Advocacy Initiatives of NUK During 2007-2008
Advocacy and networking constitutes to be the main focus of NUK’s program activities. NUK undertakes advocacy approach for policy changes on contemporary issues of interest and need to its respective beneficiaries. Political situation immediately prior to the reporting period, was characterized by confrontational politics and hi-jacking of resources. However, since January 2007, a non-party Caretaker Government took office and undertaking reforms to put back the political situation with more accountability and transparency. Swift action has been taken to activate the Anti-corruption Commission and bring corrupt officials and Politians to justice. There are signs that, other important reforms e.g. strengthening the Anti-corruption Commission, Election Commission, Establishing National Human Rights Commission, Regulatory Reform Commission, Separating the Judiciary from the executive, rules for political parties reform, Separate power of local Government from parliamentary government, Voter registration, and electoral reforms for both central and local government. There are also concerns regarding curbs on freedom of expression and association and possible abuses of power as the Caretaker Government is supported a state of emergency backed by the military. All these measures has been undertaken to improve the governance situation in the country. During the time the national election has been announced to be held in December 2008, but concern was remain whether ultimately the election will be held, and even the election is held, the country will go back to old situation as the political leaders are being released from jail to take part in the upcoming election who largely denying the electoral reforms. In this situation, country might go back to previous situation and may repeat the political turmoil in old manner and possibly the ongoing military power could be stronger and sustained their role. It was assume that, NGOs potentially can play a critical role during this period as advocates of a full resumption of democracy by facilitating and civil society mobilization towards demanding the enforcement of the reform activities.
As a part of the electoral reform, the Election Commission was deliberately focused on the computerized voter registration with photo ID. But the Election commission lacks serious financial and human resources and necessary organizing skill. Though the military are backing to the EC, NGOs role was encouraged to massively mobilize voters along with local government bodies was crucial.
Role of NUK During the Interim Government
Collaboration with the Local Government Women Representatives for Voter Registration: The caretaker government engages the elected representatives of the local government, for voter registration task. Since NUK has networks with entire LGIs, NUK undertook countrywide orientation sessions with the local government representatives to ensure that 100% eligible women voters are registered and received the National ID card. That will enable them to participate in the poll of the upcoming election.
Garment Workers Participation in National Voter Registration: NUK also undertook a special project to ensure garment workers participated in the recently completed Voter Registration with national ID card funded by CIDA. NUK mobilized both the Election Commission and the BGMEA and the individual Factory Owners to allow their workers to enlisted in the voter registration. Through media mobilization, and Trade Union leaders, and massive workers mobilization, about 80% garment workers became the voters.
Local Government Reform: 40% Ward reservation for women in all tiers of local government and all Committees: Under the scope of Local Government Reform and its special allocation subjects for Women’s Empowerment strategy the National Federation of Local Women Representatives facilitated by NUK drafted and submitted 19 recommendations to the Reform Committee. Out of them instead of reserve seats 50% ward reservation was demanded in a rotational manner was significant. The reform committee proposed government to approve 40% ward reservation for women in all tiers of local government to increase their effective participation in local government bodies. Accordingly the new ordinances of local government have adopted the provision of women’s increased representations. But unfortunately due to the resistance of political parties, male counterpart of the LGIs and religious fundamentalist’s denials to the National Women’s Policy, the caretaker Government failed to pursue the provision of women’s 40% representation in local government bodies. Hence women’s representations in LGI back to the originals. Despite women’s immense demands and hard works both in local and national level, the whole efforts became in vain.
However, the Upazilla ordinances have adopted one vice- president position for women. As such 484 women vice- president in Upazilla will be added in the Upazilla Parishad. Since the position is a new opening for women, concerted efforts is needed to mobilize and train potential women, who can participate at the upcoming Upazilla Election. Following the Election, NUK planned to capacity building, leadership development and networking support to these newly elected women Vice-Presidents of Upazillas towards ensuring quality service delivery for the citizens and rights and effective representation of women in UDCs
Submission of Appeal to the President of the Peoples’ Republic of Bangladesh:
A10-member delegation of National Federation of Local Government Women Representatives’ headed by the Executive Director of NUK including its advisors and representatives of NUK called on to share the President of Bangladesh Professor Dr Iajuddin Ahmed. The purpose of the meeting was to inform and urged regarding the deletion of women’s 40% representation in local government tiers that was adopted by the local government reform committee but deleted by the discretion of the Chief Advisor, prior to publication of Gazette. The President listened to the issues raised by the members of the Federation and assured to act his best to ensure that the recommendations are implemented before the upcoming election. Unfortunately the President already signed the ordinances before the Federation delegation met him. However, he issued a letter of inquiry on the matters to the Chief advisor and copy to advisors of LGRD and MOWCA and to Executive Director of NUK. The Federation representatives presented the following demands to the President:
Protest against the exclusion of 40% Women’s representation: The elected women representatives from all over Bangladesh gathered in Dhaka and organized a protest at the National Press Club against the caretaker Government’s betray with the 40% women representation in different local government bodies. Police prevented the women representatives to hold the protest, but the women representatives fought back with police while they were taken away the banner of the protest. Both electronic and print media took the photographs these incidents. However, the protest was successful in informing the different walks of people and the policy level that, the government has betrayed by withdrawing the 40% of women’s representation in LGIs.
