According to the Representation of the People Order (RPO) 2009, all political parties must by 2020 have 33% of women’s participation in all committees, including the executive committees
The path to the parliament through direct public mandate is not easy for female politicians as none of the political parties want to give them their desired space, speakers at a discussion said.
Despite representing different political parties, the participants all echoed that women politicians should have a common or separate platform to realize their unified demand so that those who are hardworking and dedicated among them do not get deprived of nominations.
They raised concerns that gender becomes a variable when it comes to getting party nomination ahead of national polls, even if they are dedicated to their work and gained popularity.
These conversations took place at a round table discussion organized by Democracy International and Dhaka Tribune titled “Advancing Women’s Leadership in the National Election” was arranged at the Dhaka Tribune’s auditorium on Monday.
Women politicians affiliated with Awami League and BNP, the two biggest political parties in the country, social activists and lawyers participated in the discussion, including Noorjahan Akter, Shahanaz Parvin Dolly, Bilkis Jahan Shireen, and Sherin Sultana.
According to the Representation of the People Order (RPO) 2009, all political parties must by 2020 have 33% of women’s participation in all committees, including the executive committees. But the parties are yet to make that happen, the speakers said.
Kohale Quddus Mukti, vice-president of Jubo Mohila League’s Central Committee, said politics at the grassroots level is not in favour of women. “Male politicians do not want to give space to women.”
“At the national polls, money and muscle power matter, and parties think that female candidates would not be able to handle that.
“If the election is free and fair, women can participate in larger scale,” she said.
Advocate Shamima Shahriar, human resource affairs secretary of Bangladesh Krishak League’s Central Committee, said there were examples showing party colleagues themselves motivating others not to vote for women.
Mahmuda Begum Creek, general secretary of Bangladesh Mohila Awami League’s Central Committee, said media should conduct surveys on female politicians’ popularity.
Rokeya Kabir, executive director of Bangladesh Nari Progoti Shangha, said: “Women should opt for the parties that can ensure a proper environment.”
Rasheda Begum Hira, training affairs secretary of BNP’s National Executive Committee, said: “There is an obligation of keeping 33% women’s participation in committees at the grassroots level, but parties tend to give women minor posts.”
The speakers also said that the Election Commission should ensure that there is women participation in leadership roles within the parties, and the parties should have monitoring cells.
Shama Obayed, organizing secretary of BNP’s National Executive Committee, said the parties’ decision making pays no regard to how popular and adept women politicians are at field level.
Reserved seats should be decreased gradually and when finally the parties get enough female politicians for direct election, these seats should be abolished.
Bangladesh Jatiyatabadi Samajik Sangskritik Sangstha’s Central Committee, vice-president Sharia Islam Shaila said, parties have not yet changed their views and think that women are ideal for reserved seats only.
“The women are asked why they try so hard when they are told that they can be easily selected for reserved seats.
“They [women] are told that they will be parliamentarians [through the reserved seats] and that is what it is all about,” she said.
Barrister Rumin Farhana, assistant international affairs secretary of BNP, said women cannot access the same kind of advancement in politics despite their utmost dedication compared to their male counterparts.
“The popular women have to wait years for nominations, while newcomers and under-qualified male candidates grab these seats easily by lobbying,” said Advocate Newaz Halima Arly of BNP.
Syed Moazzem Hossain Alal, joint general secretary of BNP’s National Executive Committee, said parties should be open to self-criticism and find out why they are yet to provide female politicians their desired space. “There should be social campaigns in this regard.”
Advocate Bilkis Jahan Shireen, organizing secretary of BNP’s Central Executive Committee, said the parties should award women at least one of the three organizing secretary posts in each district unit committee. “At present, the women politicians are only given secretary posts of women’s affairs by the parties.”
She also opined that the news media along with development organizations should arrange talks where leaders from BNP and Awami League, who are involved with decision making, should discuss challenges to women’s leadership.
Katie Croake, chief of party at Democracy International in Bangladesh, said there should be discussions on how the government, parliament and the Election Commission can support the increase of general seats for women in parliament.