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B’desh Parliament reserves 45 seats for women

Sunday 16 May 2004

DHAKA: Bangladesh will get 45 new parliamentary seats, all reserved for female lawmakers, under a constitutional amendment passed on Sunday, but some women have criticized the change as an ``insulting’’ empty gesture.

The new seats will be allotted proportionately among the parties in Parliament, who will be allowed to choose female lawmakers.

However, those chosen will have no fixed constituencies.

Several women’s rights groups criticized the amendment.

``It will undermine women’s political role,’’ said activist Ayesha Khanam. ``It’s insulting.’’

The amendment’s opponents want direct elections for the reserved seats. Under a previous, similar provision that reserved 30 seats for women, elected lawmakers chose mostly relatives and favourite party workers to fill the posts.

Critics also say the women will have scant political roles to fill, since they’ll have no fixed constituencies or constituents.

The government says direct elections for the women’s seats ``are not feasible yet,’’ but that the new amendment will encourage women’s political involvement.

``Women can still directly contest from the other available seats,’’ said Law Minister Moudud Ahmed.

Although Bangladesh ’s Prime Minister and the main Opposition leader are both women, few female lawmakers have been directly elected.

Local government councils in villages and towns have women elected directly to reserved seats.

Bangladesh ’s main opposition party, the Awami League, boycotted Sunday’s parliamentary session in protest.

Awami League General Secretary Abdul Jalil called the amendment ``anti-people and politically motivated.’’ The Opposition said it breaches a pre-election pledge by Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party to introduce direct elections for reserved women’s seats.

The new amendment brings the total number of seats in Parliament to 345.

It will take effect once the country’s figurehead president signs it, a mere formality.

See online : The Times of India

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