Does Institutional Change Ensure Gender Mainstreaming in Politics? The Experience of Bangladesh

Pranab Kumar Panday's picture
Abstract: 
Institutional change is considered as one of the important mechanisms to ensure gender main-streaming in politics since after the Beijing Conference in 1995. The significance of institutional changes is immense in a country where society is dominated by patriarchy and males and institutions are not women-friendly. Under such a circumstance, the paper tries to explore the importance of institutional change in mainstreaming gender in the political process of the local government in Bangladesh and its impact on the state of women’s participation. Based on both empirical and secondary data, the finding of the study has come out with the conclusion that it is really difficult to ensure women’s greater participation in politics without bringing changes in the institutional rules. Institutional changes that have been brought through different reforms have become successful in ensuring the presence of more women in the local government political process, but those have failed to ensure real participation of women in the decision-making process. This has made them play an “ornamental” role in the decision-making process.
Main Article: 

Introduction
Different types of reform initiatives that were intended to ensure gender equality have not become successful in ensuring equality of men and women in social and economic aspects in any parts of the World (World Bank, 2001a). One of the possible causes of existence of inequality lies in the fact that the role of the institutions in maintaining women’s unequal position has been gained enough prominence in development and human rights work (Rao and Kelleher, 2003). Two other possible causes of inequality of women have been identified by Friedman and Gordezky (2011) who state that different factors including cultural norms, restriction on women and customs that have hindered the process of advancement of women have not received adequate attention. And, approaches that deal with rationality and the mind over the body have failed to play an important role in ensuring equality of women in all spheres.
This has led the feminists across the world to advocate in favor of bringing changes in institutional design in order to ensure gender equality in the society. They believe that the entry of women at all levels of state operation can be facilitated by the institutions. Against this proposition, one can argue that why changes in the design of the institutions are necessary where women are not prohibited to take part in the affairs of the state competing with males. Although it is difficult to turn down this argument, but, it remains true that the entry of women into the mainstream of development are hindered by male dominated social structure and patriarchy. Thus, the importance of institutional change in mainstreaming women in the political process cannot be denied. As stated earlier, the academicians and development practitioners have started advocating the importance of institutional change in the international arena as a mechanism for mainstreaming women in politics since after the endorsement of the PFA in Beijing conference in 1995 where heads of the state expressing their commitment came to an agreement that women would be mainstreamed at all levels of its political operation through bringing changes in the design of the institutions. However, in the context of Bangladesh, the process of bringing changes in the institutions to ensure women’s presence in politics started for the first time in 1972 when a provision for reservation of 15 seats for women in the Parliament was incorporated in the 1972 Constitution. Like the Parliament, provision for reservation of seats for women was also kept in the Local Government Ordinance of 1976, and other subsequent laws. Of course, the intensity of changes in the institutional design in Bangladesh got momentum since after the Beijing Conference in 1995 through the enactment of the Local Government (Union Parishads) (Second Amendment) Act of 1997 (hereinafter the Act of 1997) by which women’s participation in Union Parishads (hereinafter UPs) has increased to a great extent. Under such a circumstance, the paper intends to explore the importance of institutional changes for mainstreaming women in the politics of local government and its impact on the state of their working. To be more specific, an attempt is made to explicate whether changes in the institutional design are only ensuring more women’s physical presence in the political process or these are also ensuring their active participation in the decision-making process.
Case-oriented qualitative data has been mostly employed in this paper supple-mented by quantitative data, though on a limited scale in the form of percentage only. Qualitative data have been used in order to substantiate arguments drawn while discussing the impact of institutional change in influencing gender mainstreaming in the local government in Bangladesh. On the other hand, quantitative data, in the form of percentage, have been used to substantiate qualitative data. Primary data regarding perception of women members of the UPs were collected from 107 elected women members through an open-ended structured questionnaire during field work that was conducted in Bangladesh during 2007-08. To be more specific, women members were selected purposefully from 36 UPs (3 women members from each UP) of Rajshahi district. Secondary data were collected from different published books, articles, book chapters, reports, Acts and circulars and internet.
