Published in The Daily Star on Saturday  24 July 2020

The Daily Star in association with Citizen’s Platform for SDGs and Plan International Bangladesh organised a virtual policy dialogue titled “Voluntary National Review 2020 and Youth Perspectives” on July 16, 2020. Here we publish a summary of the discussion.


Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya, Convener, Citizens Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh and Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) and the Moderator of the Session

There are three major motivations for countries in joining the VNR process. Firstly, countries want to showcase their development success in front of the global community and learn from their peers. They want credit for their efforts in implementing the SDGs. Secondly, they want to encourage the global community to support their efforts. Finally, some countries look for political and developmental legitimacy.

We need to reach the disengaged youth in certain ways. This disengagement has been aggravated due to COVID-19 and the digital divide. Women and girl children in particular have been affected gravely. Small ethnic groups, Dalits, and the third gender have been very visible as groups left behind. The government has quite a lot of facilities and initiatives regarding these issues so we must take full advantage and make them more effective.

Mahfuz Anam, Editor and Publisher, The Daily Star and the Chair of the Session

How closely the non-state actors are involved in the SDGs and VNR process depends on the environment in which the non-state actors operate. The non-state actors are supposed to give a different perspective from the state actors, but this cannot be possible if the environment is such that different perspectives are not welcome and those with different perspectives have their work deemed problematic, or their activities do not get as much support as before. Non-state actors are fundamentally expected to echo the overall view of the state actors. The fundamental prerequisite of the non-state actors’ effective involvement in the SDG process is an environment of acceptance, tolerance of divergent views and the assurance that the different perspectives ultimately get incorporated into collective thinking.

Orla Murphy, Country Director, Plan International Bangladesh

In the VNR process, transparency, accountability, and effectiveness are crucial and are at the core of the process. It is essential for young people to be involved at every stage. Their voice needs to be heard and acted upon.

We will not achieve the SDGs unless we achieve gender equality. If we look at SDG 5 as a multiplier, we see in Bangladesh, the government has established a strong policy framework. But policy frameworks are not enough; robust and monitored implementation is central. Globally, over the last four months, which is the period of COVID-19, we have seen a decline in gender equality. This only further highlights the importance of a whole-of-society approach, to deliver on our commitments to the SDGs.

Saber Hossain Chowdhury, MP, Honorary President, Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and Chairman, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change

Being on the right track with the SDGs while also responding to the pandemic will be difficult. There is a massive gap in financing within the dimensions of the SDGs. Financing the gap is now more critical than ever.

I have already created a draft bill to defunct the Evidence Act. According to the current act, if a woman, who is a victim of rape, goes to court, her character and her past can be questioned. The Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs want to amend many parts of the Act, and the changes I have mentioned will be included as well.

I believe Agenda 2030 should be presented to the youth as their agenda. Since the fourth industrial revolution is centred on AI, Information and Communications Technology is involved here. The ministry can have a combination of youth and ICT since the entire ICT process will be youth-driven.

Our parliamentary system, standing committees, and planning commissions are fora that should be used to amplify different voices and NGOs.

Dr Shamsul Alam, Member (Senior Secretary), General Economics Division (GED), Bangladesh Planning Commission

From the Prime Minister’s Office, 17 dedicated ministries in collaboration with NGOs have been given the responsibility to collect information on specific SDGs.

The government’s commitment to social protection is clearly evident in the enhanced budget allocations this year. Vulnerable populations, such as women, children, and people with disabilities, have been given priorities under our National Social Security Strategy (NSSS).

The 8th Five-Year Plan will have increased allocations in health, education, and social protection for two reasons. Firstly, if we spend more on education, health, and social sectors, it will reduce social inequality. Secondly, this is required for human development. Spending on these sectors will benefit the youth more.

Md Rashedul Islam, Director General, NGO Affairs Bureau, Prime Minister’s Office

We have a goal to achieve the 2030 Agenda alongside which we are also expecting to transform our nation into a developed one by 2041. Political commitment is essential for the implementation of any plan. We are fortunate that our Honourable Prime Minister has given us the scope to do whatever is necessary to bring our dream of a Digital Bangladesh into fruition. The importance given to the youth of our country is clearly reflected in the 2018 election manifesto and even in the national budget.

