First woman to preside over Jatiya Sangsad

Bangladesh is setting a rare example of women’s empowerment. Women are now occupying several top posts in the country. Its Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, Deputy Leader of Parliament are women and now the country is all set to greet its first woman Speaker in history.

Published : 30 April 2013, 01:55 AM
Updated : 30 April 2013, 02:02 AM

In an unprecedented move, the ruling Awami League has nominated State Minister for Women and Children Affairs Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury to run for the post.

Members of Parliament will formally elect Abdul Hamid’s successor on Tuesday. The 46-year-old is all set to take over the job as the ruling party has majority in Parliament.

A lawyer by profession, Chaudhury entered Parliament for the first time as an MP from one of the reserved seats for women. She holds a PhD from Essex University in the United Kingdom.

Ruling party Presidium Member Matia Chowdhury said the Awami League Parliamentary Party, presided over by party President Sheikh Hasina, decided on Chaudhury’s nomination at a meeting on Monday night.

Party’s General Secretary Syed Ashraful Islam proposed Chaudhury’s name for the post and it was supported by others.
The office fell vacant as the then Speaker Abdul Hamid took over as the Acting President following the death of President Zillur Rahman.
Chaudhury’s appointment is the first of its kind from an MP elected from one of reserved seats for women to the top parliamentary post. She will have to relinquish her ministerial position before the election to the Speaker’s post, which is now a mere formality.
The Awami League-led alliance enjoys three-fourth majority in Parliament and her election to the top job is guaranteed even if the opposition decides to contest.
Deputy Speaker Shawkat Ali is currently discharging the duties as Acting Speaker.
Secretary of the Parliament Secretariat Md Mahfuzur Rahman told that preparations for the Speaker’s election and oath taking ceremony are complete. According to the Constitutional provisions, President Abdul Hamid will administer the oath of office to the new Speaker.
Bangladesh’s Constitution stipulates filling up the posts of Speaker and Deputy Speaker within seven days of falling vacant.
Abdul Hamid, who worked his way up to the top from the grassroots, took oath as the 20th President on Apr 24. The Parliament Secretariat issued a gazette notification the following day announcing the post of Speaker vacant.
President Hamid was elected uncontested. The opposition has been staying away from Parliament sessions for long and it is likely that Chaudhury will also be elected without any contest.
Once Chaudhury is elected, women will be occupying the top three positions in the House. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is the Leader of the House, Khaleda Zia Leader of the Opposition and Syeda Sajeda Chowdhury the Deputy Leader of Parliament.
Hasina-led cabinet has several women in various important portfolios. Matia Chowdhury is the Agriculture Minister, Dipu Moni is the Foreign Minister, and Sahara Khatun is the Posts and Telecommunication Minister.
Recently, Nazmun Ara Sultana became the first woman in Bangladesh to serve as head of an Appellate Division bench in Supreme Court, the apex court that is bestowed with the power of pronouncing final judicial verdicts in the country.
Once Shirin Sharmin is appointed as the Speaker, the three countries of the sub-continent – Bangladesh, India and Pakistan – will have women occupying top parliamentary positions. Meera Kumar is the Speaker of Indian Parliament and Fahmida Mirza in Pakistan.
Chaudhury, with an outstanding academic career, was born in Dhaka on October 6, 1966. Her father Rafiqullah Chaudhury was the Personal Secretary of independence leader and former Prime Minister Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Her mother Professor Naiyer Sultana was a Member of Public Service Commission and her grandfather was a judge at then East Pakistan High Court.
She passed her SSC with Humanities from the Dhaka Education Board topping the merit list in 1983 and completed HSC from the same board in 1985 securing second position in the integrated merit list of all groups.
In 1989, she came out first class first in her LLB (Honours) examination from the Dhaka University and passed LLM with distinction from the same university in 1990.
On a Commonwealth Scholarship, she did her PhD on human rights and constitutional laws – ‘Right to Life’ – from Essex University in the United Kingdom in 2000.
She enrolled at the Bar Council in 1992 as a lawyer and two years later with the High Court. In 2008, she was enrolled with the Appellate Division.
The International Affairs Secretary of the Awami League, she was elected MP from one of the parliamentary seats reserved for women on March 24, 2009.
During the army-backed caretaker government in 2007-08, she was one of the members of the lawyers’ panel which conducted the cases filed against Hasina.
Chaudhury became a member of the Bangladesh Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) and Dhaka Bar Association in 2000 and was elected Editor of Bangladesh Bar Council Legal Division in 2003. She became a member of Bangladesh Nari Samaj (Women's Coalition) in 2007.
The ‘Women Development Policy’ was passed in Parliament during her term as a State Minister.
In 2008, she became a member of the sub-committee of Bangladesh Bar Council Legal Education and a member of the executive committee of Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs.
In 2009, she was elected as a syndicate member of the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Medical University (BSMMU).
Her husband Syed Ishtiaque Hossain is a pharmaceutical consultant. They are blessed with a son and a daughter.
Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher