Their lack of representation is hurting Bangladesh
There has always been an assumption that the reason for women’s overall subordinate position in society is because of their lack of representation in politics and decision-making policy.
This is partly true, though there are more reasons that come into play. Previously, it was assumed that if women gained political power, they would be able to influence policies, promote equality, transform institutions, and campaign for peace and sustainable development policies.
Such ideas grew in the 1970s when feminists proposed that politics does not have proper representation of women, and is highly masculine. Women’s participation in politics has increased since the 1970s with the introduction of quota systems. For example, in Bangladesh, women’s participation has been increased through the 15th amendment which holds a reservation of 50 seats for women in the parliament.
Although women’s participation increased in politics, only 20.4% are represented in the parliament; this is not sufficient to contribute to making a significant difference.
Firstly, with the increase in women’s political activism and representation, we have actually witnessed capable women political leaders, who have demonstrated great resilience and autonomy, such as Jacinda Ardern and Angela Merkel. Yet, they are leaders of developed nations. In developing nations, the story is different.
Even though women’s quota has increased the representation of women in the parliament, often, their policies and decisions are actually influenced by the men behind them. Next, most women enter politics without proper political knowledge. For example, former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia did not have any prior political experience. Her initial days were indeed difficult.
Many women also spend lots of time and energy behind managing office and politics. Many are forced to become corrupt and fall victim to their inexperience. They are also often marginalized and coerced or forced to act corruptly. Women are also used as tools to accomplish narrow party interests.
For example, many of Benazir Bhutto’s decisions were influenced by her husband and her son. She was also used to fulfill her narrow party interests and ultimately it caused her regime to grow very unpopular and eventually cost her her life.
In the context of Bangladesh, women find it extremely difficult to exercise their agency both at root levels and in their offices. They have to heavily rely on a number of factors such as their husband’s permission, money for election, and be accompanied by their husbands if they have to campaign at night or visit remote places. Campaigning for elections is tough as women being vocal and outgoing is not socially acceptable in our country.
In Bangladesh, women are expected to be shy, timid, and submissive. We rarely see our female MPs going out in the crowd as much as the male MPs to campaign. Also, given that Bangladesh is fairly conservative and patriarchal, women’s participation in politics is not welcome to begin with. Religion also acts as a barrier to participate in politics for women in Bangladesh; many men in our country do not support the fact that our country is headed by a female prime minister.
Politics is more about compromise and making as many people happy as possible. Our PM too often has to compromise and make decisions for the greater good. All of this brings us to the conclusion that even though women’s participation in politics has increased, they have not truly been politically empowered due to the existing socio-economic and political contexts. Plenty needs to change in order to ensure women’s true political empowerment, starting with the false perception that women are subordinate beings and do not deserve to be leaders.
Following this change in perception, the existing patriarchal norms and values that have been prevalent need to gradually be changed so that people don’t deem women as inferior beings and respect them for who they are and allow them to act autonomously to bring about socio-political changes instead of having to compromise.
Women’s economic empowerment is also necessary so that they can fund elections for themselves to some extent. Moreover, women should be encouraged to acquire political skills and know-hows before entering into the political world. Lastly, women themselves have to be more resilient and help one another to overcome these hurdles. They should work together to be more empowered instead of teaching one another to adopt a compromising attitude.
Nusaiba Naseeree is a graduate student of Development Studies at BRAC University and shares a deep interest in research.