Colombo, January 1 (The Daily Star/newsin.asia): Bangladesh’s newly-elected eleventh parliament has a record number of 22 directly-elected women MPs.
In the House elected in 2008, there were 19 directly-elected women MPs. The 2014 parliamentary election had brought into the House 18 directly-elected women. The number has now increased to 22.
The Bangladesh parliament has two types of representation for women: directly elected and appointed. Out of the House of 350 seats, 50 are reserved for women. The reserved seats are filled by the political parties on a proportional representation basis.
Besides the “reserved seats” for women MPs, there are “directly elected” women MPs too. Their number has been increasing.
The increasing representation of directly-elected women in the Bangladesh parliament is noteworthy because it was only in 1979 that a woman had got in through a direct election.
In the December 30, 2018 election, more than 50 women from each alliance had contested as regular candidates.
Effectiveness of Women MPs
According to The Daily Star, studies suggest that even with a significant representation of women (around 20 percent of all Members of Parliament) women’s issues rarely get taken up.
And this has been so despite the fact that the leaders of the main parties – the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party – are women.
Women MPs’ powers are constrained by the fact that most of them are appointed rather than directly elected.
However, women MPs, whether selected or elected, have been active at the constituency level. Women MPs The Daily Star had interviewed were mostly constituency-based and lived in their own residences there.
But women MPs were less independent than their male counterparts because they were appointed or selected by the party and not elected.
Women MPs in parliament invariably want to pursue women’s rights-based issues. But most male MPs (no matter which party they belonged to) would prevent them from promoting women’s interests. And this despite the fact that both the main parties had a woman as their Supremo.
“Regardless of my proficiency and eligibility, I do not get to determine my own career path,” a woman MP added, regretting the fact that her bid to work at the constituency level was thwarted by the leadership.
The men would like the women to function at the national organizational level and to leave grassroots political work to men so that the latter can build up their political base.
The majority of women MPs did not like the word “reserved”.
“In my opinion, we should become MPs through election. It can be best solved by giving women a seat in every Upazila and limiting them to one in every district,” one of women MPs said.
The money that a woman MP gets to work in two districts is given to a male MP for a single Upazila. But this is so only in the case of appointed MPs and not directly elected ones.
Women MPs have to submit to patriarchy.
“As a woman MP, the major constraint I face is working in a patriarchal environment. We are treated in terms of patriarchal values, even if elected,” a lady MP complained.
(The featured image at the top shows some of the Bangladeshi women MPs)