Women in politics: Limitations of power in Bangladesh
In a male dominant country like Bangladesh, people often give the example of the power of our female Prime Minister and other female party leaders, as they talk about power of women in this country. Ironically, this example does not reflect a bit of the actual power gained by women in the field of politics. As a matter of fact, their participation is extremely limited due to male preeminence and the perpetual ideologies regarding women's place in this patriarchal society. In general, the overall situation is not favourable for women in the path of gaining political power as well as executing the power.
In majority of the countries, the leaders of political parties are elected by the party members. However, in Bangladesh, if we look back to history, we see that the female leaders of the two major parties emerged through family acquaintances with the absence of rightful male heirs. Sheikh Hasina, daughter of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman came to power after her father's death in 1975, while Khaleda Zia emerged as the leader of BNP after her husband's death. Undoubtedly, the political framework was weak back then and in both cases there were no suitable male heir to ascend for power which eventually caused the two women to come forward in politics.
Despite having two prominent female leaders in the two major political parties, the representation of women in the parliament is not satisfactory. From the 1st parliament to the 8th, the number of women elected for general seats were minimal. In order to ensure proper representation of women, the 14th amendment of the Constitution has reserved 45 seats for women in the 9th parliament and in that parliament the percentage of women elected for general seats was higher than the previous parliaments. However, sadly it was incomparable with the dominant representation of male parliamentarians.
In the 10th parliament 5 more seats were added consequently increasing the reserved seats to 50. Yet, it is a matter of regret that the women in the reserved seats are nominated by the elected parliamentarians, that is to say they are not directly elected by the voters. This practice has been carrying out since the 1st parliament, which reflects inappropriate practice of democracy. Undoubtedly, the reserved seats are nothing but to show the vague presence of women in politics with improper representation of women. 50 seats are inadequate to represent women, where 300 seats are mostly dominated by men who got elected through direct election.
Constitutional laws are made ensuring moderate participation of women in the sphere of politics. Unfortunately, these laws are ineffective due to limited number of reserved seats and flawed selection policies. From centuries the patriarchal values have been deeply rooted in our minds, which set the gender roles subliminally. Our society is accustomed to see women playing the roles of mother and wives in the small area inside home, where politics is considered as the public domain owned by men. Even in decision making, men tend to impose their decisions on women. A research done by the SDC (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation) in 2015 found out that the husbands of EWR (Elected Women Representatives) play significant role in decision making. This finding delineates the extreme reflection of patriarchal ideologies in our society, where the women that we assume to be powerful are actually voiceless.
A country of 163 million people where half of the population consists of female voters, the poor representation of women in politics shows ineffectiveness of Constitutional laws, unfairness and injustice towards them. Moreover, it also reflects improper practice of democracy which invokes inequality of the gender roles and biasness towards men in the field of politics.
Without any doubt the circumstances in the political arena of this country are muscularly favourable towards men. In this century, where we are shouting for gender equality, are all going in vain where the Constitutional laws have failed to ensure equal right.
Though it will take long time to amend the laws, certain alterations can work out to ensure fairness towards women to some extent. First of all, if the reserved seats in the parliament can be increased to minimum 100, then it will reflect an appropriate representation of women. In addition to that, direct election should be only way where women will have the opportunity to contest and compete. Eventually, it will also encourage other potential women to come forward in politics.
Finally, a revolution in our thoughts is badly needed to change the patriarchal values that we compassionately abide by. It is the duty of the respective families and society to encourage women for stepping outside home to make decisions in favor of our nation through participating in politics.
The writer is an alumnus of the University of Dhaka