Bangladesh is historically and traditionally a highly patriarchal society. All the processes, values and institutions that are associated with the construction of the country are gendered. The institutions and values of this gendered state always privilege masculinity. Women in Bangladesh have to fight with gender boundaries that assign them a subordinate position within patriarchal ideology, the essential feature of which is domination and supremacy of men and powerlessness and invisibility of women in almost all spheres of their lives.
In Bangladesh, the existing patriarchal system reinforces women's dependency on men, and men have strong reservations regarding women in leadership and management positions. Patriarchal values and institutions here do not demonstrate positive and supportive views about women leadership and nobody takes into account the patriarchal norms and institutions which are deeply rooted in the country's politics.
If we look at the statistics, we see that in the 1st Parliament no woman was elected in general seats. In the 2nd Parliament there were only 2 women elected from general seats. The scenario was the same in the 3rd to the 8th Parliaments. Though the number of women elected in general seats in the 9th Parliament was more than that of the previous parliaments, it is very small in comparison to the number of male parliamentarians.
Through the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, the number of reserved seats was raised to 45 in the 9th Parliament. The number of women MPs in the 9th Parliament is 65. It is a matter of great regret that the women representatives filled the forty-five reserved seats not through direct elections but through nomination of the three hundred elected representatives. More importantly, the experience of women's representation in the Bangladesh Parliament across the years, with such a number and with such a system of election, has raised questions about the effectiveness of women's participation in the parliamentary process.
It has been seen that the women occupying the reserved seats could only play a subservient role with respect to the wishes of the ruling party. They have become voiceless tools at the hands of the major parties in Parliament. Women's representation in the Parliament should be a democratic and effective one; as such, the number of seats for women, whether it is sixty-five or one hundred, should ensure effective representation.
In Bangladesh, the political participation of women in Parliament remains profoundly weak, and the effectiveness of their participation is even weaker. The very small presence of women in the political party structures and in Parliament is indicative of the very low level of their involvement in the country's political arena as well as in the legislative process. Though political parties in Bangladesh made commitments to women's advancement in their respective election manifestos, in reality they nominated very few female candidates in past elections.
Women MPs sit on every standing committee but their effectiveness is not at all visible to the public. Norris and Lovenduski (1995) identified two interacting causal factors, "supply" and "demand," which result in women's under-representation. The most common explanation for the supply-side factor is that women do not come forward and/or they are not interested in politics. The demand side factor is related mainly to the selectors, or political parties, where such parties discriminate against women's nomination.
If we take a global view, women's representation in our national parliament is not poor in comparison with the other regions of the world. The total woman participation in the parliament is about 16.7% in Asia, while it is about 18.6% in Bangladesh. On a regional basis, the Nordic countries are clearly ahead. So, the proportion of women in the parliament is obviously noticeable when we compare the situation of Bangladesh with some other countries. Statistics shows that Rwanda has done exceptionally well, having 56.3% women parliamentarians, with Sweden placed second.
Women's participation in politics is a big issue for attaining actual democracy and equality. It is also an issue about women's actual citizenship. It is impossible for women to gain power, authority, and honour through indirect election. It makes them dependent on male members of their party. Moreover, members elected through indirect elections cannot feel any accountability for their own election areas.
Article 28 of the Constitution declares that women shall have equal rights with men in all spheres of the state and of public life. Different NGOs and women activists raise their voice in demanding direct election of women for the reserved seats. When women become members of the parliament through direct elections, their decision-making power, reputation and honour will rise automatically; they will be able to take decisions according to their wish. We have to make a level field for women, which will make their entrance into the country's politics easy.