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Empowerment of Women – The Legislative & Ideological  Issues

 Afroza Begum

Published on April 01, 2006


The Legislative Issues:

As women comprises about 50% population of Bangladesh, for economic development of the country as a whole, the role of women and their participation in the process of socio-political and economic uplift is imperative.

Bangladesh is carrying the legacy of the backwardness of the women as a suppressed and exploited class which is found to happen during the centuries down in the history due to the evolution of vested interested of a male dominant society although long back in history of Bengal, women had dominant as well as equal social status in the beginning of the agrarian society.

However, given the situation of the present, there are several socio- political issues, which need to be addressed step by step to empower the women in Bangladesh to enhance their participation in the socio- political and economic activity.

Although the constitution of Bangladesh has envisaged equal right of women side by side with men, but the real environment is not up to that which gives women to be able to exercise equal right against men in the present socio-economic conditions. The worse example is that, in some Unions in the country side, due to serious inflict of stigma, even during even the national elections the women are not allowed to visit the polling centers and caste their vote through secret ballot to their chosen candidate.

First of all if we look into the statistics, we would find that comparatively the participation of the girl children attending schools to undertake formal education is very poor. The consciousness in the society in this respect is inflicted with several stigmas. Except in a very small section of the society in the urban area, the vast majority of the urban poor and generally in the rural area, a girl child is severely neglected in the family as far as the question of formal education being required as the fundamental right of a citizen as has been inspired in the constitution of Bangladesh, because it is generally considered by the male head of the family that education was not much necessary for the girl child, because, eventually the girl will be confined indoor and essentially be engaged in household work, and only further to the extent of putting her labour in the domestic processing of the agricultural yields on which the vast section the Bangladeshi population is depending economically.

However, severe poverty and unemployment has driven quite a considerable section of the rural women in the unskilled and semi- skilled labour market of Bangladesh, as construction labourers, factory or household workers, and lack of education has deprived them even the opportunity to enter into the skilled or of even better fields in the limited labour market of Bangladesh. But, women in the labour market also are facing severe discrimination and exploitation in terms of unequal treatment in considering the wages while compared with her male co-worker.

This situation of discrimination, exploitation and suppression of women as a class cannot be changed up to the spirit of the constitution of Bangladesh, which is the achievement of sacrifice of women too in the war of independence, unless there is an integrated program of the Political Parties, the Government and the NGO's, taken emphatically for the empowerment of the women politically, socially and economically.

The social impediments rest in the low level of consciousness of the vast majority. In this respect the role of the Political Parties and the NGO's are important. Although the role of the NGO's engaged in awareness and micro-credit programs involving the rural women had shown some positive results, but the role of the political parties in creating congenial environment for the smooth functioning and advancement of the NGO's in this respect was never adequate, and in some instances had even been in the negative. The NGO's have been reported to be facing hindrances in some areas of the country where misinterpreted religious sanctions propagated by a bunch of half- educated Mullahs have largely affected the propagation of the awareness programs for the women folk undertook by them. In this conflict, the role of the grass root leaders of the democratic progressive political parties have been found in many occasions to be shy and even the members of the major political parties like AL or BNP in the grass root level particularly BNP being leaned towards attracting support of the so-called dubious religious political forces for the vote also took timid or dubious role.

Although, both AL and BNP have written program for action in their own manifesto, the commitment for the support and implementation of the awareness programs for the empowerment women in the society in all respects but their grass root leaders never had been found to be interested to support and undertake such campaign, understandably for the reason of petty patriarchal interest of male hegemony.

In this respect, an example may be cited that, although the present BNP led Government directed a program of "Food for Education" for the girl children but those allocated food never achieved its desired objective, because the persons mainly male who were responsible to implement the program rarely acted sincerely and honestly.

Therefore, in this context the agenda of giving women the reserved and protected number of positions in the Parliament, the central Government, the local Government and in the Government services (specially by increased quota in the education, health & family planning, social welfare and judiciary) through legislative action has its relevance.

The women in Bangladesh had been looking forward that a comprehensive bill shall be moved in the coming winter session of the Parliament, to bring about the necessary legislation to help undertake the political steps for the empowerment of women so that we can witness the improvement in participation of women in the socio-political and economic activity. Specially, the Four Party alliance commanding the required two-third majority required to bring about the expected legislations had now this opportunity to prove their sincerity towards their election manifesto consisting their commitments to undertake necessary legislative action for the political empowerment of women in Bangladesh.

But, unfortunately it is reported that, in a meeting held on 14th January, 2004, the leaders of Four Party Alliance chaired by Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, agreed to start the process to put forward a bill in the coming winter session of the Parliament expected to be commencing from 18th January, 2004, introducing 50 reserved seats only for women in the Parliament. It was further agreed that, only the Political Parties who have now secured the elected seats in the Parliament and in the numbers proportionate to their existing original numbers should nominate the reserved seats for women. They also agreed that, this amendment of the constitution should be made effective from the same session.

The reaction outside the Four Party Alliance was mixed and faced severe criticism in a few particular aspects, because the Women Organizations for long were demanding for at least 100 reserved seats in the Parliament to be secured through direct election.

It obviously caused discontent among the Women Organizations, because they were not discussed by the ruling Alliance before taking of this particular decision on this matter.

The leader of the Coalition of Woman's' Organizations, Mrs. Ayesha Khanam giving her response informed that, last year in a meeting of the Coalition of The Woman's' Organizations with the Law Minister, Barrister Moudud Ahmed, happened to have expressed at that time to agree with the demand for introducing 100 reserved seats for women in the Parliament through direct election, but now the decision taken by the Four Party Alliance, is disappointing.

Barrister Tania Amir commented that, the days for women securing ornamental nominated reserved seats in the Parliament should end.

It is strongly felt that, by keeping the system of nomination rather than direct election the expectation of the women to attain their just, proper, dignified, unbiased, independent and unfettered representation will not be ensured, rather the women representative becoming nomination seekers have still to depend greatly on the existing Political Parties and in such a situation obviously as it had been found from experience in the previous occasions that the activity of those nominated MPs mostly became influenced and guided by the partisan agenda of the existing political parties and for whom the agenda for Empowerment of Women had always been a secondary issue.

The Unity of the Women Organizations clearly explained during a meeting held today, 15th January, 2004 at the central Sahid Minar that, the above reason for demanding direct election and for at least 64 reserved seats distributed in the manner to be each one from an area of the existing Police Station, and demanded with this view to strongly consider the issue. The Four Party Alliance under the leadership of Begum Khaleda Zia being a woman herself called upon once again to take steps accordingly without shifting her own position committed during her election campaign in 2001. The demonstration and rally of the women pressed their demand to the Government particularly to the Prime Minister to show Begum Khaleda Zia now her sincere intention to keep her commitment and undertake to move the appropriate legislative amendment to open up the real opportunity to get the true representatives of women seeking empowerment getting directly elected as MP with dignity for a change.

Adding much to the disappointment that the legislation for introducing and enhancing the number women as and where applicable through directly elected reserved seats at the local Government level and the other issue for enhancing the reserved quota for employment in the public services, were not discussed at all, at this point of time.


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