Women in Bangladesh Local Government: Critically Evaluating Their Participation and Empowerment

Women in Bangladesh Local Government: Critically Evaluating Their Participation and Empowerment

Md. Mostafizur Rahman Khan (University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh) and Fardaus Ara (University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0279-1.ch005


The Governments of Bangladesh have announced various policies and programs to empower women. The Local Government (Union Parishad) Second Amendment Act 1997 of Bangladesh is such an initiative which creates the provision of one third reserve seats for women in the local government bodies to be elected directly by the voters. This law creates new opportunities and enable women to step-in into the elective positions of grass-roots level local government and to raise their voices and influence the decisions taken in the Union Parishad. The study finds that the elected women members seriously lack material, human, and social resources required to be able or empowered enough to influence decisions at the Union Parishad.
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Bangladesh, situated in South Asia has a glorious history of social and political background. It was under the British rule for about 200 years. The present day Bangladesh once was a part of the British Indian province of Bengal and Assam. In 1947 after the partition of Indian sub-continent Bangladesh became a part of Pakistan namely East-Pakistan and in 1971 through a nine month long bloody war Bangladesh emerged in the world map as an independent country. The state is run by a parliamentary form of government. For the administrative purpose, the country is divided into seven Divisions, the Divisions are subdivided into 64 Districts; The Districts are further divided into 488 Upazilas (sub-district), and next to it is the 4550 Union Parishad consisting of several villages.

There are two types of local government in Bangladesh – a three-tier rural local government and the two-tier urban local government. Bangladesh has a long tradition of local government, and the Union Parishad is its oldest component as well as the lowest tier of the local government system and over the years, this tier has earned a wide acceptability to the rural community. As a representative body of an aggregate of 10 to 15 villages (or roughly 15- 20 thousand people), it has had a recognizable form for more than a hundred years (Khan Foundation, 2004). The Union Parishad is an important area for empowering, mobilizing and transforming local people for their development. Participation of women in the local government institutions, especially at the Union Parishad is a crucial factor for women development, particularly at the grassroots level.

Recent Local Government Reform in Bangladesh has led to the creation of quota (reserved seats with direct election) for women in the grass-roots democratic institution. It provides three directly elected women in the Union Parishad from three reserved seats. Under the new law, each Union Parishad is divided into nine wards. The chairman is to be elected by all the voters of the Union Parishad. From each ward, one general member will be elected by the concerned voters of the ward. Women can also participate here. Besides, three women members will be elected from reserved seats from every three general wards by the voters of the concerned three wards. The law creates new opportunities and enables women to step-in into the elective positions at the grass-roots level local government institution. Simultaneously it makes their effective participation problematic as firstly, their constituencies are three times bigger than that of the general seats; secondly, women’s constituency overlapped with other three general member’s constituency; thirdly, roles and function of the women members elected from the reserved seats are not specified; and finally, most of the general members are men who vehemently oppose women and keep them in isolation.

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