Project helps youth explore place in democracy – Dhaka Tribune, 7 March 2016

Date: 7 March 2016

It is a duty to speak truth to power, the great and the good were reminded yesterday by a young man from Satkhira who introduced himself simply as Rashed.

A participant in the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI) and Saferworld-Bangladesh project on youth and democratic participation, Rashed said learning how to participate in the democratic process had given him confidence and a political voice.

“I have learned how to speak up and always to speak the truth,” the Satkhira native told the audience at a workshop that included the prime minister’s adviser on foreign affairs, EU Ambassador Pierre Mayaudon and several top Bangladeshi diplomats.

The national workshop titled “The Role of Youth in Promoting Democracy, Justice and Human Rights” sponsored by the BEI and Safeworld-Bangladesh was held at a restaurant in the capital’s Gulshan neighbourhood.

The chief guest at the programme, the Prime Minister’s Foreign Affairs Adviser Gowher Rizvi, said: “Today much of the emphasis with democracy is on the process, but this is not sufficient … without instilling ethics, democracy is a concept without a spirit.”

BEI President Ambassador Farooq Sobhan presided over the workshop that included several spirited exchanges between the participants and the panellists.

The project, an 11-month effort to impart an understanding of democracy, justice and human rights to young people, took place in two upazilas in Satkhira district between April 2015 and March 2016.

One of the results of the project has been the creation of Democracy and Justice Forum Centres which are meant to support “a space for fair play” in society.

BEI Vice President Ambassador Humayun Kabir said Satkhira had been chosen as the site for the project because of recent violence in the district and because of the district’s history of extreme politics – whether of the right or the left.

The district has had a long history of volatility linked to a narrative of dispossession that goes back to partition in 1947, the audience heard.

Today’s angst, in common with youth unrest elsewhere in the world, is largely the result of a lack of  employment opportunities and a lack of bureaucratic accountability, participants and panellists said.

Ambassador Humayun said youth participants in the project were excited about exercising their democratic rights and had used what they had learned to successfully confront local bribe-takers.

“When the youth stands up it sends a strong and visible message to a larger segment of society,” he said.

The Satkhira participants who attended the workshop spoke passionately in favour of extending the project’s duration and of keeping the Democracy and Justice Forum Centres in operation.

They also advocated mobile telephone-based citizen journalism. Indeed, one major finding of the project was that the media acts as a “source multiplier on behalf of youth.”