The constitution of Bangladesh is drafted in such a way that ensures the development of women in all spheres of life – Explain and illustrate.
Our national poet Kazi Nazrul Islam wrote- the good done by civilization, half created by men and rest by women. This is an undying statement about the progress of human civilization. From the dawn of the civilization women and men worked jointly to make the future brighter. In a certain point of the social development process a few socially determined factors created a cultural hemisphere, which pushed the civilization not to think women as equal to the men. This cultural phenomenon changed the thought process of society and the society started discrimination between men and women and ultimately women become a deprived part of society. The overall development of a country depends upon the maximum utilization of her people, both men and women. In Bangladesh women comprise nearly half of the total population. But the status of women is much lower than that of men in every sphere of life.
Bangladesh, a participant to the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) has been committed for attaining the objectives of ensuring gender equality and empowerment of women. Bangladesh government has been actively engaged in formulating proactive policies and taking affirmative action’s for accelerating the implementation process in achieving the goal of holistic empowerment of women.
Over the last two decades the initiative to ensure equal rights for women and non discrimination has gained momentum in Bangladesh and has been successful in mobilizing and coordinating women to stand up for their rights. However, relentless endeavor is underway on the part of the government by way of adoption of policies, legislation, strategies, national action plans and program for realization of empowerment of women. The pro-women policies, strategies and measures of the government undertaken in the last decades have positively influenced the reduction of poverty of women. A number of programs were undertaken by government that includes safety net, development activities, etc. The NGOs have micro credit programs for production and business by women. Private sector generated employment for women especially in garments sectors. All these have contributed to grater poverty reduction for women. Progress of women can be traced from their increasing economic participation through employment in various sectors including garments, shoes and cosmetics industries in formal sector and also self-employment in non formal activities. Women also work in agricultural sector; women are employed in crop production, in livestock, in forestry, in fishery. There is a growing trend of women working in construction sites. Positive indicators of women’s advancement in the country are reflected in continuing gender parity in school enrolment, gradually lower infant mortality and decrease in maternal mortality rates. There has been significant progress in health and education areas. The improved health services through implementation of Health, Nutrition and Population related programs have contributed to improve health especially of women. Nutrition situation has also improved. The proportion of non-pregnant mother in the chronic energy deficiency situation decline from 44.2 percent in 2006 to 32.2 percent in 2005. Maternal mortality decreased to 3037 per 100live birth in 2006 from 3.65 in 2004.
The CEDAW Committee mention on the Fifth Periodic Report of Bangladesh congratulated the government for achieving gender parity and dramatic increase in the enrolment of girls in primary and lower secondary level in schools. This was possible by the innovative steps taken by the government of making substantial investment in both primary and secondary education of girls by giving scholarships, stipends and introducing free education. The committee praised the initiative of the government in reaching out to rural poor women in providing maternal health care services through community and mobile clinic which resulted in decreased of maternal mortality rate. The committee concluded by observing that Bangladesh was marching ahead with the correct mindset and progress on all socioeconomic fronts including women’s empowerment was clear.
A new era of democracy has ushered in Bangladesh with the parliamentary election in December 2008. The newly elected government has declared ‘Vision 2021”. Bangladesh government is committed in mainstreaming gender issues in order to incorporate them within the framework of macroeconomics and formulation of policies to effective, substantial and visible changes to the lives of women at all level and in all spheres.
Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, 1972 is the serious expression of the will of the people and the supreme law of the land. If any other law in inconsistent with the Constitution that other law shall to the extent of such inconstancy be void. Part-II of the Constitution contains the Fundamental Principles of state policy, fundamental to the governance of Bangladesh to be applied by the state in the making of laws and serve as guide to interpretation of the constitution and of other laws.
Part-III contains Fundamental Rights i.e. fright to equality before law, right to life, right to equal protection of law etc. Article 28(1) provides that state shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of sex. Article 28(2) specifically provides that “Women shall have equal right with men in al spheres of the state and public life”. Article 7 is the Pole Star of the Constitution stating that all powers in the Republic belong to the people.