Gender Mainstreaming
Despite the different meaning of gender equality and gender mainstreaming, the international communities have reached a consensus to recognize that there are different needs and priorities of men and women. However, it has been strongly advocated that realization of rights by women and men should not be based on different conditions, rather both should be able to avail opportunities to contribute to and benefit from national, political, economic, social and cultural development (CIDA, 1999 & Moser and Moser, 2005). Among different definitions given by different scholars, there is a common feature of definitions of gender mainstreaming that has close adherence to the definition given by the UN Economic and Social Council (1997:28): “Mainstreaming a gender perspective is the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programs, in all areas and at all levels. It is a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal is to achieve gender equality”.
Other issues that have close resemblance to the definition of gender mainstreaming also have been addressed in good governance. Among these, two important issues are: first, insistence has been given on the institutionalization of gender related issues within the purview of organizations in relation to consideration of gender equality in administration, financial, staffing and other organizational procedures in order to contribute to the transformation of attitudes, culture, goals and procedures. (ii) Importance has been paid on enhancing women’s participation in decision making processes in order make sure that their voices are heard in the decision making process and be able to exercise power ti put issues on the agenda rather than taking part in the process only (Moser and Moser, 2005).
Research on the effectiveness of development programs had started to become priority agendas to the academicians and development practitioners since the 1990s. Among different priority areas, one of the important areas of research was the inclusion of gender issues in the development planning and project implementation. The World Bank in its study in 1997 (cited in Mruphy, 1997) concluded that those programs considered gender issues in their design achieved greater success than those which did not do so. In another study, the World Bank found those projects achieved higher degree of on-the-ground impact that considered gender related needs of its project design (The World Bank, 2001b). Taking all these issues into consideration, attention has been paid by the public and private sector and NGOs on the incorporation of gender issues in their project formulation and implementation. Nowadays, gender sensitivity in public policies has become a common agenda. Under this circumstance, gender mainstreaming in the context of the present paper has been operationalized as bringing more women into the mainstream of political process in Bangladesh.
Role of Institutions in Gender Mainstreaming
“Institutionalism”, which is a fundamental concept of the study of politics, has been used by scholars to analyze the role of institutions and institutional changes in advancing women’s political participation. However, over the last two decades “new” institutionalism emerged as an important tool to analyze the role of institutions in political life (Thelen, 1999). Thus, scholars have often used the term institution to study the issue of women in politics. The institution refers to a formal political system in the form of electoral rules, ballot structures, district sizes, and the number of political parties that have influence on women’s political participation to a great extent (Caul, 1999, Rule, 1987, Rule and Zimmerman, 1994, Panday, 2013). On the other hand, institutional rules, norms, and routines have been identified by scholars outside women in politics as determinants of politics and governance (March and Olsen, 1984, 1993, 1995, 1996).
Hall and Taylor (1996) have described history, rational choice and sociological institutionalism as three possible approaches to illustrate the study of institutions. Pierson and Skocpol (2002), while conducting research primarily at the meso or macro level, have mentioned that historical institutionalisms put emphasis on the local ramifications of largely contingent events. They have treated formal or informal procedures, routines, and norms and conventions entrenched in various political, societal and economic organizations as institutions. This kind of approach always advocates in favour of inequality of power (Thelen and Steinmo, 1992) that view the institutional change as path dependence and unintended consequences (Mahoney, 2000). On the other hand, Weingast (2002), having focused on the macro-level, has stated that the main objective of rational choice institutionalists is to understand the origins of institutions, the mechanisms for their survival and the nature of their effects on macro-level political outcomes. Advocates of this approach (Ostrom, 1990; (North, 1990; and Weingast, 2002) have encouraged individuals to work together through reducing uncertainty and restructuring incentives while solving collective action dilemmas, Scholars like DiMaggio and Power (1991) have positioned themselves between the micro- and macro level of political interactions while March and Olsen (1989) have stressed the importance of inclusion of the symbol systems, cognitive scripts, and moral templates in the definition of institutions along with formal rules, procedures and norms since these can provide “frames of meaning” that guide human action. “Change” has been described by these groups of institutionalists as an attempt to enhance the institution’s social legitimacy (Krook, 2003). Although institutionalists have difference of opinion about different approaches, but they have reached to a consensus on two fundamental points (Putnam, 1993:7-8):
First, they have considered institution as rules meaning that institution is com-prised of rules and standard operating procedures. Rules and procedures affect the political outcome since these also affect the actors’ identities, power and strategies. As a matter of fact, individual roles are defined by rules that provide the context for action (Knight, 1992:17).
