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'Bangladesh' by Shirley Randell

Dear Friends,

Bangladesh
BangladeshWhile the Bangladeshi people have an enormously rich cultural history, not only for trade, folk music, sculpture, weaving, terracotta, etc but also was once the largest religious centre in Asia, the country now suffers terribly from environmental and infrastructural challenges. The weather is becoming hot again as the monsoon season seems to be over. Just over an hour's heavy rain during these monsoons exposes Dhaka's poor drainage system, subject to land-grabbing, clogged with waste and hardly maintained, and slack management of traffic. Waterlogging brings vehicles on all major roads and streets to a standstill for hours. Many passengers have to walk kilometres after getting off buses stuck in nearly unending tailbacks, some taking over six hours to reach their homes. Sewage lanes are also clogged and waste mixes with the rainwater. Resilient, hardworking Bangladeshis with astonishing tenacity and perseverance demonstrate their patience, often stuck in traffic for hours to get to a destination only 15 minutes away. Flooding has also worsened in the districts as major rivers continue to swell – over 500,000 people are marooned.

The annual Liveability Index published by the Economist Intelligence Unit lists Dhaka as the second least liveable among 140 cities worldwide, based on indicators of stability (violence, crime, terror), health care, education, culture, environment and infrastructure. The World Health Organisation's air pollution monitoring report places Dhaka 23rd of 1600 cities in 91 countries, with the worst urban air quality: Bangladesh1never-ending traffic jams, incessant power cuts, air heavy with dust and pollution, thousands upon thousands of people thronging the streets every single day - Bangladesh as a whole has about 1,000 people per square kilometer. Traffic systems are chaotic: cars, buses, rickshaws, three wheeler CNGs, bikes, people, donkeys and chickens share public space, and footpaths resemble Swiss cheese rather than sidewalks. Following the disruption caused by flooding, thousands of private university students this week took to the streets blocking traffic in the capital and elsewhere to press home their demand for lifting the 7.5 percent VAT imposed on their tuition fees in the current budget. City dwellers suffered immensely as thousands of students barricaded key points for over six hours. One colleague's journey of 9 kms from Dhanmondi to Gulshan took over three hours.

Due to the serious shortages of transport during the July exodus from Dhaka for Eid-il-Futr there were harrowing scenes of people hanging from rooftops of trains and pedestals, people standing in motor launches back to back like stacks of bamboo, and people packed into buses like sardines. They travelled in motor launches that capsize, buses that collide or fall into ditches, and risked falling from the over crowded and dangerous rooftops of trains. According to a study conducted by the Bangladesh3Accident Research Centre, road accidents claim 12,000 lives annually on average and lead to about 35,000 injuries. Motor launch disasters have taken more than 4000 lives in the last 38 years. Road accidents happen not just because the roads are congested; in many cases the operators are badly trained, overworked and vehicles are in disrepair. Launches capsize because they are not fit to operate, and are crammed beyond capacity.

Attackers armed with machetes have killed another blogger on the listed target of Islamist militants. His is the fifth murder of an online advocate of secularism and critic of religious extremism in this Muslim-majority country since I have worked here. The Bangladesh branch of Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), Ansar-al-Islam, claimed responsibility for the killing and warned of more to come. The identification and arrest of the killers is very slow.

Nonetheless, many Bangladeshis continue to demonstrate their country's determination, creative talents and spirit in the face of such adversities. Sir Fasle Hasan Abed has won the 2015 Food Prize. Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) has lifted 150 million people out of poverty, and after being a low-income country for more than 40 years Bangladesh has become a lower middle-income country with GDP of 1,080 USD in 2014, foreign aid at 1.8 percent of GDP, and now ranked the 35th largest economy in the world by the World Bank. Bangladesh is also high in OECD rankings due to the resilience of the economy and high and stable growth for well over a decade, despite political upheaval and weak external demand. The government aims to provide electricity to all of the country's households by 2021, planning to generate 220 megawatts of electricity for around 6 million households by 2017 through the solar home system (SHS) programme. Around 15 million Bangladeshis already live in homes powered by SHSs under a government scheme to provide clean power to communities with no access to grid electricity, and every month 50,000-60,000 Bangladeshi households are connected. The Government's plan is to empower 75 million Bangladeshis through renewable energy by 2020 and make the country the first comprehensive solar nation of the world.