Asa Britta Torkelsson, Country Representative, UNFPA Bangladesh

We are concerned that the impact of COVID-19 will further put a halt to the opportunities available to our youth. Therefore, the recovery process from the pandemic must have a strong focus on the youth.

We must empower the young girls so that they can achieve their full potential and actively contribute to the country’s development. Practices such as child marriage and adolescent pregnancies cannot continue. We need to engage young people as community leaders who can shape the future for the better. It is only by putting youth at the centre of our work that we can achieve the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development.

Kashfia Feroz, Head of Influencing, Plan International Bangladesh

The youth aged between 18 and 35 years represent 33 percent of the total population. Therefore, it is not possible to achieve the SDGs without their contribution and participation and without addressing their needs and challenges. Therefore, in collaboration with Citizen’s Platform for SDGs and other civil society organisations, Plan International Bangladesh undertook a series of initiatives focusing on youth positioning. Last March, in National Consultation, we, the CSOs and youths, presented some recommendations and we pursued them to be addressed by government report. It is time to explore to what extent the recommendations the youth are reflected in the VNR report of Bangladesh.

Reneka Ahmed Antu, National Girl Child Advocacy Forum (PNGO-GAA)

Section 155 (4) of the Evidence Act, 1872 states: “When a man is prosecuted for rape or an attempt to ravish, it may be shown that the prosecutrix was of generally immoral character.” This law has already been amended in India and Pakistan and I believe, it should be amended in Bangladesh as well so that we can attain more in terms of gender equality.

In 2015, 14 percent of women used sanitary napkins, which has increased to 20 percent now. We can achieve further growth not only through policymaking but also by raising awareness since topics such as menstruation are still considered taboo. I would request both the public and private sectors to help raise awareness to increase the usage of sanitary napkins.

Mishal Bin Salim, National Girl Child Advocacy Forum (PNGO-GAA)

The National Youth Policy 2017 states that our youth will be involved in decision-making at local, national and international levels and also take part in the SDG implementation processes. Since the VNR report states that youth are the prime movers, we need to give more recognition to the youth. We require separate policies for the underprivileged children to safeguard their education. Besides, we are aware of the increasing violence against women. Further steps need to be undertaken to ensure the safety of the victims. To ensure that our young people can secure jobs in the future, we must take initiatives to improve their extracurricular skills. This can be done through online training programmes.


Other participants:

Halima Akhter, EDUCO Bangladesh

We need a separate Department of Children. Another important recommendation is to create a space for the vocational training of women.

Ferdousi Begum, Uddipon

Although vocational skills training is being provided to youths, their business start-up costs after the training are not being considered. Some steps should be taken to bring down these costs to a more affordable range for entrepreneurs.

Kothok Biswas, National Children’s Task Force

The pandemic has made the trial processes more difficult. For incidents of child abuse, the complaint process must be made easier and the government needs to ensure swift justice.

Swapan Kumar Guha, Rupantar

When the education system returns to normal after the pandemic, we will notice a large number of these students dropping out. These dropouts will become labourers, victims of child marriage and child trafficking, etc. Therefore, psychosocial care for people below 18 years old is crucial.

Mahmudul Hasan, UNDP

In 2017, our government had accepted the National Youth Policy 2017. It was supposed to be converted to a National Action Plan but that has not happened yet.

Reefat Bin Sattar, Save the Children Bangladesh

We need to create a space for the political development of youths.

Asif Ibrahim, Core Group Member, Citizen’s Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh

Even after countless efforts, there is still a lack of data from the private sector.

Rafiqul Islam, Federation of NGOs in Bangladesh (FNB)

The government can work with the NGOs to ease the conditions of the youth, especially in the remote areas.

Professor Mustafizur Rahman, Distinguished Fellow, CPD and Core Group Member, Citizen’s Platform

I want to emphasise on the representation of youth leadership in the government’s high-level SDG implementation committee.