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Political Empowerment of Women
the outside world it maybe quite a surprise that a developing
country like ours has two women in the highest positions of power
the Prime Minister and the leader of the main opposition. This
seems to imply that women are extremely prominent in national
politics. But the fact is that our Prime Minister and Opposition
Leader are exceptions and that their position does in no way indicate
active participation of women in politics, rather it symbolizes
the trend of family inheritance in the politics of Bangladesh.
dark side of the story is, like most other areas of our social
structure, women are discriminated against and deprived of their
fundamental rights, which includes the right to participate in
the political process. Apart from a few women of the privileged
classes most of the women are not given the opportunity to have
their own opinions regarding politics, let alone taking active
part in it. It was this reality that prompted the decision to
reserve a certain number of seats for the women in our parliament.
The candidates were to be nominated by other parliamentarians
(mostly, men), not by direct votes from the citizens.
1972, as per the constitution of Bangladesh, 15 seats were reserved
for women through indirect election and the duration of the provision
was 10 years. Subsequently, the number was increased to 30 extending
the duration to 15 years. After the expiry of this duration in
1987, there was no provision for reserved women's seats in the
parliament until 1990. This system was again revived in 1990 after
the tenth amendment of the constitution. The duration of this
was also extended for another 10 years, which ended in 2000, that
is, during the seventh parliament. As a result, the eighth parliament
is running without women's representation at the least significant
amount. In spite of the continuous demand from different women's
rights organisations and the promise to fulfill the demand by
different political parties at different times, the issue of increasing
women's seats and introducing direct election for women has remained
unresolved. The present BNP government has not been able to live
up to its election campaign pledge to increase women's seats in
the parliament and ensure direct even after almost two years.
reluctance on part of the government has raised intense discussions
and arguments from various women's organisations and civil society
groups and the government as well as other political parties are
being condemned for their lack of initiative in this regard.
necessity of having a significant number of women members in the
parliament is now a commonly agreed upon issue. As when it comes
to making and controlling the laws and policies regarding the
rights of women, it is only the women, who can give a clear perspective.
is more disappointing is the sexist attitude of some male politicians.
Within the last three years, the dignity of women citizens has
been attacked at several times in our national parliament. It
is alarming that all of these comments were made in our parliament
in the presence of our honorable present and former Prime Ministers,
both of whom are women themselves. It can easily be predicted
that had the presence of women in our parliament been more prominent
and had they the integrity to defend themselves, such situations
would not have occurred. Moreover, whenever there is a question
of passing any bill regarding the rights and empowerment of women,
most of the time it cannot be done due to the non-cooperation
from the male parliamentarians and the lack of enough women parliamentarians
to make the decision possible in spite of such obstacles.
now it was a desire and a faith on behalf of the women rights
organisations that the women should be given an active and fair
chance to participate in our parliamentary process, that their
presence in parliament reflect their merit and not their connection
to pilitical bigwigs.
long awaited scientific base for their demand has been established
as IDPAA, the Institute for Development Policy Analysis and Advocacy
wing of PROSHIKA has just released the findings from their 'Public
Opinion Survey on Increasing Women's Seats and Introducing Direct
Election for Women's Representation in Parliament'.
has confirmed the activists' faith on the public opinion for the
initiative. 83.3% of the total respondents have said yes to the
question “Do you think that the election pledge (increasing women's
Seats and introducing direct election for women's representation
in parliament) should be implemented?” It is interesting to note
that women respondents who wanted to increase women's seats in
the parliament and introduce direct election outnumber male respondents
with similar views in all areas- rural and urban, all four divisions
and the country as a whole. The survey, which was conducted on1250
subjects chosen on a scientific process, revealed the assertion
of the masses for the election pledge.
result was announced in a seminar organised by PROSHIKA on July
1st. After the result of the survey was presented by Deputy Director
of IDPAA, Mustafa Abdur Rahman, the discussion took off with speeches
by Mahbub-Ul-Karim, Senior Vice-President; PROSHIKA, Shirin Akhter,
President, Karmojibi Nari, Najmunnesa Mahtab, Professor and Chair,
Department of Women's' Studies, University of Dhaka, Mahfuz Anam,
Editor, the Daily Star, Bazlur Rahman, Editor; Daily Shangbad,
Kazi Faruque Ahmed, President; PROSHIKA and other renowned women's
right activists and development workers.
Razia Amin, Ward Commissioner; Dhaka City Corporation shared her
bitter experience from the working field. Her story about how
she fought with her party and finally rebelled in order to be
elected directly for her constituency confirms that women politicians
today can fight their own battle, can win the voters' confidence
directly and therefore do not need to be puppets in the hands
of the male politicians in order to be nominated for their positions
which they can easily achieve by their own merit.
speaker's thanked PROSHIKA for carrying out this important survey.
Shirin Akhter referred to this survey as an instrument for women's
rights workers in their movement regarding the direct representation
of women in our national parliament. Mahfuz Anam suggested that
it is a representation of the average peoples' wishes and a scientific
proof of our desires and needs on the issue.
to the State Minister's recent disrespectful comment towards women,
Shirin Akhter demanded that if such a thing has been said in our
parliament, it should immediately be expunged. They went on to
say that in spite of having two women as our Prime Minister and
Main Opposition leader we are not being able to rely on their
support due to some inevitable reasons; first of all, because
of their position in the politics, which they have not achieved
by mere struggle but largely as family legacies. Secondly, because
although they are at the heads of their parties, they have to
heavily rely on the judgment and support of their fellow politicians,
who are mostly male who are not really interested in women's rights.
Some of the speakers have even gone as far as to refer to our
Prime Minister and the opposition leader as 'social males' in
this male dominated political arena.
Rahman stressed the fact that in spite of their pre-electoral
promise to take care of this pledge, the BNP government has miserably
failed to do anything about this so far. “Whether it is just indecisiveness
on part of the government, or is it the influence of its alliance
with Jamaat, the time has come to consider it.” He suggested.
Anam pointed out that often the women's movement in our country
has been guided more by an emotional impulse other then anything
else. In order to achieve success in this struggle, women activists
should have more reliance on strategy rather than emotion. They
also should construct a 'roadmap' concerning the goals towards
the political empowerment of women. He suggested that they could
consider taking on the strategy of blocking votes in order to
pressurize the political parties to comply with their demands.
Anam concluded by offering his honest support for this movement.
her extra-ordinary experience in teaching and research in the
field, Najmunnesa Mahtab also offered some suggestions such as
introducing the female perspective in policymaking. She expressed
the importance of raising awareness, providing training and education
and finally, developing and advocating the women agenda.
of the key points that concerned almost all the speakers was the
absence of a link between the research concerning the rights of
women and the implementation of those results at the policy level.
They have all agreed that the solution depends largely on the
direct representation and political empowerment of women. The
concept that confined participation of women in the parliament
within 15 reserved seats through indirect election may have been
appropriate for the context of that time. Three decades have passed
since then, and our women have achieved a lot within this time
period. Given the opportunity, they will surely succeed in their
direct participation in the parliamentary process. Considering
the current male dominance in our national politics, the reserved
seats for women at the moment are nothing less than a necessity.
But once women come under the process of political empowerment,
they will prove themselves and will not need the support of those
“reserved' seats. The process of direct election will only strengthen
our women community and therefore will lead toward the empowerment
of women at large.
survey gives us the hope that considering the amount of awareness
among the general people regarding the issue, the day is not far
when they will unite to make a concerted effort to work towards
the complete process of women's empowerment.