Voices unheard: Women with disabilities cry out for representation in Bangladesh parliament

Three women demand at least two reserved seats in parliament for differently abled people to champion their rights

Kazi Nafia Rahmanbdnews24.com
Published : 10 Feb 2024, 06:06 AM
Updated : 10 Feb 2024, 06:06 AM

Nasima Akhtar has been wheelchair-bound since contracting polio at the age of two. The Rangpur native has since dedicated 21 years of her life to advocating for people with disabilities.

Nasima, who was elected as a reserved woman member in Rangpur's Payaraband Union two years, has now set her sights on representing the disabled community in the 12th national parliament.

To achieve her goal, she has purchased the Awami League's nomination form for a women's reserved seat.

As the president of the National Council of Disabled Women, Nasima is seeking a platform in the country's legislature to champion the rights and welfare of people with disabilities on a larger scale.

Out of the 50 reserved seats in parliament, the Awami League is set to receive 48, with the remaining two allocated to the Jatiya Party.

A total of 1,549 women are vying for the Awami League's tickets to these 48 seats, including three women with disabilities.

The three candidates have advocated for at least two seats to be specifically reserved for people with disabilities to ensure their rights and protections are addressed.

Jannatul Ferdous Ivy, a prominent women's rights activist, producer, and writer, supports the idea of a quota for women with disabilities among the reserved seats.

Ivy, a burn survivor who was recognised in the BBC's 2023 list of the world's 100 most inspiring and influential women, argues that men and even other women cannot fully grasp the challenges faced by women with disabilities.

She is determined to enter parliament to safeguard the rights of people from this vulnerable community and advocate for policy reforms.

Despite her disability, Ivy has completed her postgraduate studies and excels in educational qualifications, work experience, and organisational management.

She questions the reluctance to include people with disabilities in parliament if they have the qualifications.

"If they review our nomination forms, are we any less qualified than other candidates? If so, we will accept it."

At 56, Salma Mahbub, who was confined to a wheelchair after contracting polio at nine months old, aspires to secure a seat in parliament reserved for women.

Despite her challenges, Salma's primary concern isn't just her potential candidacy under the Awami League's banner but rather to highlight the need for people with disabilities to be represented in the legislature and encourage more women like her to pursue roles as public representatives.

Salma, the founding general secretary of the Bangladesh Society for the Change and Advocacy Nexus (B-SCAN), points out that despite discussions on various issues in parliament, the voices of people with disabilities often go unheard, leaving them deprived of their rights.

"If someone like me was in parliament, they would listen to us when we raise our voices for our demands," she said.

She questioned why special provisions are not made to include people with disabilities among the reserved seats and urged women with disabilities to step forward and seek nominations.

Since 2014, Salma has served as the general secretary of the National Alliance of Disabled Peoples Organizations, advocating for the rights and accessibility for individuals with disabilities, which she argues would benefit the entire population.

Salma criticises the lack of active committees under the Disability Protection Act, highlighting a broader societal issue where people with disabilities find no platform to express their concerns.

She aspires to be that voice in parliament, ensuring that differently abled people feel represented and prioritised.

Echoing Salma's sentiments, Nasima Akhter, president of the National Council of Disabled Women, expressed hope in Awami League President Sheikh Hasina's disability-friendly policies.

She urged the prime minister to allow individuals with disabilities, especially women at the grassroots, the opportunity to voice their concerns in parliament, aiming for a more inclusive and representative legislative body.