Bangladeshi women on the move
Bangladeshi women have successfully challenged social and religious prejudices and are now playing a vital role in various sectors in the public arena.
Three of the nation's most important political posts are held by women -- they are Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Opposition Leader Khaleda Zia and Deputy Leader of the House Sayeda Sajeda Chowdhury. There are also six female ministers and state ministers in the 44-member cabinet. This is a significant change since 1973, when there were only 15 seats reserved for women in the national assembly.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is in charge of major ministries and divisions, including the armed forces division, the cabinet division, the establishment ministry and the defence ministry.
The cabinet's other female ministers and state ministers include advocate Sahara Khatun of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Begum Matia Chowdhury of the Ministry of Agriculture, Dipu Moni of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Begum Monnujan Sufian of the Ministry of Labour and Employment and State Minister Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, who heads the Ministry of Women and Childrens Affairs.
According to data from the cabinet division, between 1996 and 2001 there were only three female ministers and state ministers as compared with 33 men. Between 2001 and 2006 there were four women and 57 men.
According to the Ministry of Establishment, a woman was first elected in a general seat in 1979. In 1986 five women were elected, then four in 1991, 11 in 1996, six in 2001 and 17 in the 2008 election.
In 2008 there were 4,419 civil servants employed in ministries, of whom only 673 were women. The same proportion of women were employed as civil servants in 2006.
According to figures from the establishment ministry, 1.89% of secretaries are women and 1.14 per cent of additional secretaries are women. The percentage of women in the following posts are: joint secretary, 7.96 per cent; deputy secretary, 13.20 per cent; senior assistant secretary, 19.29 per cent; assistant secretary, 29.20 per cent.
There are no female vice-chancellors in any public universities. The only Bangladeshi female high commissioner is Prof Selina Mohsin in the Maldives. Similarly, the only female ambassador is Ismat Jahan in Belgium and the only deputy high commissioner is Mashfi Imte Shams in Delhi.
According to the Bangladesh Labour Force Survey, there are 28 lakh women working in the urban labour force and 93 lakh in rural areas. The industries employing women are typically the readymade garment industry, pottery, agriculture and various small industries.
The Bar Council Report 2008 stated that in the Supreme Court, there are only 231 female lawyers out of a total of 1,780.
Women in political parties
Awami League (AL) The Awami League's female president is Sheikh Hasina and there are 14 women on its 13-member presidium, including Begum Motia Chowdhury, Sayeda Johra Tajuddin, Syeda Sajeda Chowdhury and Advocate Sahara Khatun. AL has three females on its 31-member secretariat -- Dr Dipu Moni, Faridunnahar Laily and Fazilatun Nessa Indira. There are no females in its 20-members advisory council.
Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) The BNP has only two women on its 19-members national standing committee -- Chairperson Khaleda Zia and Begum Sarwary Rahman. The BNP has eight female officials on its 121-member national executive committee and 38 female members in its 265-member executive committee. There are no women in the chairperson's advisory council.
Jatiya Party The 41-member presidium of the Jatiya Party is led by Hussein Muhammad Ershad and it has five female members, including Rawshan Ershad, Noor-e-Hasnat Chowdhur Lily, Nazma Begum, Salma Islam and Masuda Chowdhury. The party has 20 women in its 299-member central committee.
Jamaat--e--Islami According to its website, Jamaat-e-Islami's central executive committee has no female members.
The Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB) The CPB has no female members amongst its 7-member presidium committee and it has only three female members in its 44-member central committee.
Jatiya Shamajtantrik Dal (JSD) The President of JSD, Hasannul Haque Inu, told The Daily Star that there are six-women on its 109-member central committee. He said, “We are also trying to include at least 10 per cent of women in all district committees as per the Representation of People's Order (RPO).”
Workers Party of Bangladesh The Workers Party has one woman in its 15-members politburo -- Comrade Hazera Sultana. It has six women on its 61-member central committee.
Women in Challenging Professions
Women first joined the police force in 1974. Fourteen women held the posts of constable and sub inspector at its Special Branch in 1974. The first female uniformed police members were recruited two years later.
There are 2,240 women in the police force, including the ranks of additional police superintendent, senior assistant police superintendent, assistant police superintendent, inspector, sub inspector, assistant sub inspector and constable.
Women in the police force were previously restricted to serving at metropolitan stations in Dhaka, Chittagong and Khulna. They did not receive training at the Sharda Police Training Academy. The government later amended this policy and women were included in training programmes from 1986.
The first female deputy inspector general (DIG) is Fatema Begum. She joined as a first assistant superintendent of police (ASP) in 1986. She is currently the only female DIG in Bangladesh. There are four female additional deputy inspector generals.
Fatema said, "It was very difficult when I first joined the police force. I was told that I would be trained separately from the men but I insisted on being trained alongside them." She said that her male colleagues have been very supportive and she is very proud of the fact that female Bangladeshi police have been sent on UN peacekeeping missions since the year 2000.
In 2009, Bangladesh became the first Muslim nation to commit an all-female UN peacekeeping mission.