Whether running a country, a business or a popular movement, women are making contributions that are delivering for all and driving progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres rightly pointed out that it is time to build an equal future. This is absolutely a job for everyone. And it needs to be done for the benefit of everyone.

Speakers at a discussion on March 8 laid emphasis on building an equal future, saying that women's full and effective participation and leadership in all their diversities and abilities will drive progress for everyone.

"We've to work together. Without engaging male and female in the nation building efforts, there's no way we can succeed in achieving the goal," said Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen thanking Prime Minister Sheikh for her vision to engage both male and female with much emphasis.

Fifty years ago, she said, there was no female Prime Minister in this land, neither in Pakistan; there was no female Speaker, no female opposition leader, no female DC and no female police officers they knew.

"So, these all are good news. Over the years, we've done an excellent job," he said adding that it is no wonder that Bangladesh is a star in women empowerment.

The Foreign Minister made the remarks while addressing a discussion marking the International Women's Day held at the Foreign Service Academy in the city.

Diplomatic Correspondents Association, Bangladesh (DCAB) arranged the discussion titled "Women in Diplomacy: How Are We Doing?" supported by Bangabandhu Research Centre for Foreign Policy and Diplomacy.

Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen spoke at the event as a special guest while DCAB member Israt Zahan Urmi presented the keynote paper.

Secretary (East) to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mashfee Binte Shams, UN Resident Coordinator Mia Seppo, Rector of the Foreign Service Academy, Syed Masud Mahmood Khundoker, Switzerland Ambassador to Bangladesh Nathalie Chuard, Ambassador of Sweden to Bangladesh Alexandra Berg von Linde, High Commissioner of the Maldives to Bangladesh Shiruzimath Sameer, Director General of Public Diplomacy wing at MoFA Samia Halim, DCAB President Pantho Rahman and its General Secretary AKM Moinuddin spoke at the event.

The theme for International Women's Day this year is "Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world" and it highlights the transformative power of women's equal participation.

In response to DCAB member Israt Zahan Urmi's comment in her keynote speech that many of the Bangladeshi female workers abroad, especially in the Middle East, face physical, mental and sexual abuses, Momen said the government is working to reduce such cases.

He said some women rights groups demanded that women must not be sent to Saudi Arabia to work there as domestic workers. The demand is contrary to the principle of gender equality.

"All have the right to mobility. Our constitution does not discriminate. However, if there are abuses, it is our responsibility to address those," Momen said.

Emphasising the importance of effective participation of women everywhere, Foreign Secretary Masud Momen said men must change their mindset in treating women colleagues in workplaces, and that there must be a culture of respect for women everywhere.

He took note of the issues raised by the paper presenter and said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will put in its best efforts to remain caring towards expatriate female workers and addressing their issues with utmost sincerity.

The Foreign Secretary said more female diplomats will be posted in Bangladesh Missions in the Middle East.

Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen said torture of female domestic workers is a serious problem that must be addressed.

The ministry has adopted a policy of sending more female envoys to the Middle East countries so that they can work better to protect the rights of female workers.

Secretary Mashfee who was honored at the function for her role in promoting Bangladesh through her exceptional leadership in diplomacy, said they do not want to be favored but they do not want to see anybody discriminate against them.

UN Resident Coordinator Mia Seppo said women have special capabilities in peace-making. When they are involved in signing deals or negotiations, they have a better chance of making peace due to their natural capacity to listen and speak with empathy.

"Gender equality is beneficial for both men and women," she noted.

Mia Seppo said women in Bangladesh are a large part of the workforce and increasingly taking their seats at the table, be it the legislature, judiciary, diplomacy, administration, civil society, private businesses, media or labor unions.

"By overcoming socio-cultural and economic barriers, they are establishing themselves as new role models," she said adding, "Let's also remember the women who don't hold visible positions and who we don't see in virtual events. At the grassroots level, we've seen remarkable acts of resilience, heroism and leadership."

Swedish Ambassador Linde said Sweden will continue to support their partners in Bnagladesh in their work to promote women's social, political and economic rights; combat gender-based and sexual violence and eliminate child marriages.

She vowed to create better conditions for women and girls to raise their voices; engage men and boys to become champions of gender equality and break down the barriers that stand in the way of women and girls to pursue their dreams of a better future and reach their full potential.

"We'll continue to support civil society and the government of Bangladesh in their work to advance women's rights," said the Swedish Ambassador.

Swiss Ambassador Nathalie Chuard said Bangladesh's aspirations for Agenda 2030 and its remarkable socio-economic achievements in the last decades are impressive.

She said the role of women has improved significantly over the last years. "That said - here, too, there is more work to be done - for instance in political and economic spheres."

Ambassador Nathalie Chuard said, "If we want to build back better after this pandemic - really build back better -, we have to ensure that women are part of it. It is not only the right thing to do, it is also the smart thing to do."

No Lip Service

Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen called upon the international community to come forward with sincerity instead of giving only lip service and instructions for the early repatriation of Rohingyas.

"I've an appeal. It demands leadership of the world. We must do something. We must provide them a future," he said, noting that the majority of 1.1 million Rohingyas living in Bangladesh are female or little girls.

The Foreign Minister said this is not a time to do business as usual but the international community must come forward and send the Rohingyas back to Myanmar and reintegrate them in their society in Myanmar.

"I get very upset when I see these people who have no future. They are becoming hopeless and frustrated. They want to go back to Myanmar for a decent living," he said.

Dr Momen said it is also time for that country - Myanmar - to get Rohingyas back as the Myanmar government agreed to take them back to give them a decent living and decent future.

The Foreign Minister said all the people involved in the Rohingya issue and the international agencies instead of giving instructions to Bangladesh should be in Rakhine and do their jobs in Rakhine to create a conducive environment there.

He said imposing sanction on one or two Myanmar generals is not enough as they do their business as usual.

Dr Momen said both trade and investment in Myanmar over the last four years after the genocide have increased three and half times to 15 times which is really shocking.

"Fifteen times! Can you believe it! A country that has violated human rights, did ethnic cleansing and can you promote them with trade and business and you talk about human rights?" he said.

The Foreign Minister said the organization that got the peace prize for humanity should feel ashamed they are not doing enough to repatriate these people, these distress people.

"Whether they are in Kutupalong or Bhasan Char is not important. It's irrelevant. Relevant thing is they must go back to their homeland and have a decent future and a decent living," he said.

The Foreign Minister said if they stay here for long, there is a possibility of the pockets of radicalism or extremism.

"Terrorists have no boundary, no borders, and no faith. They'll create a problem for the whole world. On this International Women's Day, we should be more sensitive to the Rohingya women," Dr Momen said.

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