Second, they have also considered institution as history meaning that history is also important for an organization since it provides us to have a better under-standing about the extent and degree to which rules and standard operating procedures are institutionalized in organizations. As a matter of fact, institutionalization process of an organization can be better understood through having a look at its historical growth. Thus, institutional history provides us an understanding about the origin of an institution as well as the paths of its development (Berman, 1983).
Based on the above discussion on the intuitional theory, it can be argued that the issue of women’s participation in politics in Bangladesh can be better understood through the lens of both rule-based and history-based institutionalism. First, the likelihood of success of women candidates against their male counterparts is low as the existing socio-cultural context of Bangladesh does not allow women to participate in the public arena. This sort of reality has necessitated the restructuring (shaping) of rules for creating an avenue for women to be able to take part in the process of local government politics. Second, a historical view of UPs provides detailed information about the transformation of this institution in terms of the process of its involvement over the decades, the process of incorporation of changes in the structural design for ensuring greater participation of women and so on. Thus, changes in the law were required from both perspectives which were realized through enactment of the Act of 1997. Since changes in the institutional rules have been brought through enactment of laws, an analysis of the institutional change as a process and its application as a mechanism of gender mainstreaming deserves special mention. The following section discusses why and in what context institutional change can be used as a mechanism of gender mainstreaming.
Institutional Change as a Mechanism of Gender Mainstreaming
Generally, institutional change is perceived as one of the prime mechanisms to overcome gender inequality in the society. This speaks about bringing changes in the rules of the games in terms of both stated and unstated rules determining who gets what, who does what and who decides (Goetz 1997, North 1990, Roa and Kelleher, 2002 & 2005). On the other hand, rules can be both formal and informal. Formal refers to constitutions, laws, policies, and school curricula while informally refers to cultural arrangements and norms that determine responsibilities in terms of who will take care of household chores, who will go to the market, who takes decisions on the education of children, or who will speak at a village council meeting. Alongside this, it also refers to bring changes in the programs, policies, structures, and ways of working of organizations (Roa and Kelleher, 2005). Based on different organization’s diverse focus, Rao and Kelleher (2005) have identified four important areas where changes are required. These areas include: individual consciousness of women and men, including knowledge, skills, political consciousness, commitment, objective condition of women, including rights and resources, access to health services and safety, opportunities for a voice, informal norms including inequitable ideologies, and cultural and religious practices and formal institutions including laws and policies. It is important to note here that all these clusters have close links with each other. It is assumed that change in one cluster would lead change in another. There are different ways of bringing changes in the institutional laws and their structure. Among them mostly talked about mechanisms are reforms and rebellion. Rebellion takes place in a particular situation when reforms are not possible and situation exceeds the level of toleration of the general public. In the context of the present study, since the government was also interested to bring changes in institutions, reforms were the best mechanism.
In fact, reforms and change have an interrelationship since changes to the exist-ing system are brought through reforms. Almost every government in the world use “reforms” as one of the most important mechanisms for streamlining the administrative system and carrying out public policy choices (Farazmand, 2006). While setting a definition of reforms, the UN states it as “the deliberate authority and influence to apply new measures to an administrative system so as to change its goal, structures and procedures with a view to improving it for development purposes” (UN, 1983:1). Reform is one of the important mechanisms that is used to reflect changes and transformations, promises and prospects, as well as hopes and opportunities of governmental action. However, different factors may hinder the process of attaining the process of the promised expectations (Farazmand, 2006).
