Around 50 women leaders of the Awami League, Jatiyotabadi Dal and Jatiya Party, discussed the issue yesterday at an event called 'Advancing Women’s Leadership in the National Election.'
This year has seen a global rise in women holding political office, with a record number of female candidates elected to the United States Congress from the recent midterm elections alone.
Bangladesh is proving to be no exception, even though it has been historically difficult to win a seat in parliament on a direct mandate as parties are usually reluctant to nominate women.
Around 50 women leaders of the Awami League, Jatiyotabadi Dal and Jatiya Party, discussed the issue yesterday at an event called “Advancing Women’s Leadership in the National Election.”
Organized by Democracy International, the discussion formed part of the Strengthening Political Landscape project (SPL) funded by USAID and UKAid.
"Women are still being treated as women, not as people, by all political parties," Selima Hossain, a former minister and BNP vice chairman, said at the discussion.
Speakers said that despite doing so much grassroots campaigning and groundwork, politicians routinely set women aside for the 50 seats reserved for women.
“I have been holding a reserved seat for the past two terms and I appreciates its existence, but it is not wise to think that women that cannot be directly elected in constituencies,” AL lawmaker Sofura Begum said.
BNP Vice-Chairperson Selima Rahman urged all political parties to bring women from the grassroots and give them a place in the main party in order to advance female leadership.
“How will women’s empowerment happen if for decades women are not given the option to get nominations but are set aside to fill reserved seats?” she asked.
Mohila Awami League general secretary Mahmuda Begum said having 33% female candidates in parliamentary elections will not be ensured unless a law is put in place by the Election Commission.
Dr Shammi Ahmed, International Affairs secretary of Bangladesh Awami League, said there was no shortage of suitably qualified female candidates in the country.
“Nowadays, women are getting more education than men and there have been instances where female nomination seekers are not getting tickets in spite of being more qualified and educated then the men who receive the nominations,” she said. “What other qualification do we need to get for a nomination?”
Despite the Representation of the People Order (RPO) 2009 requiring all political parties to ensure 33% female participation in all committees by 2020, the parties tend to give women minor posts which deny them direct involvement in decision making process.
“Political parties have so far failed to ensure a significant participation of their female members in decision- and policy-making processes compared to their male colleagues,” Shirin Chowdhury, secretary of district Jatiya Mohila Party of Jatiya Party, said.
With the closing date for nominations for the December 30 parliamentary election approaching, Tuesday’s program concluded with a session organized by democracy international on how to fill up the nomination form for women leaders.