Bangladesh has parliamentary form of government headed by Prime Minister. Parliament consists of 300 members who are directly elected and 45 women members from reserved seats as enshrined in the Constitution, constituting a total of 345 members of Parliament. It may be mentioned that 19 members are women who have been directly elected which makes the number of women Parliamentarians 64 (45+19). The local government representatives are responsible for local level development. The country is administratively divided into 6 divisions consisting of 64 districts, 467 Upazilas (sub-districts) and 4.480 Union Parishads. The lowest unit of local Government is the Union Parishad run by the elected representatives. Districts are the main administrative units. The civil servants carry out the executive responsibilities of these administrative units.
The women can directly participate in all elections at the national level and local level government. As, equity measure, the constitution of Bangladesh contains provision for quota of women in the national and local government representations. The reserved seats for women in the parliament were increased from 30 to 45 in 2006 and they are elected by the parliament members of the general seats. In 1997, one third of the local government seats of members or councilors were reserved for women who would be elected by the direct vote of the people. This has become a milestone for women’s participation in the political empowerment process.
At the second tire of the local elected bodies, Upzilla Parishads, one of the tows elected Vice Chairman has to be a woman. Accordingly, 475 women have been elected as Vice Chairman out of 1,936 women who contested during elections held in January 2009.
The newly elected government in January 2009 led by a woman prime minister has appointed five women to the cabinet (three as full ministers and two as state ministers) responsible for key portfolios such as agriculture, home affairs, foreign affairs, women and children affairs, and labor and employment. The leader of the opposition in the parliament is also a woman (former prime minister). For the first time, a woman has been appointed as the deputy leader of the house in parliament and a women MP has been appointed as the chairperson of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Ministry of Women and Children Affairs.
An increasing number of women voters have participated in the successive elections with 50.87 percent in 2008 as compared to 48.2 percent in 2001. As per local government (City Corporation) ordinance 2008, under section 5, sub-section (2), in each City Corporation, one third of the total number of councilor’s posts is reserved for women. As per local government (Pourashava/District Head Quarters) ordinance 2008, under section 7, sub-section (1), in each Pourashava, one third of the total number of councilor’s posts is reserved for women.
Empowerment and Development of women
Economic empowerment of women is a high priority agenda of the government. Abolition of poverty being the focal point, Government strongly emphasizes that features of women’s poverty require a gender perspective in the pro poor growth strategy. Women being the most important agents of economic and social development and proportion ultra poor being higher in female headed households in comparison to that of male headed ones. “Steps Towards Change: National Strategy for Accelerated Poverty Reduction-II (NSAPR-II)” has been formulated reflecting the commitment of the Government in its Election Manifesto and also in the light of the Millennium Development Goals, with particular emphasis in reducing feminized poverty. NSAPRII stresses the need for reducing feminized poverty by providing support for Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) initiative of women by resource mobilization; providing credit facilities to women on easy terms; creating market linkages for women to market their products through cooperatives; providing skill development training for facilitating employment opportunities. It further envisages facilitating increased participation of women in labor force and ensuring equal wages for them. It purports to foster Rural Non-Farm Activities (RNFA) as an effective poverty reduction activity for women. In order to make this sector more vibrant, certain interventions have been identified as necessary, for example – improving marketing capacity by providing sales centers in Growth Centre markets (GCM) and pre-urban markets; providing training on food processing activities; providing basic skills about business management and steps linking them to markets; setting up vocational training institutes in rural and pre urban areas etc.
Keeping in view the special aspects of women’s poverty, it has been recognized that women frequently experience poverty differently and therefore different poverty reduction priorities need to be identified and different development interventions are required. In empowering women to become equal partners of development, “Vision 2021” reflected in NSAPR-II aims to enhance women’s participation in mainstream economic activities; creating opportunities for education and marketable skills training, enabling them to participate; incorporating women’s needs and concerns in all sect oral plans; promoting enabling environment at the work place.Investment in women’s education and training has proven to deliver large social and economic returns.
In ensuring social safety net protection for vulnerable women in extreme poverty, Vulnerable Group Development Program (VGD) is providing extreme poor and distressed women food assistance along with development package training. Skill development training on income generating activities as well as nutrition, primary health, HIV/AIDS etc. is being given. Micro-credit programs are helping women develop self employment. Similarly, there is Widow Allowance, Elderly Persons Allowance, Maternity and Lactating Mothers allowances. Women with disability are also given support.
