The Islamist parties of Bangladesh are facing an unprecedented challenge, trying to meet the Election Commission’s requirement of having female members in at least one-third of all committee memberships.
Although none of the registered political parties have met this requirement yet, many including the two major parties have reported significant progress to the EC. The deadline for this condition is 2020.
But for the Islamist parties this is both an ideological and a logistic crisis. Many are unwilling to commit to having female leadership because of their religious views and some do not even have enough female members to fill 33% of the leadership positions.
EC asked all registered political parties to include 33% women in their committees before 2020 with a view to increasing women’s participation in politics.
Leaders of different Islamist parties told the Dhaka Tribune that they are not morally happy in doing this, but they are working on including women in their committees as per the EC’s instructions.
“We are working to change our party charter as required to follow the EC provision,” a leader of an Islamist party said.
Currently, Bangladesh has more than 20 Islamic political parties, of whom 11 are registered with the EC.
The EC announced the rule in 2008, but none of the registered Islamist parties have submitted the required progress reports. Currently, most of these parties have less than 1% female representation in their committees.
Only Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami took a visible step last year, amending their party charter to have 33% women in their committee by 2020.
The Pir of Chormonai Sayed Rezaul Karim, who is the ameer of Islami Andolon Bangladesh, told the Dhaka Tribune that they do not have a single woman in their committee yet.
“Our party is working to include 33% women in our committee by the deadline. The latest party meeting on July 15 decided to move forward on this,” he said.
In the parties that do have women in various committees, none of these women are working directly in the field and are not a part of the decision making process, sources in Islamist parties said. They also said female members are not interested to be in the committees.
Leaders of Islamic parties are saying they are working to find a way to include women in the committees while keeping their ideologies unchanged.
Islami Oikya Jote Secretary General Mufti Faizullah said his party was allowing women into the party’s upper levels in a way that is permissible in Islam.
“We are working on this matter and will submit our report soon to EC,” he said.
Sources said Islamic parties would require more time, may be till 2030, to comply with the EC recommendation. Most of the parties will send papers to the EC reporting on the present status of women in their committees.
The EC on June 13 sent letters to 40 registered political parties inquiring about their current status, but in reply, most Islamist parties have sought more time.
Currently, there are no women in the central and grassroots committees in different parties including Jamiat-E-Ulema-E-Islam Bangladesh, Bangladesh Khelafat Andolon, Bangladesh Islami Front (BIF), Islami Andolan Bangladesh (IAB) and Bangladesh Khelafat Mojlish.
Khelafat Majlis Secretary General Ahmad Abdul Quader told the Dhaka Tribune that they had sought more time from the EC.
He said the party had recently formed women’s units to try and recruit more women. The secretary general failed to say what the percentage of women is in the party at present.
“We have opened women’s units in Sylhet, Moulvibazar and other districts,” he added.
“Islam does not allow women in the top leadership of a party. Although there some conflicting issues here, we are nevertheless working to to fulfill the EC’s condition. But we need more time.”
He said because of social and cultural realities it would not be possible to fulfill the EC’s condition within the deadline and that the condition was unfair.
“Not a single political party, including Awami League, BNP and secular parties, meet this condition,” Faizullah added.
He said: “Some one of our party leaders said if we might need to bring our domestic helps into the party to fulfill the conditions.”
He criticised the EC’s condition, saying it was illogical and an idea imported from the west.