Bangladesh Civic Space Network launched to promote civil rights

The Bangladesh Civic Space Network, a coalition of 23 community-based organisations led by youth, women, and transgender in eight divisions of the country, has officially started its journey to promote and advocate for youth, women, and transgender participation in civic-engagement and related decision-making processes.

ARTICLE 19, an international human rights organization that works around the world to promote freedom of expression, civic space, and the right to information, has facilitated formation of this network.

The network has been launched Tuesday at an event in Dhaka. It has been informed in the event that the purpose of forming the network is to do advocacy at the local and national level, conduct online awareness campaigns as well as extend mutual cooperation in the activities of organisations of the network to increase the qualitative participation of transgender, women, and youth in the civic sphere.

Faruq Faisel, regional director of ARTICLE 19 South Asia, presided over the event while Barrister Sara Hossain, executive director at Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST).

Imtiaz Ahmed, professor of International Relations and director, Centre for Genocide Studies at the University of Dhaka, Badiul Alam Majumdar, general-secretary at Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (SHUJAN – Citizens for Good Governance) – a civil society organisation and Snigdha Rezwana, assistant professor at department of Anthropology in the University of Jahangirnagar, spoke at the event as guests.

Among others, ARTICLE 19 South Asia Protection manager Hasina Akhter, senior programme officer Morium Shelly, and executives and representatives of 23 organizations in the network were present at the event.

Speakers at the event said that the civic space in Bangladesh is gradually shrinking. Attempts to inflict absolute control are evident everywhere in the state. Civil society organizations must play a proactive role and raise its voice in getting out of this situation. Therefore, it is important to develop a sense of civic right and responsibility among the citizens.

Badiul Alam Majumdar, secretary for SHUJAN, said, ‘‘It is not possible to bring qualitative as well as positive changes in the state machinery without the active participation of citizens. For this, citizens should be, firstly, aware of their own rights and responsibilities.’’

Professor Imtiaz Ahmed said, ‘‘The civil society of the country is now clearly divided. A significant section of them is now heading abroad in anticipation of a secure future. To better the current situation, they should be brought back to the country. At the same time, it is important to increase investment in the education sector.’’

Barrister Sara Hossain Said, ‘‘In November this year, 50 years of the Constitution of Bangladesh will be celebrated. Various laws enacted during this period have been revised and even repealed in light of the Constitution. However, there is no such effort in abolishing the restrictive laws inherited from the colonial regime. Rather, those laws are being used to curb the rights of citizens of the independent country.’’

Professor Snigdha Rezwana said, ‘‘Colonial law penalized sexual diversity as expression of hatred towards sexually diverse people. At present time, such laws are against human dignity.’’

In his speech, Faruq Faisel, regional director for ARTICLE 19 South Asia, said, ‘‘Betterment and expansion of the civic space are not possible without the concerted effort from and participation of civil society organizations. The Bangladesh Civic Space Network will discuss the impediments and challenges in working on civil rights issues at the local and national levels and come up with a joint course of action to overcome those barriers.’’

Executives and representatives of the 23 organisations in the network highlighted the obstacles and challenges in carrying out activities toward women’s and transgender rights and empowerment at the local level and shared their experiences during the event.