Bangladesh citizen's platform calls for ending disparities

DHAKA (The Daily Star/ANN) - Majority of people must get rightful share of national achievements, experts tell conference on SDGs

A citizen's platform yesterday called for an end to discrimination and ensuring equal access of all to economic and social spheres as the majority of the population were not being able to get the rightful share of national achievements.

The call was made at the first ever meet of the Citizen's Conference on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) where more than 1,000 participants from civil society, NGOs, and businesses took part. Citizen's Platform for SDGs Bangladesh organised the event at the Krishibid Institute for mass awareness to help the nation achieve the UN-set 17 global development targets by 2030.

The discussants said everyone has equal rights to participate in development and demanded laws, polices and work plans to bring the marginalised and the vulnerable to the mainstream development process.

“Due to the existing economic, social and environmental disparities, the ambition of attaining inclusive growth in Bangladesh is facing enormous challenges,” said a declaration of the daylong symposium.

It said the government had taken a number of initiatives towards the overall development of the country ... “Nonetheless, absence of appropriate laws, inadequate implementation of existing laws, corruption, and above all, various social stigma and negative mind-sets, have inhibited access to equal opportunities by all citizens of the country.”

It said vulnerabilities of the marginalised and the deprived were on the rise.

“A close examination reveals that vulnerabilities of the people get aggravated due to the lack of education and skills, inadequate health services, religious and ethnic differences, adverse geographical locations, economic deprivation, life cycle status, physical and mental disabilities, gender and transgender disparities, civil identity and lack of rule of law,” the declaration said.

Prof Emeritus Anisuzzaman of Dhaka University at the opening ceremony of the conference said, “We demand equal opportunities for all, ensuring justice and good governance so that people here can exercise all their rights. We have to ensure dignity for all … .”

Anisuzzaman, citing advancement in science and technology, said the success stories of human endeavour outshine fairy tales. “However, the failures were not small. Many people still do not get safe drinking water. Many do not get minimum medical care. A large number of people live under the open sky.

“At the same time, wealth is concentrated in a small number of people. This cannot be accepted as development of mankind,” he said, stressing on balanced distribution of wealth and income.

Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) Chairman Prof Rehman Sobhan said the government should take the citizen's initiative positively and consider them as partners. The government should also allocate resources for achieving the goals.

Debapriya Bhattacharya, convener of the Citizens Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh, said many consider economic growth as development. But just growth does not mean development. It is important to see who is getting the benefits of the economic growth.

“There has been unprecedented rise in the inequality of income and wealth. This will affect growth and create social unrest and affect socio-political and economic stability.

“The growing inequality will undermine the achievements of the nation,” he said, adding, “Development has to be viewed from the perspective of the people falling behind.”

He said people's participation was necessary to attain SDGs. The government alone could not attain the target. “That's why we are holding the conference,” he said.

“The civil society always had a big role in the democratic movement for progressive transformation of the nation. They work closely with and parallel to political parties,” he said, adding, “But we feel sorry when top policymakers say that they are unaware of what we do.”

He demanded the government form a trust fund for NGOs to work for attaining the SDGs and a policy to ensure accountability and transparency.

Rasheda K Choudhury, a core group member of Citizen's Platform, stressed on ensuring accountability of all, including the government, NGOs and others.

She said 2.17 crore children were studying at primary level and one out of five would drop out before completing that level. This is a big number, she said, adding that progress should not be measured based on average.

“Discrimination is going on in education,” said Rasheda.

Prof Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, said, “Dreams and aspirations of the Liberation War will be materialised if we implement the SDGs.

“We have to bring people falling behind to the mainstream of development,” said Mustafiz, another core group member of the platform.

He said the platform would monitor and measure whether SDGs were implemented. “We will carry out our responsibilities,” he said.

Asif Ibrahim, former president of Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry, stressed the need for ensuring transparency and accountability.

CPD Research Fellow Towfiqul Islam Khan, presenting the study “Quest for Inclusive Transformation of Bangladesh Who Not To Be Left Behind”, said disparities between rural and urban areas are continuing while income and wealth inequalities are on the rise.

The study finds that 97 percent of the population are subjected to one of the two vulnerabilities.

“We are the citizens of Bangladesh. And we have equal rights to participate in development,” said Towfiq.

Kyoko Yokosuka, acting country director of UNDP Bangladesh, said rising inequality undermines prosperity.

She said Bangladesh has made commendable progress in poverty. Yet, the number of poor still remains large, she added.

Sultana Kamal, former adviser to a caretaker government and a core group member of Citizen's Platform for SDGs Bangladesh, said the SDGs have created the opportunity for individuals and communities falling behind to raise their voices.

Selina Hayat Ivy, mayor of Narayanganj City Corporation, said the nation could not progress without participation of the civil society. 

Later, at a session on good governance, speakers said there was lack of good governance and accountability in the country and targets mentioned in the SDG would not be achieved without ensuring good governance.

“Due to the lack of political commitment, good governance is very vulnerable in the country,” Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (Shujon) Secretary Bodiul Alam Majumder said.

Hasibur Rahman Mukur, executive director of Management and Resources Development Initiative, highlighted the importance of the Right to Information Act and said the act could help control corruption in many cases.

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