Statement by Ambassador Rabab Fatima, Permanent representative of Bangladesh to the UN at the General Discussion on agenda item 3 (a) at the 59th Commission for Social Development on 09 February 2021

Theme: Socially just transition towards sustainable development: the role of digital technologies on social development and well-being of all.

 I thank you Madame Chair; and I warmly congratulate you and other members of the bureau on your election.  We are in very good hands as the Commission meets in the midst of the pandemic.

My delegation aligns itself with the statement made by G77 and China.

The relevance of this year’s priority theme couldn’t have been timelier. The role of digital technologies in ensuring a just and equitable social transition is more relevant than ever.

We are confronted with an unprecedented crisis.  The pandemic has disrupted our lives and livelihoods in a manner never imagined; unraveling our hard-earned socio-economic and development achievements.  Economic setbacks at national and global levels are exacerbating uncertainties and inequalities everywhere.  Inequality has mounted beyond incomes and inequalities.  Those living in disadvantageous and vulnerable situations are the worst hit.

To recover from this setback and to ensure a socially just transition, we cannot agree more on the need to better utilize the power of digital technologies. Digital technology could be one of the most promising tools for creating an inclusive society.

We thank the Secretary General for his report in this regard. It is encouraging to know that a majority of the member states now have e-health strategies, and mobile based health supports such as m-health for targeted information campaign. Tele-medicine has become widely used, and has been a great relief during the Covid-19 lockdowns.

Digital technologies also ensured greater access to financial services, education and income opportunities, as well as access to justice.

[Madame Chair] The report also brings out stark realities of the digital divide that exists between countries as well as within communities. Nearly half of the world’s population does not use internet. The number of women using internet is way below the number of men users. The gap is wider in the least developed countries. Rural to urban divides are also startling. 80% of world’s poor live in rural areas where affordability is an additional barrier to their digital access and inclusion.

The pandemic has highlighted the existing digital divide, as well as exacerbate it. The most serious manifestation of that is in the education sector.  Globally, 1.6 billion students are affected by the pandemic; among which the students from the developing countries and from the most vulnerable groups, with no opportunity for distant learning, are the biggest victims of the gaping digital divide.

We cannot let the digital divide stand on the way for a socially just transition. There are great examples to follow and new examples to be set to ensure that no one is left offline; or left behind.

[Madame Chair] Bangladesh has made considerable progress in advancing socio-economic development, especially in the areas of poverty eradication and lowering inequality, women’s empowerment, and in ensuring inclusive and productive growth.  Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s “Digital Bangladesh” campaign, launched in 2009, has brought about transformational changes in the lives of the people, especially women, through progress in the field of digital technology.


In the last decade, tremendous strides have been made in internet penetration, going from about 1% penetration to over 60% penetration. In the same period of time, the cost of internet access has been brought down to 1% of what it used to be 10 years back.

Earnings from ICT related work has more than quadrupled, from $25 million to over a billion in this period.  Our e-commerce sector has rapidly expanded, and so has mobile financial services. We have one of the fastest growing mobile phone users in the world. And this has all had transformative changes for women, and for marginalized groups and rural population.

Penetration of digital connectivity has not only facilitated economic development, but also catalyzed social changes.  Connectivity has opened brought information to the fingertips of the people, raised awareness; opened up opportunities, especially of women and the youth.  Over 7000 digital centers established across the country, down to the grassroots level, reach essential services to the people, starting with land mutation, to delivery of safety net programmes.

The pandemic has shown us the potentials of the digital platform to respond to the crisis.  During the pandemic lockdown, the national helpline “333” was repurposed to enable millions of people access medical and other live saving services.  It also provided social services, especially relating to domestic violence and other social problems.

Our special focus has been to provide women and girls to get access to such technologies, as they were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.  We also realized the heavy toll that digital exclusion had on children’s education during the pandemic. We intend to invest in, and develop further our capacity for distance learning.  With that in mind, and to offer new opportunities for children and youth in the post pandemic era, the Government is planning to establish a digital leadership academy and centers of excellence in each and every secondary school of the country.

[Madame Chair] We recognize the potentials of digital technologies in harnessing our large youth population to socio-economic initiatives.   Towards that end, we are supporting youth-led startups and entrepreneurships. In Bangladesh, we have already seen some brilliant breakthroughs in the areas of fin-tech, transportation, and agriculture, such as, Bkash, Pathao, and Youtube village. Some of these start-up models are being replicated in other countries for their innovative approach.

As we move forward in fulfilling our aspirations to become a developed economy by 2041, we are focusing on a more inclusive and productive growth process by leveraging further on the huge potentials of a digital economy leading to creation of jobs and investments. A Hi-Tech Park hosting hundreds of digital businesses is in operation; while we expect to set up the first Digital Entrepreneurship Hub soon. A new programme, “Enhancing Digital Government and Economy (EDGE)”, aimed at supporting SMEs to benefit women in particular, is being set up as well.

[Madame Chair] Despite the progress made, and our efforts and investment, we recognize that there are challenges, and we are yet to achieve universal access to internet.

International support is essential to build the capacity of the developing countries to bridge the digital divide. For that, we need our development partners to support us by facilitating technology transfer; and by investing in infrastructure development of the ICT sector. The UN Technology Bank for LDCs can play an important role in this regard, especially to build capacities of the LDCs.  South-South and Triangular Cooperation can also play a vital and complementary role in accelerating digitalization in the post-COVID era.

Our experience has shown us how digital technology can bring about transformative social development and economic progress; and a more inclusive society. And as we fight the pandemic, with our hard-won development gains in peril, it has become all the more urgent and imperative to invest more in addressing the digital divide.

To ensure a socially just transition towards sustainable development, and to build back stronger from the pandemic, there is no alternative to inclusive and accessible digital cooperation.

I thank you.