National Women Development Policy

Bangladesh: Review body opposes equal rights for women

Mullah driven review body finds equal rights for women “very objectionable”. Recommends deletion of 6 provisions, change in 15 in National Women Development Policy.

Star Report

The ulema committee formed to review the National
Women Development Policy has strongly opposed
equal rights to women, recommending deletion of
six sections of the policy and amending 15 others
as they said these sections “clash” with the
provisions of the Quran and Sunnah.

There are several sections in the policy which
are “very objectionable”, said Mufti Mohammad
Nuruddin, acting khatib of Baitul Mukarram
National Mosque who headed the review committee.

"A woman cannot enjoy rights equal 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?"

Nuruddin told The Daily Star after submitting the
seven-page report to Law and Religious Affairs
Adviser AF Hassan Ariff yesterday.

The 20-member committee asked the government to
clarify the phrase "women’s equal rights to
earned movable and immovable properties"
and
follow Islamic provisions on inheritance if the
earned properties include inherited properties.

Suggesting inclusion of guidelines "in the light
of the Quran and Sunnah"
while taking any
decision regarding women’s rights, the ulema
recommended abolishing the section that suggests
steps to implement the UN Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
against Women (CEDAW).

Asking the government to withdraw Bangladesh from
the convention, they said many sections in it go
against the belief, spirits and culture of the
Muslim ummah.

The ulema committee also opposed and asked the
government to eliminate the provision for keeping
reserved seats for women in parliament and local
government bodies and direct elections to those.

"This policy has strongly hurt the pious Muslims
of the country since many sections of it clash
with the Quran and Sunnah...It does not go with
Bangladesh’s constitution, religious traditions
and culture," the report concludes.

Adviser Hassan Ariff expressed hopes that the
recommendations will remove the "language or
interpretation gap"
created surrounding the Women
Development Policy.

The committee members did not support the
attempts by a section of opportunists to create
chaos by taking advantage of the situation, he
told reporters.

THE RECOMMENDATIONS

The committee said 15 sections of the National
Women Development Policy are against Islam and
should be revised or corrected while six sections
should be eliminated.

The Islamic scholars said not only is it
impossible to establish equal rights for men and
women in the country, but in some cases, giving
women equality would deprive them of their rights
in many sectors.

They proposed replacing the phrase "equality,
equal rights and affirmative action“
with ”just
rights"
.

The committee also said the ambition of
eradicating "existing disparities between women
and men"
is unclear and should be replaced by the
phrase "existing disparities between women and
men in light of the Quran and the Sunnah"
.

On the section that asks for giving women equal
human and fundamental rights such as political,
economic, social and cultural, they said "just
rights"
should be ensured for men and women in
light of the Quran and Sunnah.

They said the government must ensure
participation of ulema and muftis alongside
women’s law experts while drawing up or
eliminating or amending any "existing
discriminatory"
law.

They proposed inclusion of religion experts in a
committee to resolve any inconsistency regarding
women’s interest arising from misinterpretations
of provisions of those religions.

They also opposed the provision of a child’s
being identified by both the mother and father,
saying it “encourages sexual abuse” and
pre-marital cohabitation. They recommended
identifying a child by “legally married” parents.

The committee observed that the policy’s proposed
penalty for child marriages is not in line with
Islamic policy as the legal marriage age of 18
should not apply here because Islam states that a
girl can be married as soon as she has "come of
age"
.

It recommended replacing the phrase "child
marriage“
of the section concerned with”discourage underage marriage".

The committee opposed inclusion of women in
peacekeeping missions, saying it would make women
insecure and it could tarnish Bangladesh’s image.
The ulema proposed cancelling the provision.

They also opposed the provision that women "must
be given equal opportunities and participation in
wealth, employment, market and business"
, saying
it clashes with the Quran’s teachings. They
proposed giving women equal opportunities and
participation in these sectors in light of
religious dictums.

The committee specifically said one’s inheritance
rights should be determined by their own
religions.

The ulema asked the government to cancel the
initiative to reserve one-third parliamentary
seats for women to increase women’s participation
in parliament and its application in local
elections.

A few Islamist parties started staging
demonstrations immediately after the chief
adviser announced the National Women Development
Policy 2008 on March 8.

On March 11, the law adviser told the ulema that
the caretaker government had not passed any law
regarding inheritance and there is nothing that
contradicts the Quran and Sunnah.

The next day, Women and Children Affairs Adviser
Rasheda K Choudhury asked people to refrain from
unnecessary criticism of a progressive document
like the policy without going through it.

On March 27, the government formed the 20-member
committee to identify inconsistencies in the
policy as per Islamic rules and suggest steps.

P.S.

* From The Daily Star, April 18, 2008 . Circulated by South Asia Citizens Wire | April 18-19, 2008 | Dispatch No. 2505 - Year 10 running.