Women’s representation in parliament: Let there be direct voting

Though the picture of Bangladesh parliament highlighted in ‘Women in Parliament 2022’, a report of the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU), is somewhat encouraging, there are many questions regarding the process of the women's election. Raising the number of women parliamentarians through reserved seats actually decreases the opportunity to elect them through direct voting based on their qualifications, think many political analysts. Besides, this system simply reflects the preferences of the party chief.

There are 23 women MPs elected in direct voting while 50 in reserved seats in the current 350-seat parliament of Bangladesh. The MPs elected in direct voting cast votes to elect the women MPs for reserved seats following the ratio of the number of party MPs.

The IPU report highlighted the situation of 186 countries based on the rate of elected women MPs in parliaments. As per the report Bangladesh has been ranked 107th, second in South Asia, with 21 per cent women representatives. Nepal tops among the South Asian countries while the country globally ranked 54th. The country has 91 women MPs in the 275-member lower house (33 per cent) and 22 in 58-member (38 per cent) upper house of parliament. Pakistan is in the 3rd position in South Asia (globally 110th) while Bhutan is in the 4th spot. India ranks 140th globally and 5th in South Asia.

The leader in parliament, deputy leader, speaker, and leader of the opposition – all are women in Bangladesh. Though this is an unprecedented in terms of women representation in parliament, overall the number is less than one fourth. But the rate of women representation in Rwandan parliament’s upper house is 35 per cent and 61 per cent in upper house. Cuba tops the IPU report with 53 per cent women representatives in the country’s parliament while Nicaragua (52 per cent), Mexico (50 per cent), New Zealand (50 per cent) and the UAE (50 per cent) are in the second, third, fourth and fifth spots respectively.

When many Middle Eastern countries do not have any women representatives, this success of the UAE is unique. Why would then Bangladesh lag behind in ensuring more female representatives especially when the ratio of male and female in the country is nearly 1:1? Mahila Parishad and many other organisations that work to secure rights of women demanded ensuring female representation in parliament through direct voting. Political parties also have pledged to increase women representatives in their election manifestoes. They, however, forget everything after being elected.

There is an alternative proposal to ensure direct voting for women in 100 seats out of 300 by rotation. In this method, 100 seats will kept exclusively for women while remaining 200 seats for both male and female candidates. Another 100 constituencies will be chosen for female-only candidates in the following election and then the remaining 100 seats in the next parliamentary election. As a result, each constituency will see at least one female MP in a cycle of three parliamentary elections.

Regarding women’s representation in parliament, speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury said maybe there would be a day in the future when reserved seats will no longer be required. When will the future come?

Political experience and acumen are extremely important qualities for representation in parliament. In the rules drew up for political parties in 2021, the parties were supposed to ensure one third female representation in all levels committees. But no political party could ensure that as of now.

That’s why, we want female representation in parliament to be ensured through direct voting, not reserved seats.