Three broad approaches that are used to explain reforms include: (i) Top-Down Elitist Reforms, (ii) Bottom-Up Reforms, and (iii) Institutional and Cultural Reforms. In the top-down approach, the reforms are initiated by the top leadership who detect problems, identify needs, develop issues and exercise absolute power over making announcement and seeking deliberation (Peters, 2002; Farazmand, 2002b, 2006). Bottom-up approach that allows the development of movements from the political organization’s environment ensures citizens’ participation in the decision making process (Farazmand, 2006). Combining the advantages of both the top-down and bottom-up approach, the institutional and cultural approach have come out as the most comprehensive models in initiating changes since it perceives that change can be initiated through top-down approach but the change can be brought by the bottom-up approach (for details, Farazmand, 2002a and 2006).
When it concerns women’s political participation, institutional change has, in most places, been brought in the form of “gender quota” which is a multi-dimensional concept. Among different dimensions of quotas, emphasis has been given in this paper on the quota system that is mandated by constitution or by law in a country. This is referred to as compulsory quotas since these are obligatory for all to abide by (Zetterberg 2009). In the context of women’s political participation in Bangladesh, compulsory quotas are in place in order to enhance participation of women. Importance of quota is immense to facilitate the issue of women’s greater political participation in a situation where women are underprivileged as compared to men. The situation of women is more susceptible in countries like Bangladesh, where male and patriarchy dominate society with other social and cultural impediments. In addition, design and structure of most institutions are not conducive for women to take part in it. All these factors have contributed to bringing the issue of reforms in institution by introducing reservation of quotas. Accordingly, several reform initiatives were carried out by the government of Bangladesh including the Act of 1997 for facilitating the process of mainstreaming of women in politics of local government.
Changes in the Local Government Institutions in Bangladesh
After independence, several successive governments initiated changes in the rules of UPs aiming at ensuring women’s participation in the local government decision-making. During 1971-75, no change efforts were initiated in the institutional rules for bringing women in the mainstream of local government politics, although the provision of equal participation of women in all spheres was clearly spelt out in the Constitution of 1972. The first initiative of the government for bringing changes in the rules of the UPs came through the promulgation of the Local Government Ordinance in 1976. Through Article 5 of the ordinance, the provision was made to have reservations for two women in each UP who would be nominated by the government representatives (Government of Bangladesh, 1976, Article 5). The second initiative was the enactment of the Local Government (Union Parishads) Ordinance of 1983 through which the provision of reservation of seats was increased to three from two (Government of Bangladesh, 1983, Article 5). The third initiative in this regard was the enactment of the Local Government (Union Parishads) (Amendment) Act of 1993 through which the provision of nomination in the seats reserved for women was replaced by indirect election through the votes of elected chairmen and members of the UP.
The last and most important change in the institutional rules was brought through the enactment of the Local Government (Union Parishads) (Second Amendment) Act of 1997. Through this initiative, the provision for reservation of three seats for women remained the same. But the most important breakthrough was the introduction of the direct election of women in reserved seats for the first time in the history of Bangladesh. Another notable feature of the Act was the demarcation of the territorial jurisdiction of women members. Nine wards of a UP were divided into three women members’ constituency posing them three times larger constituencies than a member elected from general seats who are in most cases male (Government of Bangladesh, 1997, Section 5).
Does Institutional Change Ensure Gender Mainstreaming in Politics?
