To contribute to the vision of transforming Bangladesh into a smart Bangladesh by 2041, international development organization Plan International Bangladesh and connectivity partner to Digital Bangladesh, Grameenphone have started a joint initiative to reach 23 lakh people from the most marginalized community of the country with the training on digital literacy and online safety. Among this target population, 4.5 lakh young people, especially young women will receive direct training and support.
The project titled “Safe Digital Space for Girls and Youth” started its journey officially through a discussion programme on 5 February 2023 at a hotel in Dhaka. Honorable State Minister of Ministry of Social Welfare, Md. Ashraf Ali Khan Khasru, MP graced the event as the Chief Guest. Professor Nehal Ahmed, Director General, of Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education, and Rasheda K Chowdhury, Executive Director- CAMPE and Former Advisor of the Caretaker Government along with Grameenphone CEO, Yasir Azman, Country Director, Plan International Bangladesh, Kabita Bose and Hans Martin Hoegh Henrichsen, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, Grameenphone were present.
Yasir Azman, Chief Executive Officer, Grameenphone, said, “As a connectivity partner and responsible business citizen, we believe in empowering communities through digital literacy while also safeguarding them in the online arena. We have been playing an imperative role to educate children from online vulnerability since 2014 and upskill youth from all walks of life to deliver on the ambition of Smart Bangladesh. With the rapid digitalization, ensuring safe internet access for the last-mile citizens, including marginalized communities, and enabling them to adopt technology to improve their livelihoods is vital for the country’s long-term sustainability. This partnership with Plan International is a continuation of our commitment to include everyone in the country’s development journey and catalyze access to information and technology while leaving no one behind for the nation to reach its full potential.”
The Country Director of Plan International Bangladesh, Kabita Bose, said, “As we put our strength and focus on the country’s youth bulge, we aim to continue our contribution together to the development of an equitable society empowering children and young people as drivers of systematic change, hence ensuring digital knowledge, tools and power in their hand to challenge prevailing harmful gender norms and power relationships.”
“Governments and society as a whole need to come forward to create the enabling digital environment for the most marginalized communities of the country, ensure technological skills and resources to reduce the digital gap and create safe digital space for all, especially girls and young people.”, she added.
Md. Ashraf Ali Khan Khasru, MP, Honorable State Minister, Ministry of Social Welfare, Chief Guest of the event said, “Although we have progressed a lot in terms of creating Digital Bangladesh, but we all need to extend our hands and join hands to create a smart Bangladesh. This partnership is a great initiative towards the movement.”
Rasheda K Chowdhury, Executive Director, CAMPE and Former Advisor of the Caretaker Government gave her remarks at the event. She said “Not only missed out or left out, there are communities which are ‘pushed out’ and this partnership of Grameenphone and Plan International Bangladesh is a milestone for all of us that we are trying to address the needs of these pushed out communities such as transgender, tea workers, special children and so on.”
Grameenphone believes that connectivity can reduce inequalities and has been working to create an ecosystem. In this age of data, Grameenphone is spreading awareness to promote safer digital participation and equip them with skills to thrive in the digital space since 2014. The organization strongly supports this cause and actively promotes safer internet. In 2021, Grameenphone and Telenor Group in association with Plan International conducted a survey in four countries: Bangladesh, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Thailand. The results of that survey revealed that nearly 85% of Bangladeshi youth viewed cyberbullying as a severe issue yet 29% of them reported having experienced cyberbullying. An increase in online bullying was experienced by 18% following the outbreak of COVID-19. An exploratory research conducted by Plan International Bangladesh on Fear of Violence among girls and young women revealed that 56.6% of girls in Bangladesh had received offensive comments that violated their rights on digital platforms. Overall, a total of 78.3% of the studied girls and women reported experiencing increased mental pressure, and a significant number suffered from severe psychological trauma. As a result, some had ceased using the internet and social media, lacked self-confidence, and avoided interpersonal interactions.
Safe Digital Space for Girls and Youth (SDSGY) Project has been undertaken by Plan International Norway, Plan International Bangladesh, Grameenphone, and Telenor to address these issues. This project will help young people, especially girls, acquire information-finding knowledge, communication, etiquette, digital skills, online safety, and safe and responsible behaviour in online spaces as "digitizens" of the 21st century. Over the course of two and a half years, it intends to boost digital knowledge, skills, resilience, and a safe online environment for 2,350,000 girls and youth, particularly those from the most marginalized groups.
Through its activities the skills gaps will be identified on a map reflecting the youth group's needs; information will be disseminated through formal and informal learning methods, including trainings and peer-to-peer learning, to strengthen girls' and young people's foundational digital skills, informed behaviour, and accountability; community-based awareness activities and youth-led campaigns will enlighten community leaders on ways to establish a supportive environment for children and youth to learn and excel without fear and barriers in the online space.
By the end of the project, 450,000 girls and youth will have technical knowledge of digital skills and online safety, which will transform the lives of 2 million people.
The project will provide the skills that a wide variety of the most marginalized adolescents require.
Through storytelling methods, girls and youth will demonstrate their learning as a result of this capacity building. Based on the youth's consolidated community needs, they will be able to lead a community-based advocacy campaign and raise public awareness at different levels (family, community, local, and national) to spread the message about the significance of digital safe spaces for girls and young people in the country.