Work
My counterpart, Dr Mokshedul Hamid and I completed extensive consultations and drafts of the Pre-service Education and Teachers College/University Partnerships policies for the Second Teaching Quality Improvement in Secondary Education project in June. We hope our contributions will serve the successful implementation of valuable progressive policies over time. In July I enjoyed assisting a senior police officer to advance his English competence for further study in the UK, and began very short virtual assignments with the UK Institute of Development Studies and the University of Rwanda. As well, I am currently teaching English to a Filipino secondary student. My Bangladesh visa is until February 2016, and I must decide before then whether to continue consultancy work based in Bangladesh or Australia.

Travels
I am back in Dhaka after a very fruitful time in August in New South Wales, Perth and New Zealand. As an Ambassador for the Australian Centre for Educational Leadership I was delighted to participate in a panel discussion and Q&A on 'Power in Transition and Alignment' in CEO Dianne Rodger-Healey's first major conference on The Power of a Woman, as well as a Women in Development supper in Sydney and a breakfast at the Zonta Club of Sydney – the first of nine speeches to Zonta clubs in both countries. As an International Honorary Member of Zonta I have great respect for the fine work this organisation is doing at home and around the world, being familiar with its 'Say No to Violence' campaign and Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV in Rwanda. I was also welcomed as a speaker to Rotary International and Graduate Women International meetings. In Bangladesh4Perth I gave the Fifth Annual Perth Modernian Society Oration for PMS students and guests on 'Global Citizenship: Learning to contribute to and take part in a Wider World'. At Curtin University I joined Dr Jaya Earnest for a presentation on the current progress with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and our most recent joint seminar at the Commission on the Status of Women in March in New York. This visit was a great opportunity to catch up with family in Sydney, Canberra, Perth and NZ, including my youngest grandchild at the time, Beatrix Ruby. You will see in the photo that she was getting ready for the birth of her baby sister who arrives very soon. Wonderful family celebrations were organised by Ellen and Adam, my brothers (photo) - Bob Izett with his family & Geoff Spencer; Bill Izett with his family & the Lofthouses; and the Loneragan family. I am grateful for very generous hospitality from friends and family all over NZ and enjoyed meeting old and new cousins. Next week I will be in Kolkata with my friend Gomathy Venkateswar for a few days, speaking at a meeting of the University Women's Association of Calcutta and avoiding the cattle slaughter in Bangladesh streets during the upcoming Eid-ul-Adha. Then I have a week in Australia to attend Alan's 80th birthday in October, via Melbourne, and in late November to assist Vicky and Andrew with my 13th grandchild as they continue to balance their parenting with rowing commitments.

Rwanda
Economists and private sector players predict that Rwanda could see increased interest from foreign investors following a favorable ranking by the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report 2014-2015. Rwanda was ranked as the most efficiently governed country in Africa and seventh globally, "secured, thanks, in large part, to the low level of waste in government spending". The survey of over 140 countries, takes into account a list of indicators that influence the productivity of businesses in a country: national institutions, infrastructure, access to markets and finance, education, macro-economic environment, efficiency of labour, service markets, technology, innovation, government spending, regulations and transparency of policy-making. Rwanda also ranks as the top country in Africa for its capacity to attract and retain its top talent and comes second only to The Gambia for senior management appointments being made on merit rather than nepotism and cronyism. The ranking came days after another ranking by the Foreign Policy magazine's Global Profitability Index, where Rwanda was placed eighth globally in terms of profitability and the African Development Bank ranked Rwanda first in the 2015 African economic outlook index. The international Green Climate Fund has granted accreditation status to Rwanda's Ministry of Natural Resources, allowing the ministry to access project-based climate finance from the world's largest climate change adaptation and resilience fund to help it transition to a green economy. The ministry is among only 20 institutions accredited by the Green Climate Fund worldwide and is the only non-financial government institution to receive accreditation status.