This section provides an analysis on the fact as to what extent institutional re-forms have brought changes in the state of women’s representation in the local government politics as well as their participation in the decision-making. Before making an analysis of the aftermath of the enactment of the Act of 1997. it is essential to have a brief discussion on the state of women’s representation in the local government political process. As a matter of fact, until 1997 the entry of women in the politics of local government remained restricted within the upper class women having linkage with UP chairmen and members and local political structure. To be more specific, the majority of ordinary women remained far from the process of getting the nomination or selection since families with power, prestige and close linkage with local administration and UP managed to get either elected or selected as women members in the UPs. Another important shortcoming was that nothing was mentioned in any of the laws regarding the roles and responsibilities of women members in the UPs. Thus, women members mostly did not have any role to play in the UPs. In fact, they had to depend on the mercy of the chairmen and members for playing any role in the Parishad. As a result, despite having some sort of representation they did not have any sort of participation in the decision-making process. In the absence of women’s participation, decision-making process was transformed into the prerogatives of the males. Thus, institutional changes during the pre-1997 period failed to bring any positive impact on the state of women’s political participation.
Now, one may wonder why it did so? Two most important causes of lack of women’s participation stem from the fact that there was no system of direct election for women during that time. Women members were suffering from a legitimacy crisis since they were not getting elected based on universal adult franchise. As a result, elected chairmen and members of UPs were not in a position to treat them as legitimate unit of the local government bodies. Another important fact is that women who managed to get either nominated or selected as members remained very obedient to the chairmen and male members since their chance of getting the nomination or selection again was dependent on their will. Thus, women members did not want to get involved in any sort of confrontation with elected representatives of UPs. In addition, territorial jurisdiction, roles and responsibilities of women members were not mentioned in any laws prior to 1997. Thus, women members did not have any legitimate power to bargain with the chairmen and members of UPs as regards their roles and responsibilities. As a result, they were not in a position to influence the decision-making process of the UPs.
While discussing the state of women’s participation in the post 1997 period, it is reasonable to ask, did the Act of 1997 make any difference? The overall impression is that “yes” since it created an avenue for women to get encouragement and take part in the local government election. If an effort is taken to make a comparative analysis of the pre and post 1997 women’s participation in local government in numeric terms, it would be evident that the Act of 1997 has made a remarkable change in the context of women’s political participation as a whole. For example, if we consider the UP election of 1988, 1992/93 and 1997, it would be found that percentage of women who participated in the general seats of UPs remained well below 1% of the total candidates. Total figures were .75% (863 out of 114699) in 1988, .67% (1135 out of 169683) in 1992/93 and .45% (617 out of 137909) in 1997 elections (Sultana, 2000:15, Panday, 2008 &2013). As compared to women in general seats, the situation of women getting elected as the chair of the UP was worse since available data suggests that only one woman managed to get elected as chair of the UP among 4359 UPs in the 1973 UP election, while four and six women got elected as chairs of UPs in 1977 and 1984 elections respectively (Sultana, 2000: 14, Panday, 2008 & 2013). On the other hand, 79 women candidates among a total of 18,566 candidates contested for the post of chairs of 4401 (constituting only 0.43 percent) UPs in the UP election of 1988 (Ahmed, 2001: 3, Panday, 2008&2013), while their number was 115 out of a total of 17, 444 candidates (constituting only 0.66 percent) for 4450 UPs in the UPs election of 1992. Among 115 women contesting for the post of chair in the UP election of 1992, only 24 managed to get elected. In the UP election of 1997, 23 women out of a total of 102 women contested for the post of Chair of the UPs, managed to get elected (Islam, 2000: 112–3, Panday 2008&2013).
Thus, a completely different picture was found in the UP election in 1997 as regards women’s participation in the local government election. A total of 44,134 women took part in quota seats reserved for them in the UP election of 1997 and among them 13,437 women managed to get elected (among the 13,437, 592 were elected unopposed) (Islam, 2000: 112–3, Panday 2008&2013). On the other hand, a total of 12,669 women managed to get elected in 4223 UPS from a total of 39419 women contestants in the UP election of 2003 (Steps Towards Development, 2003: 7, Panday 2008&2013). Above discussion suggests an overwhelming increasing tendency of women contesting and getting elected in post-1997 UP election.