Municipality and City Corporations Election Monitoring by NUK: Following a massive reforms, new ordinances for Upazilla, Municipalities and the City Corporations were already published and under the scope of these ordinances the Election Commission held a trial election in the 9 Municipalities and 4 City Corporations held on 4th August 2008. During the 4 City Corporation and 9 Municipalities election NUK participated in the Election Monitoring to observe the free, fairness and specially the gender friendly environment in the election process. NUK gained an enormous experience, especially in the areas of the gender biases, gender domination, fundamental attitudes and values of the male contestants, their election workers, negative attitudes, non-cooperation of the security forces and other stakeholders’ towards women engaged in the election procedure. For example, the posters of the women candidates, either stilling, or disappearing them from the strategic points and locations, discouraging the general voters to caste votes for women, or bribing the voters, blackmailing, misinterpretation about the women candidates etc. Besides, in the polling centers, the ratio between the presiding officers, Asst. presiding officer, polling agents are male dominated. The infrastructure of the voting centers, in many cases is not gender friendly etc. NUK already communicated the findings of the observation especially the gender gaps have been communicated to the Election Commission, which can be rectified during the following elections.
Subsequently NUK also will participate to monitoring the remaining Municipalities and City Corporation’s election to be held later. NUK thus developed its credibility to monitoring the election management process from gender perspectives.
Political Parties Reform: 33% women representation in political parties: Election Commission proposes to ensure 33% women representation in every level of political parties as one of the condition for political parties registration. However, unfortunately, all political parties irrespective of their philosophy, refused to accept the provision of 33% of women’s representation in their political parties. Every political party assumed that, there are no qualified women available to join the political parties; Hence women’s positions will remain vacant. Only one left party emphasized that, by 2020, gradually 33% of women’s representation may be fulfilled. In the meantime the People Representation Ordinances (PRO)-2008 has been passed, now waiting for final approval from the Advisory committee. Hence the incorporation of 33% women representation still remains uncertain. NUK already mobilizes the National Federation of Elected Women Representatives to negotiate the issues with the Election Commission. The EC feel helpless as the political parties are against the provision. NUK organizes several one to one meeting with the different political leaders of all the major political parties and organized a national workshop with the Political leaders. But received no positive responses. Only the Awamileague accepted a consultation while the president of the Party would be back to the country. Other party has denied even did not allowed any discussion on these matters.
Failing from this policy support, NUK planned to massively mobilize large number of women to take part as the candidates in general seats to both local and central level election. Since NUK has long term experiences and have an extensive network and partnership exists with the entire local government stakeholders, and have nationwide networks entitled Bangladesh Women’s Forums (BWF) with 1300 local Women NGOs (Bangladesh Women NGOs Forum), National Federation of Elected Women Representatives and the Bangladesh Garment Workers Protection Alliance (BGWPA) NUK will use its existing networks and resource for nationwide election monitoring towards ensuring free, fair and specially to observe the obstacles, barriers that women as candidates and voters face during the election management in the upcoming local government and Parliamentary election.
It was also in the upcoming election both decided that NUK would engage the leaders and members of the Forums in the upcoming national election monitoring on the 18 December and 24 & 28 December.
Backlashes in increase women's representation in local government bodies as well as national political parties
Though the interim government has undertaken several reforms, women have hardly benefited from these reforms. Because due to the pressure of the religious party (Jamat-E-Islam) the interim government seized the National Women’s Policy, cancelled the 40% women’s representation in LGIs, and due to the political parties denials EC’s relaxation of the 33% representation of women in political parties. So far only the Awamileague has incorporated the 33% women’s representation in their constitutions, but other major political parties positions was not the same.