IN A rather discriminatory move, the parliamentary standing committee on liberation war affairs recommended that woman upazila nirbahi officers and deputy commissioner be barred from leading the state-level posthumous guard of honour of freedom fighters. The recommendation was made in a meeting on Sunday when a member of the committee raised concern on religious grounds that women are not allowed to lead such events in Islam and that a designated man from the local government must perform this role. They made the recommendation as locals on various occasions have raised question about women officials’ participation in such events. When lawmakers are expected to make policy-level changes to undo gender discrimination, it is rather unfortunate that their recommendation explicitly subscribes to patriarchal values. The committee also failed to distinguish a state-level guard of honour from a religious funeral. More importantly, the recommendation is in clear contradiction with the nation’s proclamation of independence, the constitution and the government policy of women’s empowerment. Women’s rights activists have, therefore, rightfully said that state policies, when it comes to the question of gender equality, have failed to uphold the true spirit of the liberation war.
Women’s rights activists, aggrieved at the said policy move, found the recommendation problematic on several grounds. Such a move, as they say, is an attempt at denying the significant role that woman freedom fighters played in the liberation war. Time and again, historians and well-meaning freedom fighters have acknowledged the myriad of ways women had actively participated in the struggle for an independent Bangladesh. If the proposed ban on women officials’ participation in state-level guard of honour of freedom fighters is approved by the cabinet, it would be an institutional exercise of gender discrimination and clear violation of the proclamation of independence and the constitution that pledge to build an equal society. Such policy-level exercise of gender discrimination is, however, not uncommon. Earlier, in 2014, the law ministry made a decision that women cannot be marriage registrars, even if they meet the qualification required for the post, as social and practical conditions in Bangladesh do not permit so. Recently, the Directorate of Primary Education in its textbooks on ‘Bangladesh and world affairs’ reproduced the patriarchal idea that unpaid works are for women. The recommendation in hand, as well as other similar policy decisions, shows how the ruling political elite continue to represent patriarchal values.
The political rhetoric that the Awami League government has ideologically relied on is that it upholds the spirit of 1971 and subscribes to women’s empowerment. However, in practice, it did not walk the talk and digressed from the fundamental constitutional obligation to ensure gender equality. The cabinet division must, therefore, consider the serious gap between the government’s gender policy and practices. Women’s group, as well as conscientious sections of society, must continue to mobilise against discriminatory policy moves and remind the lawmakers that they are bestowed with the responsibility of fostering social change and that includes ending gender discrimination.
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