Bangladesh Women Policy: Formation of Review Body Questioned

Women’s rights activists knew what was
coming, had already protested the formation of
review body

Staff Correspondent

The formation of a high-powered committee to
review the Women Development Policy 2008 by
keeping the women and children affairs ministry
in the dark has surprised many quarters,
including the government officials.

Law and Religious Affairs Adviser AF Hassan
Ariff, Home Adviser MA Matin, Communications
Adviser Ghulam Quader and LGRD Adviser Md Anwarul
Iqbal at a meeting on Thursday formed the
committee, tasking it with identifying anything
in the policy that may go against Islamic rules.

Rights organisations have questioned the
quartet’s right to form such a committee once the
head of the government formally announced the
policy on behalf of the advisory council on March
8.

They plan to hand in a memorandum to the chief
adviser in a couple of days, protesting the
formation of the review committee and demanding a
clarification of the government position on the
long-awaited policy.

"After the policy was announced and we were
waiting for the start of its implementation, some
advisers have literally bowed to pressure from
individuals who have been opposing women and
social development over the last 50 years," said
Sultana Kamal, executive director of Ain O Salish
Kendra.

Rights organisations and women leaders said
forming such a committee goes against the
government’s stated stand on national
development, equal rights and the establishment
of a corruption-free society.

Key features of the women policy include setting
aside one-third of the parliamentary seats for
women and arranging direct election to the
reserved seats as well as enacting new laws to
ensure opportunity for women and their control on
earned movable and immovable property.

Earlier, several advisers, including the law
adviser himself and Women and Children Affairs
Adviser Rasheda K Choudhury, made it clear on
several occasions that the new policy contains
nothing that goes against the rule and spirit of
Islam, but a section of the religious leaders
took to the streets to protest the policy,
clearly violating the emergency rules.

The law adviser on March 11 told Islamic scholars
at the Islamic Foundation that the interim
government would not pass any law on inheritance.

The next day Adviser Rasheda urged people not to
criticise a “progressive” document like the women
development policy before going through it.

But Islamist organisations paid no heed to her
call. They accused the government of trying to
implement an anti-Shariah policy in the name of
women’s development.

Mufti Mohammad Nuruddin, acting khatib of Baitul
Mokarram National Mosque, was made convenor of
the review committee. It will submit its report
within 21 days identifying the "inconsistencies
in the policy from the perspective of the Islamic
rules".

No official from the women and children affairs
ministry was present at the meeting that formed
the committee, said sources.

"We were not informed before the meeting and not
even after the committee was formed," a top
official of the ministry told The Daily Star on
condition of anonymity.

"Since the ministry played the key role in
formulating the policy and will have to implement
it, it is surprising that neither the ministry’s
adviser nor any official was asked to attend the
meeting," he said.

When asked about this, staffers of the four
advisers’ offices said the meeting was arranged
hurriedly.

"It seems to be a two-pronged policy. We need to
know whether forming the review committee is the
decision of the four advisers or the government
as we know the advisory council approved the
policy," said Ayesha Khanam, president of
Bangladesh Mahila Parishad.

Saying that all the deliberations over the past
few years on formulating the policy appear to
have been absolutely meaningless after the
government’s bowing to the pressure of "those who
are talking against the constitution", Sultana
Kamal added, "I can’t help asking who is running
the government?"

When contacted last night, Law Adviser Hassan
Ariff declined to comment on the issue over the
phone.

P.S.

* From The Daily Star, March 30, 2008. Circulated by South Asia Citizens Wire | April 18-19, 2008 | Dispatch No. 2505 - Year 10 running.