Now, it is important to learn how women members have been performing their duties. More specifically, it is important to explore as to what extent women members have been able to influence the decision-making process of the UPs. From the finding of the study, it is revealed that elected women members have failed to influence the decision-making process of the UPs. Such state of deci-sion-making is contrary to the basic principle of democracy and good governance that demands participation of both men and women in the decision- making process. Thus, it can be claimed that the decision that is taken based on male’s perception suffer from a legitimacy crisis since hopes and aspirations of fifty percent of the total population, who are women, are not reflected in this process. Of course, it is very difficult to generalize the finding of the study that women members cannot influence the decision making process since a group of respondents (comprising of 29.92 percent) have been found claiming them successful in influencing the process of decision-making. Under such circumstance, one may wonder to know about the extent and modalities of their influence. As a matter of fact, the extent of influence of women members concentrated around “lesser influence” (43.75 percent) and “no influence” (56.25 percent). It is really interesting to note that none of the women members have been found to be claiming their extent of influence as “greatest influence” or “moderate influence”. Such finding may allow the scope for raising questions about the capability of women members who, despite expressing in favor of successfully influencing the decision-making process, responded in such a way. The possible answer to this question lies in the fact that elected women members did not have enough understanding about their role in the UPs. As a matter of fact, these women members perceive themselves successful in influencing the decision if any of their opinion is considered in the meeting, no matter whether the decision is taken on that line or not.
Now, another important question is: why do women fail to influence the decision-making process of the UPs? One possible explanation is that elected women members are the minority in the UPs since UP is composed in such a way that males constitute a majority. For instance, UP is constituted with one chairman, nine elected members from the general seats (most of them are usually males), and three elected women members from the reserved seats. Thus, women find it difficult to influence the decision-making process where the majority wins the battle (seven votes out of thirteen are required to take a decision). In addition to their status of minority, their roles are undermined by the patriarchal societal values dominated by males and their identity as “women” that are considered as being incapable of doing something apart from housekeeping. Alongside these factors, neglecting attitude of the chairmen and male members has contributed to have played a role of “no influence” by the women members. All these factors have compelled women to play an “ornamental” role in the affairs of the UPs.
It is important to mention here that women members tolerate different forms of harassment if they raise their voice against ignorance of chairmen and male members of UPs and fight for their rights. They are humiliated in such a way that they are compelled to feel ashamed and abstain from taking part in the activities of the UPs in the future. Such claim of the study can be substantiated through the finding of the Shamin and Kumari’s (2002) study who found that one woman member’s conjugal life came under serious threat when she fought for her rights and got involved into arguments with the UP chair. The case is discussed in the following way:
Aparna Rani was an elected woman Union Parishad member of Moulvibazar. Her husband, who was a Primary School Teacher, encouraged Aparna to compete in the Union Parishad election. During the early stages of her tenure in the Union Parishad, Aparna did not face any problem. But the situation changed when she started to be vocal than other women members and often argued with the chair, which took a serious turn. The chair did not support her active participation in the meetings and tried to teach her a lesson. A friendly male colleague used to help Aparna in performing different Union Parishad activities. The chair, spread rumors using Aparna’s friendly relationship with her male colleague. This horrified Aparna’s married life as she was almost hated in the society. Finally, she had to leave the Union Parishad (Shamim and Kumari, 2002:55).
The above case example indicates the level of treatment that the elected women members usually receive from their male counterparts in the UPs. As a matter of fact, it is found that women members work in a “neglecting” working environment in the UPs. More importantly, women members work in an adverse situation that appears to oppose them in almost all circumstances. Possibly, patriarchy, the male-dominated societal structure and a conservative mental perspective that is ingrained in the males prevent them from accepting the women members playing an equal role in the public arena. The finding of this study is corroborated to the finding of another study conducted by Mukhopadhyay and Meer (2004) who also noticed that elected women members were not warmly accepted by their male colleagues who did not want them to participate actively in the activities of the UPs. They cited a story of neglect of a woman member named Hasnehena who stated “After my oath I went to the chair and asked him to assign me some work. The chair becomes annoyed and said that the government has brought out the women from their houses to create unnecessary trouble in the Union Parishad. [He said] ‘What will you do in the Union Parishad?’ Go upstairs and sit with my wife and spend your time. I do not find any work for you. No specific work is mentioned in the manual for women’’ (Mukhopadhyay and Meer (2004) cited in Mukhopadhyay, 2005: 33). Thus, it is crystal clear that institutional change has made a breakthrough by ensuring representation of larger number of women in the local government politics, but it has failed to extend the scope of women’s active participation in the decision-making process.
