All major political parties have failed to meet the 2020 deadline of reserving at least 33 percent of all committee positions at local and national levels for women while the Election Commission is doing nothing about it.
The commission is still in the dark as to which parties have or haven't met the deadline, unaware of the percentage of female representation in central committees of all the political parties -- not to mention those at the grassroots level.
Reserving at least 33 percent of all committee positions, including that of the central committee, for women by 2020 is a pre-requisite for any political party's registration with the Election Commission in line with the Representation of the People Order, 1972.
This target came about following an amendment to incorporate this provision into the RPO in 2008, and failure to meet this means the EC can cancel registration of a political party, according to EC officials.
The deadline ended more than two months ago.
Based on the numbers of female members of the major parties' central committees, as reported in The Daily Star last year, AL, BNP and almost all other parties fall short of the 33 percent target.
Only five parties claimed to The Daily Star that women made up one-third of their central committees. They are Gono Front, Bangladesh National Awami Party, Jatiya Gonotantrik Party, Zaker Party, and Khelafat Majlis.
Bangladesh Mahila Parishad General Secretary Maleka Banu and women's rights activist Farida Akter are frustrated about the EC's inaction over the political parties' failure in this regard.
"We do not know what the Election Commission is doing. This provision in the law was incorporated in response to a long movement," said Bangladesh Mahila Parishad General Secretary Maleka Banu.
"They [EC] are trying to shift the responsibilities to the political parties. But it was the EC's responsibilities to monitor whether the target was being fulfilled by the political parties.
"The EC cannot avoid its responsibilities," she said.
Farida Akter said she does not have any hope that the current EC will do much to ensure the fulfilment of the target. This commission has failed to ensure voter rights, which was their main task, she added.
"In the lack of a proper democratic process, some institutions are losing their autonomy," she said.
Contacted, Election Commissioner Rafiqul Islam said that political parties often say that they are trying to meet the deadline.
"We have to sit and discuss the matter of next steps as they failed to meet the deadline," he said.
He also said that the section that talks about that reservation of 33 percent of committee positions for women was an advisory section. "It says political parties should make an effort to fulfil the criteria."
"Many political parties are seeking more time. The decision of time extension is a political decision and the government will take the decision. There is an effort towards amendment of the law," he added.
However, as per the Representation of the People Order, 1972, if any political party wants to be registered, it shall fulfil one of the conditions, which include "to fix the goal of reserving at least 33% of all committee positions for women including the central committee and successively achieving this goal by the year 2020".
AL, BNP FAIL TO REACH 33PC
"If the present ruling party had fulfilled the target, the Election Commission could have created some pressure on other parties to follow suit," said women rights' activist Farida.
"As the Awami League has failed to meet the criteria, the commission is silent."
According to party insiders, 19 out of the ruling Awami League's 74-member central committee are women (26 percent); seven posts are also empty as of now.
In June 2017, the Election Commission had sent letters to all the registered political parties, asking them about their progress in achieving the target of 33 percent women's political representation by 2020.
In its reply, AL had said it would be able to fulfil the criteria by 2020.
Contacted yesterday, Awami League Presidium Member Piyush Kanti Bhattacharya said the party is a women-centric party and already has many women leaders and activists.
"We should fulfill the requirement, we will take more initiatives to ensure this 33 percent," he said.
In the case of BNP, women constitute 11 percent of the party's 73-member advisory body, with only eight women. The party at the time expressed hope that the target would be achieved within the stipulated time.
"Other political parties also made almost similar comments like AL and BNP," said an EC official requesting anonymity.
Three months into the new year, the official said the commission does not yet have any specific information about how many women leaders there are in the central and other committees of the political parties.
"We have a plan to send letters to all the registered political parties soon seeking information on the deadline. We have prepared a draft of the letter and are waiting for the commission's decision," he told The Daily Star recently.
BNP Standing Committee Member Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain said they are well aware of the requirement and are also concerned.
"We have discussed the issue in the party's standing committee meeting. We have decided to ensure 33 percent of women in all the committees and we are working on it."
He added the party's committees are reorganising and are hopeful the requirement will be fulfilled soon.
Party leaders claim it is difficult for females to join politics, with resistance from both women and men, and a lack of qualified candidates.
General Secretary Shah Alam of the Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB), which has around 15 percent of women in their central committee, said that many men still resist woman joining politics.
"It is a problem of attitudes," he said.
"Then again, women from urban areas usually join politics but women from rural areas do not have interest in joining politics," he claimed.
Among other parties, Jatiya Party (Manju) has 16 women in its core committee of 101 members (15.8 percent) and around 11 percent of the Workers Party of Bangladesh's central committee constitute women.
Farida Akter said that the two major parties AL and BNP could have set an example by fulfilling the criteria.
"They are not doing so. It isn't true that they are not getting qualified women leadership. There are a lot of qualified women leaders here," she said.
"Political parties talk much about gender sensitivity, promoting women leadership, following democratic practices and others but in reality, they do not do that much," added Maleka.
"Political parties argue women do not come forward to join politics but this is not true. During elections, we can see that many women are seeking tickets. Are these women not capable enough to become leaders of a political party?"