Bangladesh’s prime minister Sheikh Hasina has been the head of government for nearly 20 years. She first became the premier in 1996, and then returned to serve for three successive terms since 2009. She is among the most veteran statesmen and history’s longest-serving female head of government.
Under Hasina’s leadership, Bangladesh transformed into an emerging market economy, with its best growth and economic progress indicators. Investment and research bodies (like HSBC, Goldman Sachs, World Bank and Boston Consultancy) have taken note of the changing trend because Bangladesh often appeared on the performing/future-economies list throughout and after the 2010s.
Hasina’s political career spreads over 4 decades. She is also the vanguard of the progressive and secular advocacy camp of Bangladeshi polity.
With so much to pick, here are 8 must-knows about Hasina’s statecraft that anyone observing Bangladesh should know about
1. Hasina took a fast decision to give refuge to over a million Rohingya refugees, who fled the Myanmar military-led crackdown in 2017. As a result, Bangladesh hosts the world’s largest refugee camp. Hasina also took a stance that the refugees should only return when there is a safety-guarantee for them from Myanmar. It’s a commendable contribution to peace and stability.
2. Hasina has been an unconditional endorser of United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which she has made part of her administration’s foreign and domestic policy priority. Her administration took a leadership role for Bangladesh at the time for SDG formulation in early 2010s, when Bangladeshi experts and diplomats were at the forefront in the agenda-making process. Hasina administration also maintains a highly-empowered SDG coordination office. She has formulated a broad-array of national economic policies which align with the SDG targets. Bangladesh is already ahead of track to achieve the SDGs. This is an example-setting approach.
3. Hasina has taken a ‘let your work show’ approach to human rights. Her administration made a series of reforms to Bangladesh’s legal system with ‘access to justice for all’ workplan. To amplify political and economic rights, and to keep the government in check, an independent fiscally-empowered body, the National Human Rights Commission, was established in 2009 at the onset of her tenure. Beyond borders, Bangladesh, as an elected member of the UN’s Human Rights Council, is working with fellow member states to facilitate human rights concerns from across the world.
4. Hasina is a staunch advocate of universal health coverage. It makes her particularly interesting, because universal health is rather difficult to implement for countries like Bangladesh, where the economy is largely informal and the fiscal space is limited. One exemplary success of Hasina administration is bringing primary healthcare services to the grassroots level through ‘community clinics’ (often called Hasina’s brainchild), initiated in 1998. The country’s 18,000 community clinics are essential low-cost rural healthcare centers which function under a public-private partnership model. It serves around 10 million people each month. Hasina frequently brings up the importance of universal healthcare at different international platforms.
5. Hasina is a long-standing proponent of women’s empowerment through income generation opportunity creation. It’s a thematic issue that she oversees herself. Since 2009, her administration has undertaken far-reaching measures, like a specialized ‘Women’s Development Policy,’ to ensure women’s contribution in all quarters of the economy. Smart interventions such as girl-child education stipends and exemption of tuition fees for girls in rural areas are the game-changers. There have also been provisions to fast-track female entries in workplaces, especially in public service and political representation, through affirmative actions. The result is a record presence of women in the labor force and elected bodies. Hasina’s persistence on the issue has found Bangladesh as the best-performing country in the Global Gender Gap Report 2023 of the World Economic Forum.
6. Hasina realized that climate-leadership can make a mark on the map for Bangladesh. She has geared her administration to be at the forefront of climate action and climate justice. As a result, Bangladesh has become the leading voice among developing countries on climate advocacy. Hasina is leading the charge to hold the developed world accountable for their high consumption leading to climate change. To save developing countries from climate change impacts, she called for a $100 billion fund every year. Hasina, two-timer Chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum group, made the push to shift the climate narrative from vulnerability to prosperity. Her administration has specialized funds, 80-years long policy, a dedicated ministry and a special envoy to prioritize the climate change agenda.
7. Hasina’s policymaking acumen sees Bangladesh performing in 4IR. Her administration closely cooperates with different future-setting entities like World Economic Forum and UN Digital Global Compact. She sees entering the digital era as a key to propel prosperity and leapfrog the development journey for Bangladesh. She often reminds the advanced nations to transfer technology at low cost to the developing countries. Her ‘Digital Bangladesh’ vision, meant to infuse e-governance and across-sectors digitalization, is the blueprint of how a country can harness the power of tech at low cost. Throughout her tenure in 2010s, Bangladesh was setting a pathbreaking example in digital financial inclusion. The policy implementation of the vision accelerated digitalization and ensured equitable distribution of its benefits. Hasina’s target was to bring the remote, marginalized or vulnerable communities under the purview of technology.
8. Hasina has kept Bangladesh’s commitment to peacekeeping and peacebuilding. Peace and cooperation are central to her political thought. These are also two principles she upholds in dealing with external relations and in maintaining harmony at home. The United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted her resolution on the ‘Culture of Peace’ on 13 September 1999. Her call to create an environment of peace and fair competition in the Indo-Pacific has been well-noted by strategic experts across the world. Her commitment to global peace is well manifested in Bangladesh’s troops contribution to UN peacekeeping operations, which has always ranked among top 3.