Like Bangladesh, women’s active participation in decision-making process in other South Asian countries are yet to be ensured despite the fact the changes have been brought in the institutional structure in order to enhance their active participation in the political process. For instance, Goetz (2004) in her study has stated that woman sarpanches have, very often been victimized by the upper caste leaders in India in their endeavor to discharge their duties and responsibilities. Analyzing the elected women representatives’ participation in panchayat and their difficulties, Kaul and Sahni (2009) reveals that women have failed to deal with issues concerning the welfare of the common village women as elected women do not receive equal respect as compared to their male colleagues, and thus, their suggestions are not seriously considered in the decision-making process. Thus, introduction of quotas for women through institutional change has not been found to be enough to ensure active participation of women in the political process.
Like India, women in Pakistan also suffer from different traditions, cultural values and behavioral standard while they opt to participate in the local government institutions. Different organizational, systemic and personal practices are creating hindrances in the way of their participation in the affairs of the governing process (Shaban, et., al., 2014). It does not necessarily mean that nothing positive has happened in the status of women in politics. As a matter of fact, women have achieved fame and glory by successfully discharging their responsibility in the service delivery sector in general and health and education in particular. There are instances that women councilors have become successful in ensuring poor people’s access to safety nets in general and Zakat and Bait-up-mail in particular. They have also arranged funds for paying dowry during marriage for the poor people and put efforts for increasing literacy and assisted people in getting identity cards (Pattan, 2006). Women ward councilors have also been found to invest their interest in allocating funds for construction of roads, schools, vocational institutes and brick lined streets (Jabeen et, al., 2009).
Like other South Asian countries, women of Nepal are also facing different types of hindrances while discharging their duties at the local level. Haug (2012) has found that women along with other excluded groups that include Dalit, ethnic and indigenous groups, have been kept in darkness while decisions on project selections are made in the Banda Satra (closed-door session). These findings are indicative of the fact that institutional changes have not been able to ensure activities participation of women in the decision making process in the local government politics.
Conclusion
Above discussion leads to the conclusion that gender mainstreaming and institutional change are closely related. Considering the patriarchal and societal structure of Bangladeshi society, it is hardly possible to ensure mainstreaming of women in politics without bringing changes in the institutions. However, it is found that although institutional changes have ensured the presence of more women in the decision-making process, the participation of women in the true sense is yet to be achieved. There are several factors that have hindered the process of women’s participation in terms of influencing the decision-making process. Concerted efforts from all the concerned (the government, NGOs, CSOs and women members) are needed to materialize the dream of gender mainstreaming in the political process. Of course, it is not easy to fight societal norms and traditions that has dominated the society for hundreds of years, but at the same time the process of transformation has begun for sure. Otherwise, thousands of women would not have been encouraged to contest in the local government elections. The willingness of the government and determination of the women's community will bring changes in the mindset of the majority of the population who will gradually accept women working alongside men. Only then, the main purpose of gender mainstreaming in the political process will be materialized.
Institutional change is a process, but in order to ensure gender mainstreaming, implementation of the policy is equally important. The government should not remain satisfied with the initiation of changes in the institutional structure; rather they will have to create an enabling environment for women to work with males. In this regard, the NGOs and civil society organizations can play an important role in building awareness among women and assist them in getting rid of traditional thinking from the males. The most important issue is to build an agency of women so that they could remain united and face all sorts of challenges in the society. It is important to mention here that different NGOs through their micro-credit programs are trying to build women’s agencies through institutionalization of social capital among them. That has definitely helped women gain confidence. However, more attempts are required from the government, different NGOs and CSOs for materializing the dreams of women's community in terms of influencing the decision-making process.