Women vice chairmen alleged that despite being elected representatives, they are victims of discrimination and deprivation. They are not invited to the monthly meeting of the council. They cannot participate in the decision-making process, even if invited.
Although the council has been formed to serve the people of the upazila, women vice chairmen are not being involved in the development activities. Earlier, woman vice chairman was the president of the income generating development project for marginal women of the upazila. Recently, the responsibility has been snatched as the UNO has been made president for the project.
This proves that no matter how much the government talks about the empowerment of the people's representatives, the local government body has been practically turned into a bureaucrat-dominated institution. Upazila Parishad chairmen also have protested against this time and again. The female vice chairmen have brought the same allegations this time.
The women vice chairmen have put eight demands forward, including the involvement of women vice chairmen in all development activities at the upazila level of the women affairs department, extensive training for the creation of women entrepreneurs for the development of rural economy and giving responsibility to women vice chairmen at the upazila level, arranging transportation to maintain contact with marginalised people and women at the administration level, to give responsibility to the women MPs of the reserved seats in the respective areas to supervise the development activities of the women vice chairmen in each upazila, to implement the 3 per cent allocation of the announced Women's Development Forum through women vice chairmen.
Their demands are not unreasonable. The government has created the positions of female vice chairman in the Upazila Parishad, certainly not to keep them idle. Why they will not be involved in the development activities of the Upazila Parishad? Like chairmen, vice chairmen also receive salaries and allowances from the state. Overall, the disparity in the Upazila Parishad must be removed. If necessary, the government should come to a logical decision with the advice of local governance experts, so that there is no conflict between the chairman and vice chairman or the chairman and UNO. The rational demands of women vice chairmen should be granted.
In many countries, including India, local government bodies have been reformed and the people are reaping the benefits. But even on the golden jubilee of independence, we are still clinging to the old structure. The central government does not want to loosen the grip in any way. Even then, the head of the organisation enjoys the power that has been given to the local government. Therefore, balance of power and structural reform in all local government bodies including Upazila Parishad has become imperative.