Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina today said fundamentalism or fanaticism would not be a barrier to girls' education in Bangladesh as the people are conscious about which is good for them and which is not.
"Fundamentalist forces once opposed education of girls. But with the passage of time we have overcome the challenge. We believe that education is the key challenge for the nation. If we could provide education to the women and enable them with financial freedom they would be able to face many challenges," she said.
The Prime Minister said this in a lecture titled "Girls Lead the Way" at the World Leaders Forum at Columbia University here on Friday. Established in 2003, the World Leaders Forum is a year-round event series aimed to advance lively, open dialogue on the contemporary large economic, political, and social issues.
The Forum's roster of past participants features many heads of state, in addition to other global thought leaders from a broad spectrum of fields and all regions of the world. A few of the many remarkable past participants are Presidents Bill Clinton, Nicolas Sarkozy of France, Vladimir Putin of Russia, Michelle Bachelet of Chile, V clav Klaus of the Czech Republic, and the Dalai Lama.
President of the University Lee C. Bollinger welcomed the Prime Minister and delivered the introductory speech. He also moderated a lively question-answer session participated by full-packed Rotunda, Low Memorial Library of the University. He highlighted the successes of Bangladesh achieved over the years in the socioeconomic and political sectors and under the daunting challenges ahead.
The prime minister said, "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."
She said though our world has done well in sending our children to schools, with more girls than boys going to schools in places like Bangladesh, but yet the progress is uneven.
Particularly the conflict-ridden places are lagging behind. Around 60 million children still remain outside schools and 75 percent of them are girls, she said, adding, "We must have these children at the heart of our development agenda as we cannot afford to leave them behind."
Sheikh Hasina said: "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."
She said her government is committed to overcome any challenges that would come with regard to expansion of education particularly educating women. "We have enough strength to overcome any challenge. We are not dependent on others on this issue. "
Breaking all protocols, some enthusiastic students quickly moved onto the dais and surrounded the Prime Minister after the question-answer session for taking photographs, group pictures and selfies. Excitement among students centring on the presence of a female Prime Minister overfilled the emotion of the audience mostly girls drawn from many parts of the world. Their enthusiasm made the campus evening only for them and the Bangladesh Premier.
Bangalee and foreign students cheered the Prime Minister for speaking in Bangla after delivering speech. Sheikh Hasina urged the students to build up their career and contribute to the national development.
She particularly urged the Bangladeshi students of the university to uphold the image of Bangladesh and come back home for best utilization of their education and experience for the cause of development of their motherland.
Responding to questions of the students, the Prime Minister said her government is making constant efforts to ensure a safe future for every citizen especially girls by providing them with education and financial freedom.
About her government's steps to prevent the child marriage, she said a girl is able to take decision of her own if she is educated and can have a job. Her government is trying its best to do this thing, she said. The government has created immense opportunities for employment of the women in various sectors and ensure participation of women in all national activities, she added.
Rebecca of France, who is studying economics, said she is very much inspired with the speech of the Prime Minister. She is also happy to see that the world leaders speak for girls. "I know very little about Bangladesh but the Prime Minister of Bangladesh has set an example being a woman and is trying to make the pace of girls' education faster," she said.
Bangladeshi origin American student Smita Sen said she cannot express how good she is feeling. "Really I feel excellent. It's like a dream. It's very exciting and inspiring as well," Smita, a student of biomedical engineering said.
Saiti, a first year student, who has come here a month ago with a full scholarship after completing A- Level education in Bangladesh, said she is also excited seeing the Prime Minister's presence in her campus and hearing her inspirational speech.