Empowering women through direct election in reserved seats: a comparative study of rural and urban local government institutions in Bangladesh

Author: Shajeda Aktar

Aktar, Shajeda, 2014 Empowering women through direct election in reserved seats: a comparative study of rural and urban local government institutions in Bangladesh, Flinders University, School of Social and Policy Studies

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The thesis makes a contribution through a case study to investigate the way in which women candidates in Bangladesh are elected and the challenges that they face in striving to empower women through electoral representation. The study focuses on the grass-roots local government, in a comparative study between selected rural and urban local government institutions in different socio-economic, educational, and cultural contexts. Despite the achievements in terms of being elected and representing the needs of women, the elected representatives continue to face many challenges who face pressures within the domestic unit and from the local government administration that remains weighted in the favour of male candidates. Nevertheless the thesis shows how women make a contribution to changing the life chances of women through Local Government Ordinance 1997 with the provision of direct election in reserved seats. This study aims to explore the dynamics, challenges and the potential for women's empowerment through direct election under this Act. Despite challenges, the findings of the study reveal some indications of women's agency and empowerment. Firstly, the findings show that women representatives of the survey area are able to develop agency and mobility starting from the decision to stand as candidates and to contest an election, continuing through the election campaign and then by performing roles in the LGIs. Women representatives show personal freedom as a result of their being able to talk to people beyond their immediate and extended family, to attend meetings with unknown officials and by visiting public places. Secondly, the study evidences structural changes towards gender equity - at least in this study sample. The burden of domestic chores of many of the women representatives were eased after being elected. They were also more highly valued in the society and invited in community forums like school committees and to participate in Shalish . Thirdly, the study shows how direct election can enhance well-being and empowerment of women in the wider community. The elected women representatives surveyed in this study appeared to be the very first people consulted for help by women in the community who face oppression, repression and injustice including dowry, rape, physical torture and fatwa. Women representatives also took on projects and training programs enhancing income generating activities for general women. The study also identifies some critical hurdles that put restrictions achieving women's agency and empowerment in the local government institutions including non-cooperation from elected male representatives, lack of clear demarcation and overlapping of the constituency of the reserved seats with 3 general seats, non-identification of roles and responsibilities of the women representatives in the 1997 Act, religious and socio-cultural restrictions including restrictions on women's mobility outside home, etc. Findings of the study, thus, offer important policy implication in the endeavour of women's empowerment of the country.

Keywords: Local government,women empowerment,gender quota,reserved seats,direct election

Subject: Women's Studies thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2014
School: School of Social and Policy Studies
Supervisor: Associate Professor Janet McIntyre