Why can’t women pay respect to freedom fighters?
We are shocked by the strange recommendation of the parliamentary standing committee on the Liberation War Affairs Ministry to replace female Upazila Nirbahi Officers (UNO) with a lower ranking male officer when a deceased freedom fighter is given the guard of honour.
The committee came up with the recommendation on Sunday, during a meeting at the Jatiya Sangshad Bhaban where Awami League lawmaker Shajahan Khan was present. A member suggested that it is necessary to assign the aforementioned responsibility to a male officer in upazilas where the UNO is female, because "usually" women are not allowed to participate in namaz-e-janazas. However, as pointed out by rights activists in a report by this daily, that is not always the case, not just in other countries but in Bangladesh too, where women do sometimes take part in namaz-e-janaza.
More importantly, the guard of honour given to a deceased freedom fighter is not a religious rite—it is essentially the state's way of paying its last respect and gratitude to freedom fighters for their contribution to the nation. Therefore, it is performed by the highest ranking official of an upazila (that is, the UNO), regardless of their gender. The UNO is, in this instance, representing the state and paying respect to the deceased freedom fighter on its behalf. To hand over this responsibility to a lower ranking officer, using the excuse of religion, would be to disrespect a valiant freedom fighter in their death.
Needless to say, this regressive recommendation is not only an affront to women's empowerment and the spirit of the Liberation War, it is in direct contradiction to the Constitution of Bangladesh as well. As pointed out by Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) in a statement, this recommendation contradicts Articles 19 (3), 27 and 28 of the Constitution—pertaining to equality of opportunity (and participation of women in all spheres of national life), equality of all citizens before the law, and not discriminating on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth, respectively.
In an era wherein we have all the knowledge and resources to make gender equality a reality, for a recommendation such as this to come from high-ranking government representatives is extremely disappointing. We urge concerned authorities to not take this step backwards and cause harm to the already abysmal state of women's participation in government and state activities. As rights bodies have pointed out, namaz-e-janaza and guard of honour are as separate as religion and state should be.