Three years after raising the issue, female ward councillors still lack dedicated support staffs
Fatema Akter Doly used to be the ward councillor of Goran, Meradia and Basabo. Though she contended for the position last term, she is not running for it this year. During her service over the last five years, she realised there is little chance for her to serve the public in this capacity.
Fatema said that she finds the position insignificant and it would make no difference if it ceased to exist. During her tenure, she had no power and no work was assigned to her. At the eighth corporation meeting – two years into her role as councillor – she complained that she did not have a dedicated staff to support her role, and this issue remains unresolved.
Tired of the system, she ended up deciding not to run for the position again.
With the election around the corner, The Business Standard spoke to other reserved-seat female ward councillors who are again competing for the position this year.
Despite running for a second time, all of them agreed that they do not have any of the power a ward councillor should have.
Nasrin Rashid Putul of Armanitola said, "Not only do I have fewer possibilities to work, but the male ward councillors are hostile towards me."
Razia Sultana Eti, reserved-seat councillor for Kollyanpur, Gabtoli and Baghbari, tried to elucidate how the problem arises. She explained though reserved-seat councillors run for election – through the same process as for general ward councillors – people continue to define the contenders by their restrictive "reserved" designation.
Perusing the records of corporation meetings revealed that reserved-seat female ward councillors have demanded equal treatment on several occasions.
At the eighth council meeting, reserved-seat member Helen Akter complained that reserved-seat female councillors' statements are not recorded in meeting proceedings or minutes. She demanded this be rectified as soon as possible.
Helen has been vocal in demanding the equal treatment of reserved-seat ward councillors and general ward councillors, because both run for election to attain their positions.
The constituencies of reserved-seat female ward councillors comprise three wards, whereas the constituencies of general ward councillors cover just one ward.
At three meetings over five years, Fatema and Helen urged the mayor to include reserved-seat female councillors in the implementation of development projects.
Aleya Sarwar Daisy, reserved-seat ward councillor of Mohammadpur, Lalmatia and Rayerbazar, also mentioned the inequality such councillors experience in executing official powers.
She demanded that reserved-seat female ward councillors be allowed to issue birth certificates.
In city corporation law, there is no gendered distribution of responsibilities, and laws apply to the entire council as a whole. However, this has created a lot of confusion among the councillors.
When the reserved-seat female councillors demand to be included in work, the male general ward councillors are confused.
Abdul Kadir, a general ward councillor from Gendaria, thinks reserved-seat female councillors should not issue birth certificates as this is the work of male ward councillors.
His approach returns us to Nasrin Rashid Putul's initial statement.
Considering female competitors' recurrent demands for equal responsibilities and power in their wards, The Business Standard spoke to Rokeya Kabir, executive director of Bangladesh Nari Progoti Shongho.
Rokeya Kabir has been advocating for women's equal participation in politics for years. She said, "When it comes to enjoying the rights and power in politics, women are still marginalised by the patriarchy." She added one depends on one's party to be nominated.
Rokeya said in the early '90s she saw women were afraid to speak up for their political rights –irrespective of their political affiliation. They feared they might not be nominated if they asked for their rights.
Then, she said, even today, there is a tendency to allot fewer seats in the general section for women, and to instead send them to reserved seats. Sometimes vengeful nominees who fail to be nominated get their female family members to run for election, so that the men retain power by indirect means.
She said, there is no other way than speaking out for one's political rights if one wants to overcome marginalisation.