Bangladesh5At the end of August, the Kigali city office began the implementation of its car-free zone policy that aims to ban all cars from the Central Business District in order to create a pedestrian-friendly city, where citizens can rely on dependable bus transportation for their daily commute. This is the most recent in a long line of mandates that have been employed to drive the clean up of the city. Rwandan President Paul Kagame runs a tight ship and is an active advocate for green living. By banning the manufacture and use of plastic bags, promoting anti-littering habits and hosting a mandatory community clean-up once a month, the country has succeeded in breeding a culture of eco-conscious citizens. Wi-Fi hotspots are being installed for pedestrians walking the streets and buses already have Wi-Fi connection. Apart from the positive impact it will have on air pollution in the city, the car-free initiative will also significantly reduce high traffic congestion on the busy roads.

Refugee crisis
Australia's reputation has suffered under the government's hard line efforts to 'stop the boats' and exile asylum seekers to camps outside Australia where their treatment is kept secret. The decision under pressure to take in 12,000 Syrian refugees has come as a welcome reversal of policy, but it was announced together with the former Prime Minister (yes, another change of PM!) committing the Australian air force to join with US planes in bombing ISIS within Syria. It has been encouraging to see the groundswell of support from energised ordinary Australians who have joined in large numbers those who have been lobbying the government intensely for months to take some action over this world humanitarian crisis. Half the Syrian population of 23 million has been displaced, more than 240,000 people have been killed, 11,000 killed in prison and 150,000 political prisoners. There are 7.6 million internally displaced people and 4 million refugees, with 650,000 people trapped in conflict zones.

Women's Advancement
President Ashraf Ghani has been consistently appointing women to government positions and nominated Anisa Rasooli, head of the Afghan Women Judges Association, to be Afghanistan's first female Supreme Court judge, sadly later rejected by Afghan lawmakers. Justice Catherine Holmes was named as Queensland's Chief Justice, the 19th and first female. Linda Dessau, a long-serving judge of the Family Court of Australia is the 29th, first female and first Jewish Governor of Victoria. The Victorian Government has appointed the first gender and sexuality commissioner, Rowena Allen, an effective, experienced and longstanding advocate for LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) people in both the community and government sectors. Sofie Laguna won Australia's top fiction prize, the $60,000 Miles Franklin Literary Award, for the novel, The Eye Of The Sheep. Sarah Adam-Gedge, a former executive of IBM is the managing director of Avanade Australia - one of a growing club of women at the top of tech organisations, including Pip Marlow at Microsoft, Maile Carnegie at Google, Kate Burleigh at Intel, Karen Stocks at Twitter and Kate Vale at Spotify. A royal record was broken on 9 September with Queen Elizabeth II's 23,226th day on the British throne, a milestone which saw her supersede Queen Victoria—her great-great grandmother—as the country's longest-serving monarch.

Women in Politics
There were 10 women in Cabinet when Julia Gillard was prime minister, and just two women now. The change of government when the Coalition under Tony Abbott came to power in 2013 should not have meant a dramatic drop in the number of female voices heard (although the change of leader to Malcolm Turnbull may make a difference). Within just a couple of years, Australia moved from having a female prime minister, a female governor general and a number of female premiers, to having no women at all in such positions until Annastacia Palaszczuk became Queensland premier in early 2015. During the recent launch of a new ANZ White Paper on gender inequality, Gillard lamented new research that found female representation in Australian parliaments declining from 30.8% in 2009 to 29% in 2014, and our world ranking dropping from 20th in the world to 48th. There has been an improvement in 2015 with state advancement but Australia still ranks between El Salvador and South Sudan sitting at 42 out of 140 countries, with the Philippines slightly better at 41, and Iraq and South Sudan being only marginally worse at 43. The figures particularly point to insufficient numbers of women in conservative governments. In Western Australia, 45% of Labor MPs in the State Parliament are women, compared with 20% of Liberal MPs. Labor has committed to increase its number of women to 50% by 2025 and some Liberal MPs are calling for the Liberal party to set a female target of 30%. As usual there are the typical concerns about the 'merit' of women but not about the men of a similar age, race and background currently in Cabinet

