage in our society by 2041. We have already taken some pro-active measures to work towards that goal with firm resolve. The existing laws are being updated, and a National Action Plan being prepared for time-bound implementation.

In addition to access to education, we are giving much needed attention to matching our girls’ skills with demands in the job market. We have taken initiatives to set up six technical educational institutions only for girls. We have established the first Asian University for Women to groom future women leaders from our region.

Our young girls receive collateral-free small loans to help them set up small and medium enterprises. Our female workforce is growing steadily every year, with women accounting for 90% of the workforce in theready-made garments sector.

Women’s participation is also showing an upward trend in politics, civil service, judiciary, armed forces and other technical professions. Bangladesh today is perhaps the only country in the world that has women as Prime Minister, Speaker, Leader of the Opposition, and Deputy Leader of the House. We have 70 women in our 350-member National Parliament.

Our women have shown that given the opportunity they can defy all odds and excel in what they aspire to do. Our job in the Government is to create the right opportunities for them to thrive and prosper in equality and dignity.

Dear students,
Ladies and gentlemen,

With the MDGs, we have done fairly well in fighting global poverty and hunger. Even then, 1.3 billion people live in poverty in our world. The new, ambitious SDGs we have come here to adopt must make a real difference in the lives of these people.

I am making efforts to do my part. I challenge you – the leaders of tomorrow – to rise to the occasion to change our world for “the future we want for all”. In so doing, I wish to leave this message with you that girls’ education all over the world can be and should be a key enabler for sustainable development.

Last year, the UNESCO Director General awarded me the “Tree of Peace” in recognition of our efforts to promote girls’ education and women’s literacy. The interface between women’s education and durable peace is only too evident in conflict-riven societies.

My heart reaches out to all those girls that continue to struggle with their lives in far too many conflict situations around the world. We wish to see all our girls having unfettered access to the best possible education, and emerging as the forbearers of peace, progress and prosperity. In Bangladesh, may I reiterate, I wait to see the day when our girls take the lead in every sphere as we realize our dream of a “Sonar Bangla” – a Golden Bengal – that our Father of the Nation had envisioned for us. We keep our doors open for all of you to join us in our efforts.

I thank you all.
JoiBangla, JoiBangabandhu.
May Bangladesh Live Forever.


(HE Sheikh Hasina ,Hon’ble Prime MinisterGovernment of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh)