Vol. 4 Num 77 Tue. August 12, 2003  

Preparing woman UP members to face challenges

Our society is based on cooperation between men and women; the state has equal consideration for each and every citizen. But the traditional rules, rituals and other regulations of our society often create discrimination against women. Woman's rights in true sense means that they are free to move, to talk, to participate in social, economic, political and cultural affairs of the country. Struggles are continuing for a long time to remove the obstacles from every corner of the society. At present it is necessary to make laws according to the reasonable demand and need of women in different socio-economic structures. Therefore, it is important to ensure women's rights and their participation from grassroots to national level.

Our constitution clearly states of equal rights of every male and female citizen in the country. In part II, section 10 of the constitution it is mentioned that "Steps shall be taken to ensure participation of women in all spheres of national life". In section 19(1) it is mentioned that "The State shall endeavour to ensure equality of opportunity to all citizens". In section 27 it is stated that "All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law". According to section 28(1) "The State shall not discriminated against any citizen on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth" and 28(2), "Women shall have equal rights with men in all spheres of the state and of public life," and 29(1), "There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in respect of employment or office in the service of the Republic."

The constitution does not make any difference between male and female. However, the male dominated society controlling the power structure is responsible for disparity. In 1997, for the first time, women MPs were elected to reserved seats which opened up a new horizon for women to participate in the political administration.

Union Parishad is the lowest tier of local government in our country. More than 90 per cent of the people are directly related with Union Parishad. This is the only local institution where all kinds of people can get the opportunity to establish their rights while the administration is directly accountable to the people. This is the nearest administrative structure to the people. Therefore, if women get due respect and position in UP, then they are likely to receive the same in every sector of the society.

For the last 133 years males are reigning at the higher posts of the Union Parishad. This period has seen British rule, Pakistan period and more than 30 years of independence and democracy, yet the rights of women have not been ensured. Women got chance to vote at Union Parishad polls in the year 1956 but not even semblance of rights.

Presently it is known to all that democracy, development or poverty reduction, whatever it is, in true sense will not be possible if men and women do not work together. One thing should be remembered that poverty reduction is only possible when women will involve themselves in planning and implementation of resource mobilisation and empowerment. But there are several limitations even in UP article of 1983 that discriminate against women.

Prevailing limitations

- Power of decision making and its implementation is limited.

- No instruction to the Union Parishad to verify ownership of land.

- Government employees working at UP level are not accountable to the elected member of UP.

- Lack of opportunity for UP members to work with government employee and non-governmental organisation.

- Lack of opportunity to make list of resources at local level and utilise it for poverty reduction and thus ensure the right of the poor on the local resources.

- No particular responsibility laid out for the female members to participate in social programmes and different activities equally with male counterparts.

- No rule preventing early marriage.

- Unequal position of women and no decision making role in family as well as society.

- Lack of security for social mobility.

- Dependency on others and no effective share of property.

- Lack of knowledge on the part of administration and police about women's rights and lack of justice in their system.

- Lack of training for women.

In order to remove the social discrimination meaningful initiative should be taken. Such as, social economy has to be reorganised and redistributed for which the entire land reform is required, and women should be connected to every sphere of development work. Now that the women UP members have been elected they are aware of the problems of their localities. They must be preparing for accountability to the public. Therefore, functional initiative is needed to facilitate women UP members to discharge their duties and responsibilities.

In order to make the women folk more responsible the following may be heeded:

Local Government Ordinance, laws, rules, circulars, orders etc should be made easier, so that the women members can easily understand and also arrangements should be made for their education and training.

- Law of inheritance should be befittingly amended.

- Initiative for registration of marriage, birth and death should be taken to avoid early marriage and trafficking and harassment of women folk.

- Women UP members should be involved in village arbitration, specially for the trial of women offenders if any.

- Employment opportunity for the women should be provided.

- Women should be involved in natural disaster relief and rehabilitation, protection of environment and in other development work.

- Participation of women folk in various committees of the locality should be increased.

- Awareness of both male and female members should be increased in order to achieve the family, social and political rights of women.

Establishing rights of grassroots women: An NGO experience

From its inception, an NGO -- Samata -- has been working for both male and female landless poor people. It thinks the local government should be strengthened for improvement of the poor. If this institution is allowed to work freely without any uncalled for interference from party politicians, the actual improvement of people and rule of democracy at grassroots level can be achieved. In 1997, 15 women members were elected from among the landless members of Samata. As a result, Samata was inspired to work more for women's rights and, this year 62 landless women have been elected as members. Since 2000, through establishment of Women's Advocacy Council (WAC) it has been working to check violence against women, organising movement against various discriminations WAC is assuring the girl child education, helping tortured and destitute women to get the right judgement, increasing the participatory and decision making role of women, and working to give them an access to property rights. Over these few years Samata could effectively reduce the incidence of dowry, divorce, polygamy, early marriage etc. in its working area. Basically, WAC activists are doing the motivation work going from door to door. They are involving women UP members and deriving their full co-operation. As a result, women UP members are also getting more social status, and more opportunity to serve the society. Upazila Women Forum has been formed with the elected members of Union Parishad. This is a step forward in ensuring women's participation in various developmental activities.

Besides this, over all steps necessary to establish the rights of women can be:

- Empowering local government decreasing interference and control of the centre;

- Continuing training for women for both skill development and awareness creation.

- Ensuring equal rights of women over property inheritance.

- Reducing all kinds of obstacles in the way of women's participation and decision making role in socio economic activities.

- Providing all kinds of facilities, including official assistance, to the women (UP) members in order to facilitate their performance.

- Increasing transport and other allowances and honorarium of UP members without discrimination.

- Involving members of NGOs in implementation of the works of Union Parishad, such as: awareness creation; establishing legal rights; disaster management and environment protection; birth, death, marriage registration and monitoring activities; checking violence against women, child and women trafficking; employment generation; training; listing local resources; distribution of khas land and water bodies.

Union Parishad is a hundred-year experienced organisation for social change and development. This local government institution can play a revolutionary role in democratic practice, women's empowerment and education. This organisation can do so many fundamental works at the grassroots level to alleviate poverty and implement development programmes. Proper empowerment and preparation of woman UP members for undertaking such activities will go a long way in achieving the goals.

Md Abdul Kader is Executive Director and Advocate Sultana Akhter Rubi is Programme Officer (Law) of Samata.

Face-to-face meeting with woman UP members