Asia

Women elected speaker of Bangladesh's parliament

Shirin Sharmin Chowdhury Image copyright The Daily Star
Image caption Shirin Sharmin Chowdhury has close links with the governing Awami League party

Bangladesh's parliament has for the first time elected a woman, Shirin Sharmin Chowdhury, as speaker.

Mrs Chowdhury is a member of the governing Awami League party and was formerly the minister for women and children's affairs.

She was instrumental in writing policy to promote women's development, which has been denounced by Islamist groups.

Her appointment means that Muslim-majority Bangladesh has women in three of its four top political posts.

Women currently occupy the position of prime minister and leader of the opposition.

BBC Bengali Editor Sabir Mustafa says that Mrs Chowdhury's election has raised some eyebrows.

While some see it as as a bold and imaginative move by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, it risks the displeasure of senior leaders in the Awami League who see her as a political novice, he adds.

Mrs Chowdhury's election is also likely to anger Islamist groups based in madrasas, or religious schools, around Bangladesh.

They have threatened to mobilise two million supporters on Sunday to demand an end to what they call "un-Islamic" laws.

Top of their list is the women's development policy which Mrs Chowdhury launched two years ago.

Mrs Chowdhury, 46, is a graduate of Dhaka University and also has a PhD from the UK.

She told the New Age newspaper that her top priority was to protect women from violence.

"We have enough laws," she said, "but there are [still] incidents of violence.

"It is not only the law that can change the situation. There is a need to change the mindset.

"Obstacles have always been there. But despite the obstacles women have been able to come far and will go further."

Mrs Chowdhury's father, Rafiqullah, was a personal secretary and a close associate of independence leader and former Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of Sheikh Hasina.

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