Bangladeshi Youth Leading Through COVID-19

Flyer for the webinar: "Leading Through COVID-19: How is Bangladesh confronting the pandemic?"

Continuing their response efforts to COVID-19 in Bangladesh, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and Dhaka University’s (DU) Microgovernance Research Initiative, led by Associate Professor of Political Science Aynul Islam, Ph.D., organized 11 webinars for the Students Against Violence Everywhere (SAVE) network. More than 200 students and faculty from 21 universities participated in virtual events designed to provide a space for young leaders and technical experts to share knowledge and best practices that enhance young people’s capacity to counter COVID-19 challenges, with an emphasis on strengthening social cohesion.

“As a [young person], I have duty to contribute for the community in this COVID-19 pandemic. I’m working with SAVE Youth as a fellow and participating in webinar engaging myself [to] be conscious and mentally active in this tough situation.”

– SAVE youth fellow who participated in a webinar

Dipu Moni, Ph.D., a member of Parliament and the minister for education of the government of Bangladesh, joined the webinar session, “Higher Education Challenges and Responses in the Time of Pandemic,” on May 27. Moni spoke about DU’s pioneering work in online education and youth humanitarian engagement during the pandemic and noted the government’s efforts to introduce and expand online education. She concluded her speech by saying: “Online education will be a reality, not only during the COVID-19 era but in the post-COVID-19 [environment] too.”

IFES Regional Director for Asia-Pacific Vasu Mohan spoke on “Promoting Social Cohesion and Inclusion on Social Media” and addressed the “infodemic” – a “tsunami of information” that makes it difficult to differentiate good information from misinformation, disinformation, rumors and fake news. Mohan emphasized the critical role youth and civil society play in countering disinformation and hate speech.

In a session on “COVID-19 Social Unrest, Protest and Conflict in Bangladesh,” IFES Country Director for Bangladesh and Sri Lanka Silja Paasilinna spoke about global conflict dynamics and social unrest generated by the COVID-19 crisis, explaining that “in terms of conflict dynamics as a result of COVID-19, we’re seeing simultaneous global trends of underreporting and overreacting: underreporting from conflict zones and complex emergencies due to access issues and diversion of attention and resources; overreacting due to fear, stigma, political opportunism and increased poverty.” Professor Sadeka Halim, Ph.D., dean of the DU Faculty of Social Sciences, discussed how COVID-19 is exacerbating existing inequalities in Bangladesh, such as poverty and the unequal status of women and ethnic minorities, and how young people, who play an important role in conflict resolution, can mitigate the effects from COVID-19. With support from IFES, SAVE and youth promise fellows at DU are conducting desk research on conflict related to COVID-19.

During the webinar on “COVID-19 and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Bangladesh,” Lasanthi Daskon, IFES deputy country director for Sri Lanka, noted that disability is complex and often intersects with other points of marginalization, such as poverty. When speaking about disaster responses, Daskon noted, “The global crisis of COVID-19 is deepening pre-existing inequalities, exposing the extent of exclusion and highlighting that work on disability inclusion is imperative. People with disabilities – one billion people – are one of the most excluded groups in our society and are among the hardest hit in this crisis in terms of fatalities.” Daskon explained that disaster responses must integrate the voices of people with disabilities to overcome the further marginalization that could occur if recovery plans fail to incorporate their input.

Ashley Law, IFES youth specialist, spoke on “Youth Engagement and Activism Online and Offline in the COVID-19 Crisis.” Law discussed the importance of opportunities for young people to engage online and offline, especially in terms of digital activism to counter disinformation and stigma or to share valuable information to raise awareness with peers and community members. Law said, “With half of the global population under 30, we must think about activism from a lens of bridging the digital divide and creating meaningful opportunities for civic engagement through both online and offline avenues as technology does not reach every young person.” During this webinar, SAVE leaders also shared how they have promoted young people’s participation through, for example, social media campaigns that promote good hygiene practices, researching incidents of violence against women during the pandemic and offline activities like making face masks for community members.

Other webinars in the series focused on women’s rights in the COVID-19 context, protecting public health during and post-lockdown, and more.

The webinar series and the desk research conducted by SAVE and youth promise fellows are funded with UK aid from the UK government and coordinated with the support of DU. The contents of this story are the responsibility of IFES and do not necessarily reflect the views of the UK government. The webinars are a key element of IFES’ civic education programming in Bangladesh.

Published on August 12, 2020.

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