Citizen engagement and a robust civil society are critical in an election year when you want all citizens to be informed of their rights and ability to shape the government. Ahead of the upcoming January 7 general elections in Bangladesh, Counterpart’s USAID-funded Promoting Advocacy and Rights Activity convened a roundtable discussion on December 24 on “Opportunities for the 12th Parliament: Citizen Recommendations for Sustainable Development.” Grassroots leaders and activists from Dhaka and Khulna used the event to highlight priority issues facing marginalized communities with national policymakers. Sixty-seven engaged citizens, including youth and women from the Dalit and Cobbler communities, led the discussion to demand stronger policies on issues such as unplanned urbanization, environmental pollution, and social inclusion.
Our partner organizations used this event to foster an inclusive community dialogue aimed at identifying and prioritizing citizen-led recommendations for the incoming parliament. The event gave citizens a platform to directly share concerns and recommendations with political leaders and candidates for potential incorporation into their election manifestos and campaign commitments. Of equal importance was the capacity building aspect. Counterpart’s experts worked closely with civic leaders and community representatives to help them hone their arguments and best make their case to the government officials. Participating grantees and community network members delivered mock presentations of their recommendations to PAR staff, who then provided feedback to better communicate about the issues at hand.
The roundtable kicked off with Katie Croake, who leads the Promoting Advocacy and Rights activity, providing opening remarks, setting the stage for a lively discussion between all parties eager to enact positive change for citizens in Bangladesh. Next, the community members took center stage. Some key recommendations and actionable solutions discussed included requests to:
- Ensure the constitutional rights and access to social empowerment processes for marginalized communities including the Dalits
- Invest in smart and sustainable urbanization to safeguard the wellbeing of all citizens
- Strengthen environmental protection by reducing air, noise, and water pollution.
The proposals and recommendations were met with enthusiasm by the government officials and candidates in attendance. Importantly, several also specifically noted the importance of citizen engagement and civil society as a critical step towards creating a more just and fair society.
Parliamentarian Shirin Akhter declared that weaving the recommendations into political party platforms—and following through on them—is critical. She said the time for action is now and stressed the urgent need to prioritize technical education, job training, and employment opportunities.
Shameem Haider Patwary, an MP and candidate in the upcoming parliamentary election, thanked the participants for their recommendations and voiced his frustration that previous efforts to enact legislation protecting the rights of Dalits had stalled. “In the 11th parliament, we just couldn’t get those laws passed,” Patwary lamented. “The anti-discrimination bill is currently being revised in the law ministry. I sincerely hope the 12th parliament will finally get it done.”
Saber Hossain Chowdhury, MP, expressed gratitude to the community dialogue initiative and extended his solidarity with the recommendations. He believes that the Promoting Advocacy and Rights activity can support grantees and policymakers to develop a roadmap to implement the recommendations beginning with a proposed second roundtable involving elected representatives after the January 2024 elections.
Aroma Dutta, MP, echoed a similar vision: “I eagerly anticipate the chance to realize our manifesto’s promise of inclusive development benefiting even the most marginalized communities as we work to build a smarter Bangladesh.”
Looking ahead and reiterating the importance of citizen engagement, Croake closed the event saying, “I’m proud that our partners are focusing on the priority issues facing their communities and am encouraged that policymakers appreciate their impact and want to continue working with PAR’s network to address citizen priorities.”