Prime minister Sheikh Hasina

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Wednesday said that women must be in a leadership position to influence decisions to make positive impacts in the lives of other women.

"We need to elevate our narrative from participation to leadership... And the UN must lead by example. It is regrettable that no woman has so far been appointed as the UN Secretary-General. Time has come; we will have one soon," she hoped.

She was addressing the Annual Meeting of the UNGA Platform of Women Leaders on the sidelines of the 78th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session at the Delegation Dining Room in the UN Headquarters in New York, the US.

"We must enhance our partnership base to make gender equality a norm across all sectors. The private sector needs to come forward to advance women's participation at a higher level. As leaders, we need to engage with them and encourage them to take bold initiatives in that regard," she said.

The prime minister said every country is different; they have different challenges and different social and cultural dynamics, adding that, however, when all adopt the historic Agenda 2030, they should be committed to achieving gender equality.

"We cannot back out of that commitment under any circumstances. As women leaders, we have a responsibility to stand by all women and create examples that can guide others. We must leverage our position and power to achieve a gender-equal world," she stated at the meeting.

Thematic Ambassador of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) Saima Wazed was present here.

At the outset, Sheikh Hasina thanked the PGA and the Executive Director of UN Women for convening the meeting.

Since its inception in 2021, she said, she has found this platform very useful, where "we share our experience and learn from each other how to tackle global challenges with local solutions."

"Our efforts to achieve peace, prosperity, progress, and sustainability would yield no result if half of the world's population were left behind. Gender equality is not an option rather an imperative to achieve a fair and just world," she said.

Sharing experiences of her own country, the prime minister said Bangladesh was born out of a devastating war that left the country with no resources, except for the people.

"So, we decided to make use of our entire human capital and include women as equal partners in our pursuit of a prosperous country. Guided by our constitutional commitment, we adopted the necessary laws and policies to ensure women's equal participation in all walks of national life," she said.

The prime minister further said her government invested heavily in girls' education and women's economic empowerment.

She mentioned that girls' education has been made free up to the 12th grade alongside providing stipends and free books to students up to the secondary level.

The prime minister said they have ensured that 60 per cent of the school teachers at the primary level are women while the country's ready-made garment industry employs over 4 million women.

"We have taken specific policy actions to encourage women's entrepreneurship and help them access financing. We have ensured concessional loans for women entrepreneurs," she said.

The prime minister said her government has established the Joyeeta Foundation to promote and support women in business initiatives and opened the doors to women in higher positions in government bodies.

Women are now becoming judges of the highest court, ambassadors, vice chancellors of public universities and getting higher positions in civil administration, the armed forces, law-enforcing agencies, and so on. On the political spectrum, women are represented at all levels, from the top to the lowest tier of the government, she continued.

She said they ensured women's and girls' access to ICT and digital platforms.

The prime minister went on saying that they have 12,292 union and municipal digital centres that were run by a woman and a man while the government is providing training to women to work as freelancers.

"Our target is to achieve gender parity in the ICT sector, including tech start-ups and the e-commerce sector. We are one of the first countries to introduce gender-responsive budgeting. Thirty per cent of our budget is allocated for women's development activities," she mentioned.

Sheikh Hasina said women in Bangladesh have also been an integral part of their continued efforts to achieve sustainability.

"Our gender-equal disaster response plan has earned us global recognition. Our investments in women's development have given us dividends. Today, women's contribution to GDP has reached 34 per cent.

Economic empowerment has also enabled women to play a greater role in decision-making, both in their families and in society," she said.

‘Reorganise financial system to overcome global economic crisis’

The Bangladesh prime minister also stressed the need for reorganising international financial mechanisms to address the ongoing global economic crisis.

She came up with the importance at a high-level roundtable titled “Towards a Fair International Financial Architecture” in UN headquarters here convened by Spain and the European Council on the sidelines of 78th UNGA session on Wednesday.

The prime minister also called for reviewing the global credit rating system as the current one has restricted access to the funds for many low- and middle-income countries.

“We agree with the UN Secretary General that the global credit rating system must be reviewed. The current rating system further restricts access to funds for many low- and middle-income countries,” she said.

The limits on their voting rights, quotas, and representation in Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) and International Financial Institution (IFIs) also undermine their bargaining power, she added.

“We often find international public finances to be costly and out-of-reach. We try to stay clear of high-interest-rate loans to avoid debt distress. Bangladesh has never defaulted on its loan repayment, and we hope to maintain that record,” she continued.

It is critical for the international financial architecture to be inclusive and representative of the Global South, Sheikh Hasina said, adding that development narratives from countries like Bangladesh demonstrate that “we can do our part”.

“It is time for the international financial system to respond to our expectations,” she demanded.

“We recognise that the international financial architecture needs urgent reforms. But agreement on the nature and extent of the reforms remains lacking. Political will is important,” she continued.

Referring to the words of the UN secretary general, the prime minister said, "A fundamental shift is required".

She also has put forth five points to this end as she said in her first proposal that the MDBs, IFIs, and private lending agencies must re-align their priorities and mobilise additional funds for SDG implementation and climate action.

Secondly and thirdly, she said funds need to be made available for developing countries at low-cost, concessional rates, and preferably in higher quantities of grants and all lending instruments should have disaster clauses to allow vulnerable countries to absorb shocks during crises.

“Fourthly, fair and effective debt relief measures need to be given priority based on coordination and transparency among creditors,” she said.

In the fifth proposal, the prime minister said instead of quotas, SDR borrowing limits should be based on needs and vulnerability, supported by easy lending processes.

She said Bangladesh has long been credited for its sound macroeconomic management.

“Our economy grew by 8.15 per cent just before the pandemic. Due to Covid-19 and Ukraine war, our economy was put under stress," she said.

"Despite that we’re still maintaining 6-7 per cent GDP growth, are trying to curb inflation, manage the balance of payments, and maintain our development expenditures," she added.

"We reduced our poverty level from 41.9 per cent to 18.7 per cent and the extreme poverty level from 25.5 per cent to 5.6 per cent," she went on saying.

Sheikh Hasina thanked the prime minister of Spain and the president of the European Council for convening the meeting.

Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen was also present here.