For the last four decades since independence, Bangladesh has been gaining international recognition for its remarkable progress in different social and economic indicators. It is the people including women who are the key driving force behind all these achievements. However, women, minorities and poor peoples, who are the majority of population is considered only as voter but not as equal citizen in time of election and governing the state.
As the next parliament election schedule is approaching, political parties, civil society, national and international observers and diplomats of foreign countries are pressing for a level playing field in the election in their public addressing, statements, talk shows and everywhere. All their insistences are around exchanging power between two major political rivals. However, unfortunately no demand for a level playing field for women, religious and ethnic minority and poor in the electoral process has been heard yet. One of the reasons behind it is that despite their concern over the constitution, they just ignore realizing the equality of all citizens ensured by the constitution and emphasize only on their franchise once in a five year.
While the unbearable remembrance of atrocities to women, minorities and poor people before, during and after 2001 election still haunting us as nightmare, we are experiencing a fresh spell of same act of violence by Hefazat and political fronts of war criminals. They are showing audacity of threatening the constitution and rights of women and minorities that frightening the people especially the women, minorities and poor. Thus, an obstacle to fear-free participation in election for the major segment of citizen is already in place. None is paying heed to it at all!
We would like to affirm that people are not only voter but also equal citizen of the state. Therefore, a level playing field only for contestant political parties is not enough; rather the field should be leveled for all citizens. Political parties, media and civil society has important role to play in this regard. In this context, following is our demand on behalf of women in Bangladesh to secure a level playing field for all citizens on the eve of 10th national parliament election.
To the election commission:
- Taking effective measures to halt any kind of act of fear, threaten and mayhem to women, minority and poor by using religion, black money and evil influence by vested interest group.
- Incorporating a separate clause in election code of conduct forbidding anti-constitution, anti-women and anti-minority acts and campaign by parties and candidates. The candidature of any candidate and registration of any party involved in such acts or campaign before, during and after election should be cancelled.
- Necessary measures to ensure security of people especially lives and properties of women, minorities and poor and minority’s places of worship before, during and after the election.
- Yearly monitoring of progressive realization of election commission ruling on 33 percent reservation for women in all level of committees of EC registered political parties by 2020. Also monitoring the progress of nominating women candidates in 33% seat in parliament election.
- Ensuring equal number of polling booth for female and male voter in all polling centres as the proportion of female and male voters is almost equal according to latest updated voter list.
- Appointing women in all position of election administration including Election Commissioner to Returning Officer, Presiding Officer, Polling Officer and Polling agent on an equal basis to men.
- Improving the current accessibility provision for elderly citizen and persons with disabilities and ensuring its proper implementation.
- Collecting and preserving sex desegregated data on the electoral process and ensuring accessibility to this information for all.
- Providing training to all personnel, government or non-government, involved in election execution and management to make them gender and minority sensitive.
- Preventive action against hatred speech, write up and campaign in blog, social networking sites and mass media that is derogatory to women and minority.
To political parties:
- Expressing (or declaring) pledges in election manifesto on what necessary measures will be taken by the party itself to implement the rights of all citizens including women with absolute trust in the constitution, implement national women development policy, CEDAW (with full ratification), ILO convention, other human rights instruments along with equal rights of women in inheritance.
- Showing solidarity to the long-standing demand of women activists to increase the number of reserved seats for women in parliament up to 100 with a roadmap to fulfill the demand in the election manifesto.
- Similarly, articulating precisely in election manifesto on how the party will address poverty eradication, implementation of national education policy, environment conservation, national land management, production and supply of water-gas-electricity for all citizens, accessibility and availability of health services for all and elimination of corruption.
- Clear indication in election manifesto on how the party will attain and monitor the yearly progress to the target of ensuring 33% of women representatives in all level of its committees by 2020 as per the ruling of election commission.
- Precise pledge to not using the religion in election campaign and politics.
- Nominating eligible women candidates in at least 33% seat in national parliament election.
- Avoid nominating persons who are against the spirit of the constitution, hold an anti- women attitude, perpetrators of violence against women, loan defaulters, tax defaulters, mafia godfathers and war criminals.
- Not to unethically persuade women, minority and poor considering them as “voter for a day”, rather act upon them with proper dignity they deserve as equal citizen.
- Induct a self-censorship on anything against the constitution and rights of women and minorities in party’s public meeting, media statement, poster, leaflet, banner, booklet or any other campaign material.
- Wide dissemination of election code of conduct declared by the election commission. Covering all the incidents of violation of code of conduct with due importance.
- Investigative reporting on any sort of violence, cruelty, oppression or harassment to women, minorities and poor people before, during and after the election in a timely manner.
- Reporting with evidence on any act of using religious sentiment against and/or in favor of any party or candidate. Similarly, reporting on any speech against the constitution, women and minorities.
- Showing due respect to the constitution, National Women Development Policy, CEDAW, ILO convention, relevant international laws and election code of conduct while reporting/presenting news with maintaining neutrality.
- Assign female reporters on an equal basis to male in election reporting. Disseminate sex desegregated data in all election reporting where applicable.
To Civil Society
- Uphold the need for a level playing field not only for major political parties but also for citizens. Speak on the roles and positions of contested parties in saving the constitution and public interest in public discussion and talk shows.
- Boycott the candidates who are against the spirit of the constitution, anti-women, perpetrators of violence against women, loan defaulters, tax defaulters, corrupt, mafia godfathers and war criminals.
- Encourage women, minorities and poor to cast their vote and cooperate for an enabling and fear free election environment.
- Resist any kind of oppression to women, minorities and poor before, during and after the election and inform the concern election authorities, law enforcement agencies and media on such incidents.
- Cooperate elderly and disabled to reach in the polling centres.
BNPS believes that if all of us can be sincere to our mentioned responsibilities, it will contribute in creating a level playing field for all citizens and a fear free and festive election environment. In consequence, citizens from all walks of life irrespective of religion, ethnicity and gender can independently elect their representatives who will serve the people authentically, by whom the democracy will be strengthen and people can participate in development of the country as active citizen.