Women in the Military
Bangladesh6The Armed Forces of the Philippines now provide equal opportunities to female soldiers and members of the LGBTI community to succeed as soldiers. In an historic first, two women, First Lieutenant Shaye Haver, an Apache helicopter pilot and Captain Kristen Griest, a military platoon leader graduated from the US Military's elite Ranger School after completing a grueling 62-day training course which pushes students to their physical and mental limits. Of the 19 women and 381 men to begin the course, just 96 completed. Former Chief of Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison said that his experience in the Army in the last few years proves change is possible. "It's about data. I'll quote this stat that I'm most proud of...We went from below 10% of our workforce as women in 2011 to the point now where 25% of all cadets are women" - an extra 660 women. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai urged world leaders to cut eight days of military spending to give all children access to 12 years of free education - 39 billion dollars

Women and Violence
In Australia, domestic violence is the number one non-disease related cause of death, disability and illness for women aged 15-44. Australian police deal with a dv case every two minutes. Across the country 62 women have been killed this year and in Queensland four women were killed last week by men they knew. In that state every day police respond to 200 call-outs to dv — that is about 70,000 a year, which is 30 per cent more than four years ago. It is clear that a major change in Australia's culture is needed to prevent these shocking brutal tragedies. As one strategy to challenge negative attitudes such as prejudice, discrimination and harassment, which can lead to violence against women and children, the Victorian Government has announced Respectful Relationships education for all students Prep to Year 10. The Tasmanian Government has also announced it will follow suit.

Women in Sport
Caroline Amasis Maher is the first Arab-African woman to be inducted into the World Taekwondo Sports Hall of Fame for her efforts towards 'Paving The Way For Egyptian Women To Excel'. Australia's women Diamonds won their third-straight Netball World Cup (former netball players who learned a lot from their sport include Kate McKenzie, Chief Operating Officer of Telstra, Karen Stocks, Managing Director of Twitter Australia, Raelene bangladesh7Castle, CEO of the Canterbury Bulldogs, and Marne Fechner CEO of the Netball World Cup 2015). Australia won the Women's Ashes over England lifting them five points clear at the top of the ICC Women's World Championship. Serena Williams, surely the greatest female tennis player in history, and possibly the most dominant single athlete ever in any sport, won again at Wimbledon and was within two matches of the Grand Slam. Australia's Kim Crow won gold and was awarded World Champion in the Women's Single Scull, Ellen's Lightweight Women's Quadruple Scull came fourth in the world, and Andrew's greatly improved Women's Eight were eighth at the 2015 World Rowing Championships in Aiguebelette, France. Vicky's Coxless Women's Four (photo) came fourth at the Under 23 World Championships in Plovdiv Bulgaria. Ellen and Vicky are two of Australia's very few international women's coaches, both narrowly missing out on medals. Rowing Australia, still a very male-dominated sport has announced the welcome appointment of Katherine Ginbey as its Chief Commercial Officer and has received a $75,000 participation grant from the Australian Sports Commission to fund a project to redesign its Coach Education program. The CEO of Harvey Norman, Katie Page, has signed a sponsorship deal with the first female driver pair to race in Bathurst 1000 since 1998, including 20-year-old racer Renee Gracie from Queensland The Matildas became Australia's most successful women's soccer team at the World Cup by beating Brazil at the knock-out stage and are seeking a raise to the minimum full-time wage in Australia - many currently juggle their full-time training with other work. They are paid $500 for each international game they play, while the Socceroos are paid $6000 for international games. Female athletes in Australia still receive a fraction of the pay, coverage and sponsorship of their male counterparts.

Since my last newsletter we have lost two family members. Sue Sherriff (96), beloved by my mother, widow of Jenny's brother, Wing Commander Jack McGuire, AAF and RAF test pilot killed in 1941 over London. I visited my greatly loved Aunty Sue in Newton Ferres whenever I was in England and had planned another stopover next year. She would meet my train dressed in her purple dress and purple hat and we travelled to her home in her purple car! And my grandchildren Emilia, Harrison and Isabella Randell lost their beloved Nana, Leslie Bacon. They stood together at the funeral while Harry read their eulogy and Millie read this poem by David Harkins, chosen by the Queen to be read at the funeral of the Queen Mother.

You can shed tears that she is gone
or you can smile because she has lived.
You can close your eyes and pray that she'll come back
or you can open your eyes and see all she's left.

Your heart can be empty because you can't see her
or can be full of the love you shared.
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.

You can remember her and only that she's gone
or you can cherish her memory and let it live on.
You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
or you can do what she'd want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.

 

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