Factors and leadership challenges for women’s participation in local level election
Dr. Forqan Uddin Ahmed writes for DOT :
Local government remained almost an exclusive domain of men during the British period. The Bengal Local Self Government Act of 1885 provided the right to vote only for men. After that, the Bengal village Self-government Act, 1919 brought significant changes in the structure of local bodies. But women did not have voting right under that Act. In 1976, for the first time, the Local Government Ordinance reserved two seats for women in each Union Parishad. In 1983, changes were brought to the structure of Union Parishad by promulgating the Local Government Ordinance (Union Parishad). According to this law, each Union Parishad was divided into nine wards and UP consisted of a chairman and twelve members, including three nominated members for reserved seats.
Bangladesh is divided into eight administrative divisions within which are districts and Thanas or sub-districts. Local government is divided into 225 urban based municipalities or Pourashava and 4,451 rural micro areas known as unions and about 80,000 grams or villages. Elections are held for urban local government with councilors/commissioners elected on a ward basis while mayors and chairmen are elected at-large. While elections are held every five years, at present, due to political reasons, many Purashavas, municipalities and city corporations’ terms are over and elections have not been held. Local authorities are strictly controlled by central government and totally dependent on government funding. One third of municipal and union seats are reserved for women and in the last elections in 1997 for union seats nearly 48,000 women stood for seats. Currently Bangladesh has a woman Prime Minister and a woman leader of the opposition. However their high position in politics is not a reflection of women’s political position overall in this country as both women come from political families and their election has not led to a great number of other women being elected. There are 300 seats in the national parliament and 30 of these are reserved for women. The rest are directly elected and in the general election held in 2000 seven women were directly elected so increasing the number of women in central government to 50.
In recent time there is a rising interest in increasing the participation of women in politics at both national and local levels. The reason for this interest is that their participation in different socio-economic and political processes can lead to a significant development of the country. Through women make up half of the world population, their representation in the local governments of developing countries is much lower compared to the advanced democracies. In South Asia, women’s participation in the political process has not been insignificant so far. Women are indentified through their relationships with the dominant males- as mothers, wives sister and daughters.
While women are underrepresented in positions of political power worldwide they have clearly had more success at gaining access to local level decision-making positions than to those at central government level. The reason for this has been attributed largely to the everyday realities of women’s lives. Participation in local government is easier for women to fit into their lives, along with family, household responsibilities and employment. Local government is also seen as more accessible as there is more positions available and less competition for places than in local and central parliament. Local government can also be less intimidating as it is an extension of the great deal of involvement that women already have within their communities. As a result of more women being elected to local government councils, the environment has become more open to them being there, to women’s issues being on the agenda and to equal employment opportunities for staff. Much of this acceptance has been aided in the last two decades by a very active women’s movement, campaigns developed to increase the numbers and, in some instances, by the statutory requirement for quotas of women.
He is a columnist and researcher