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Dhaka Tribune

Why is women leadership in politics still insignificant?

  • Desired progress towards gender parity in leadership is yet to be achieved
  • Lack of women leaders in political parties 
  • 'Women's participation in politics in patriarchal Bangladesh is a big challenge'
Update : 08 Mar 2024, 09:00 AM

The landscape of women leadership in Bangladesh presents a paradox: despite notable female figures in key political positions, the overarching advancement of women into leadership roles remains stagnant. 

Despite having a female prime minister, a female speaker, women ministers and lawmakers and women heading the major political parties, the desired progress towards gender parity in leadership is yet to be achieved.

The mandated quota of 33% female representation in all political party committees by 2020 has not been met. While there has been an increase in the participation of women in politics, their ascension to leadership roles lags significantly behind.

Apart from the Awami League and the BNP, the left-wing political parties have fallen short of meeting the prescribed targets, with little visible action towards fulfilling the goal of one-third female representation by 2030.

Zara Zebin Mahbub, a seasoned MP representing the Awami League's reserved women's seat from Chapainawabganj, highlights the systemic barriers hindering women's progress. 

She said: "Women are as active as men in politics, but only men are promoted. Despite women's equal efforts, men dominate party nominations, media coverage, and resources. The main obstacles for women in elections are men's influence, muscle power, and financial advantage."

Lack of women leaders

The Election Commission's inquiry into parties' measures regarding female representation revealed dishearteningly low compliance, with only a handful of parties, like Gana Front, meeting the 33% threshold. 

The Awami League, for instance, boasts only 18% female representation in its central working committee, while the BNP and Jatiya Party exhibit even lower percentages.

The BNP Standing Committee has 502 members, with 69 being women, accounting for 13.7% of the total. 

Similarly, the main opposition in parliament, Jatiya Party, has 365 central committee members, with 45 women, constituting 12.32%. 

This trend persists across the 39 political parties registered with the Election Commission, with women consistently forming a minority despite comprising half of the country's population.

Among other parties, the Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB) has 13.33% female leadership, while JaSad has 11.92%.

As of 2020, female leadership in BaSad, Ganatantra Party, and Communist Party is nonexistent.

However, there has been progress in some quarters, as evidenced by the addition of three women to the 14-member central committee of the BaSad Congress, representing a 21.4% female presence.

What do major party leaders say?

In this regard, Awami League Presidium Member Kazi Zafar Ullah said: "Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's leadership has significantly empowered women across Bangladesh. Notably, women occupy prominent positions within the Awami League, exemplifying our commitment to gender equality. Bangladesh stands as a beacon of success in women's empowerment on the global stage."

Responding to questions regarding the relatively low percentage of women representation, he said: "As a large and inclusive party, it's crucial to ensure equitable opportunities for all members. We are dedicated to addressing this issue and aim to fulfill the Election Commission's recommendation of 33% representation for women in our upcoming council."

Meanwhile, BNP Joint Secretary General Harunur Rashid said: "We're actively striving to enhance women's participation across all levels. However, certain roles, like those involving risk, such as disaster management and monitoring remote areas, pose challenges.”

He said there are currently only two women members out of 19 positions in the national standing committee, the highest policy-making forum of the BNP. Only six women are in the 73-member advisory council of the BNP chairperson.

Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB) President Shah Alam expressed dissatisfaction with the pace of women's leadership progress, citing societal, religious, and familial barriers. Despite challenges, he affirmed the CPB's commitment to empowering women within the party.

At the top levels of the Workers Party of Bangladesh, there is only one woman among the top 15 members and eight out of 75 in the central committee. 

The party’s General Secretary Fazle Hossain Badsha said: "Since the 1990s, major parties have seen a greater rise in women's participation compared to left-wing parties, yet we strive to take the lead in fostering gender equality."

What do experts say?

Dr Shantanu Majumder, professor at the Department of Political Science of Dhaka University, voiced his concerns over the issue. 

He told Dhaka Tribune: "Women are often demeaned to deter their political involvement, hindering progress. At the current rate, we won't see a substantial increase in women's participation." 

He continued: "The crisis of women's leadership is a global problem. Women's participation in politics in patriarchal Bangladesh is a big challenge. Although women are the leaders of the country's three main parties, only the president of the Awami League was involved in politics during her student life. But others came into politics through their husbands.”

Dr Shantanu Majumder emphasized the urgent need for democratic practices to genuinely nurture women's leadership.

Fawzia Moslem, President of Bangladesh Women's Parishad, advocates direct elections to reserved parliamentary seats as a means to ensure genuine representation and maintain women's achievements in politics. 

She said: "Our achievements in women empowerment will not be preserved unless we create an institutional basis to preserve them. To ensure equality for women, some active plans should be implemented. In this case, the state has a responsibility. 

“Despite facing adversity, women are advancing as much as they can with their abilities and skills. If the government’s responsibility is increased, gender inequality will be eliminated. Otherwise, we will lose our top position in South Asia soon,” she added.

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