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National Women Development Policy

National Women Development Policy

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Published by Hasan Rizvi

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Categories:Types, Research, Law
Published by: Hasan Rizvi on Jul 14, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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 National women development policyJawad Hossain Nirjhor It all started in 1997, when the NationalWomen's Development Policy (NWDP) was first passed but was left at that. As theyears went by, its existence was revived once more in 2004 and was briefly glimpsedat in the subsequent years until 2008, when, in honors of International Women's Day,the policy was brought back once more into the limelight. This time, a fewamendments were suggested for it to more clearly define women's rights andhighlight their importance in our culture and society today. What followed afterwardswas an astonishing multitude of events. As a result, even seven years after its initialrevival, the NWDP still remains a matter of debate. The policy was first introducedin January 1997 by the Department of Women's Affairsand Jatiya Mohila Sangsthawith the aim of stopping repression and discrimination of women and to ensuregender equality politically, socially and economically. Whilst scrapped by thesubsequent government, itsreintroduction in 2008 with the amendments sparkedcontroversy in quite a few sectors; in particular it was met with strong oppositionfrom religious leaders and Islamic scholars who feel that the provisions of the policyclash strongly with Islamic views, and women's rightsactivists who feel that anyamendments to the policy will repress the basic inherent rights ofwomen. As reportedon 3 June 2006 by Bdnews24.com, the reintroduction of the policy began with theroundtable meeting organised by the Bangladesh Mohila Parishad at CIRDAPauditorium in June 2006. Rekha Chowdhury, the then central secretary of MovementSub-committee of the Parishad, presented thewritten statement, while AyshaKhanam, the then general secretary of the Mohila Parishad central committee,delivered the address of welcome. In her written statement, Rekha Chowdhury statedthat the changes made to the policy in May 2004 actually became apparent when thenomination procedure regarding the issue of reserving seats for women in Parliamentarose. She pointed out that such fundamental changes clashed with the concept of ademocratic political system. She further added that variations "in terms of politicaland economic empowerment of women opened the floodgate of interference of thereactionary evil forces that would confine the women to their houses rather than their empowerment". It seems like she was right. As reported on 14 March 2008 by E-Bangladesh, when the Chief Adviser of Caretaker Government Dr FakhruddinAhmed unveiled the women's developmental policy on International Women's Dayon 8 March 2008, several thousand activists of different Islamist organisations staged
demonstrations in front of the Baitul Mukarram National Mosque, protesting againstthe proposed NWDP and demanding its immediate withdrawal. The organizationswhich prearranged the protest included Islami Shashantantra Andolan, Hizbut Tahrir Bangladesh, Islami Chhatra Majlish and Islami Ain Bastobayon Committee. In between the noisy rallying and protests, the Islamic speakers branded adviser Rasheda K Chowdhury an 'anti-Islamic element' and demanded her 'expulsion' fromthe cabinet. Further accusations stated that the government was simply using thename "Women's Development Policy" as a pseudonym for introducing andimplementing anti-Shariah policy. The main focus of theIslamic speakers' angeseemed to be concentrated on the fact that, as the rally speakers themselves said, theQuran clearly defines issues in relation to inheritance and how property should bedivided amongst male and female heirs. The funny thing, however, is the fact that"inheritance" is not even mentioned once within the whole policy. No such law has been passed about inheritance and the policy contained no such clause that concernedor focused on inheritance. In fact, the policy solely concentrates on the protection of women from different forms of harassment and deprivation. However, the rallies and protests of the many Islamic groups seemed to have a profound effect on thegovernment. After their violent protests, they were allowed by the government toform a committee to study the policy for clauses that might go against Islamic values.As reported by a leading newspaper on 18 April 2008, the ulema committee(committee of Islamic scholars), came up with 21 sections of the policy they deemedto be against Muslim religious sentiments and laws - six of which they recommendedshould be deleted and 15 others amended. Mufti Mohammad Nuruddin, acting khatibof Baitul Mukarram National Mosque who headed the review committee,commented on the policy being 'very objectionable'. "A woman cannot enjoy rightsequal to a man's because a woman is not equal to a man by birth. Can there be two prime ministers - one male and one female -in a country at the same time?" Nuruddinfurther stated.What's interesting about this point is that it is virtually impossible for two prime ministers to exist in a country at the same time, and the situation willremain unchanged no matter which of the following scenarios apply - if both the prime ministers are male, if both the prime ministers are female, or, as Nuruddin sodelicately phrases it, if both prime ministers are "one male and one female". It seemsthat emphasis was given here to the wrong question. The question is not whether onecountry can have two prime ministers or not, the question should have been whethe both a male candidate and a female candidate are given the equal opportunity toenable them to be elected as prime minister. Ambiguous questions aside, what exactchanges have been recommended for the Women's Development Policy? The ulemacommittee suggested the elimination of six sections and revision of 15 sections of the policy. The Islamic scholars stated that giving women equality would deprive themof their rights in many sectors. Amongst many, their recommendations includedreplacing the phrase "equality, equal rights and affirmative action" with "just rights",the phrase "existing disparities between women and men" is unclear and should bereplaced by the phrase "existing disparities between women and men in light of theQuran and the Sunnah", and the phrase "child marriage" of the section concernedwith "discourage underage marriage". The ulema also proposed cancelling the provision which included women in peacekeeping missions, saying it would make

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