Women’s effective participation and decision-making in public life, elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality, and empowerment of all women and girls
For three decades, two women have led the country. The national parliament has had a female speaker since 2013 and the total number of women legislatures in the 11th Parliament (2018) is 21 per cent, inching up from 19 per cent in the previous legislature. Women directly elected through general seats to the current parliament are higher than any previous election. Nevertheless, women occupy only 7.3 per cent of the general seats and the rest are in reserved seats. Currently, only one minister, one state minister, and one deputy minister are women.
The Constitution of Bangladesh, since its inception, provides reserved parliamentary seats for women under Section 65. At first, the number was 10 and now it has been increased to 50 out of a total of 350 seats. The percentage of women’s reserved seats is therefore roughly 14 per cent. In the 17th amendment to the Constitution approved in July 2018, the reserved seats have been secured for another 25 years with no direct election.
Although parliamentary quota is globally recognized as an effective temporary special measure towards increasing women’s participation in politics, the system that Bangladesh has in place has long been contested by academics and women’s groups as having a limited effect in expanding women’s voice and influence in decision making. Bangladesh uses a single transferable vote (STV) system for women’s reserved seats based on the number of seats secured by a political party. The general seat MPs act as the electorate, but there is effectively no competition for the seats as party leaders nominate only as many candidates as there are available seats for each party. The reserved seat MPs, therefore, do not have a constituency as they are not directly elected by the people, and they are not considered by the voters as a representative of the women’s electorate. The female MPs of the reserved seats neither have a budget allocation to develop their own initiatives nor have little influence in governmental policy decisions. They have traditionally been treated as second-tier parliamentarians and been used as a ‘vote bank’ for the treasury benches. The current system of reserved seats without direct election has caused marginalization of women in the policy-making institution and has not benefitted women.