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So much for empowering grass-roots women

The completion of the full five-year tenure of the third upazila councils devoid of the stipulated women members yet again betrays that the Awami League-led government’s oft-repeated promise to empower women in general and grass-roots women in particular is still high on rhetoric and low on substance. According to a New Age report on Saturday, although the third upazila council polls were held on January 22, 2009, the Election Commission is yet to hold elections to the more than 1500 member positions reserved for women there. It may be pertinent to note that the existing upazila council law stipulates that every council should consist of, among others, some women members who would be elected by women members in the reserved seats of the union councils and whose number would be a third of the total number of union councils and municipalities under its jurisdiction. Moreover, with about 490 upazila councils serving out their tenures in different time between February and August, the commission is holding elections to the positions of the chairman and vice-chairman only. Additionally, in line with the local government ministry, there are 4,498 union councils and 315 municipalities.
It is true that the rules required for the elections to seats reserved for women in upazilas have been cleared by the government in March 2013 after a prolonged process and the commission could not hold the polls within the stipulated five-year tenure. The government also failed to delimit the areas of the jurisdiction of members in question during the period. But one cannot deny either that the commission appeared eager more to hold other elections than the one in point in this period. Reportedly, while the then election commissioners in 2010 said that they would hold polls to the seats reserved for women in upazila councils soon after the union council and municipal elections scheduled to be held then, in 2011, they started to say that they would not hold the polls due to ‘legal complexities.’ Besides, they even failed to frame the upazila election rules to be vetted by the law ministry till then. Overall, neither the government nor the Election Commission was serious enough about the election of women members to upazila councils although it, as Bangladesh Woman Lawyers’ Association executive director pointed out, was a ‘gross violation of woman rights.’ Either way, It is expected that the commission, as one of its commissioner said that it would hold the polls at hand shortly after the completion of the forthcoming upazila council polls, will live up to its promise this time.

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