Notable progress has been made in attaining gender parity in primary education. Special emphasis has been given to girl child’s education. Stipend for girls, free education up to primary level have resulted in increased enrolment of girls and decreasing dropout rates. Positive results have been achieved in reducing maternal mortality and infant mortality through effective institutional measures.
Measures to Combat Violence against Women
In preventing violence against women legislations are in place – Prevention of Cruelty to Women and Children Act, Acid Crime Control Act, Dowry Prohibition Act, Child Marriage Restraint Act etc.
The draft Bill on Prevention of Domestic Violence is at the stage of finalization and steps are being taken to enact the same shortly. The Honorable High Court Division of Supreme Court of Bangladesh has recently given directives detailing a set of guidelines for action in cases of sexual harassment of women in academic institutions, workplaces and organizations. Steps are being taken to implement the directives of the Honorable Court.
A Committee has already been formed by the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs in compliance with the directives of the Honorable Court. One Stop Crisis Canters are operating in six Divisions of the Country where women victims of violence receive medical treatment, police assistance, legal support and rehabilitation service. National Trauma Counseling Centre has been established by Ministry of Women and Children Affairs and there is help line support. Legal assistance is provided by “Cell for Prevention of Violence against Women” in the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs and Department of Women Affairs and Jatiyo Mohila Sangstha. Ministry of Women and Children Affairs is initiating a Gender Responsive Community Policing Program to ensure security for women and girls, to address vulnerability to domestic violence and facilitate access to justice.
Awareness raising programs and advocacy are conducted with specific focus on engaging men and boys in prevention of violence against women and changing stereotype mind set. Policy Dialogues are held in different districts throughout the country at the grass root level emphasizing the role of men and boys in preventing violence against women. There are teenagers clubs wherein boys and girls take part in many learning activities, sports and cultural activities in a friendly environment. In eliminating discrimination against women, Bangladesh Parliament enacted Citizenship Amendment Act, 2009 giving Bangladeshi woman the right to transmit her citizenship to her children. Recognition of mother’s identity has been a milestone in promoting the cause of women’s empowerment by directing inclusion of mother’s name in the Passport and other official documents.
Significant steps have been taken in effectuating political empowerment of women:
· Under local govt. three seats have been reserved for direct election of women.
· Under local govt. among two elected Vice- Chairman, one of which must be a woman.
· The Honorable Prime Minister is a woman, Opposition Leader, Deputy Leader of House, six Members in the Cabinet are women holding important portfolios – Ministry of Home, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Labor and Employment, and Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, which demonstrates strong political will to place women in leadership position.
· It is recommended that political parties nominate 33% women to contest directly in parliamentary elections.
In order to ensure effective implementation, monitoring and evaluation, following steps have been adopted by the Government:
· Being a cross-cutting issue, programs are implemented by Sectoral Ministries while Ministry of Women and Children Affairs as lead Ministry coordinates the functions.
· Women in Development focal points mechanism exists through which Ministry of Women and Children Affairs follows up implementation by Sectoral Ministries addressing 12 areas of concern of BPFA and commitments under Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women Convention. In each Ministry there is a Women in Development Focal Point and an Associate Women in Development Focal Point. Meetings are organized quarterly by Ministries while Ministry of Women and Children Affairs where information is given by all other sectoral Ministries. At District and Sub-district level there are coordination committees.
· Highest Policy Making Body – There is National Council for Women and Children Development, headed by Honorable Prime Minister monitoring and evaluating implementation and activities and providing guidelines.
In the modern world all of us can easily understand the importance of women in every spheres of our life. That’s why now a day’s we see the presence of women at a mentionable proportion at almost all of the functional sectors. However, there are many remaining challenges. Emerging challenge need to be addressed to protect women and children as vulnerable and worst sufferers of climate change and disaster situation. We need to continue to work in facing these challenges together- Government, non-governmental agencies, developing partners and friends and it is hoped that through concern effort of all, it will be possible to create an enabling environment for women- free from poverty, free from violence and free from discrimination. Under the table leadership we hope that Bangladesh will succeed in achieving gender equity, development and nondiscrimination for
 Election Manifesto of the Bangladesh Awami League 2008; Steps Towards Change;
 http://www.mowca.gov.bd/?p=436 ; Retrieved on 12-11-2011