Civil society in difficulty due to shrinking space

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The decline in civil society-government relations parallels the deterioration of the country’s domestic politics.

Debapriya Bhattacharya Distinguished Fellow Center for Policy Dialogue

Despite the important role it played before and during the war of liberation, the country’s civil society is currently struggling due to the shrinking intellectual space and the weakening of the democratic environment.

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As a result, many are adjusting to the situation by reducing their criticisms or activities, or adjusting their positions on issues in accordance with government policies and activities.

Speakers said this during a session of the virtual international conference to reflect on Bangladesh’s 50th anniversary. The Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD), in conjunction with the South Asia Program at Cornell University, hosted the four-day event, which ends today.

Rigid social norms and gatekeepers further restrict women’s access to resources, spaces within formal institutions, and their voices.

Sohela Nazneen IDS Researcher (University of Sussex)

Presenting a paper, prominent CPD colleague Debapriya Bhattacharya said civil society played an important role in the pre-liberation period, helped maintain the spirit of liberation and ensured the trial of collaborators thereafter, as well as to restore and protect democratic values ​​and promote the interests of the people.

After 1971, the decade 1990-2000 was one of the most productive periods of competitive collaboration between civil and political elites, he said.

Unfortunately, this collaboration later declined and only improved to some extent after the 2008 national elections.

He said that until the 2014 national elections, there was a certain degree of openness on the part of the ruling elites to listen to the opinions and suggestions of civil society.

“After the 2018 elections, this dynamism gradually gave way to a situation of conflict. The decline in civil society-government relations parallels the deterioration of the country’s domestic politics, ”Debapriya said.

He cited the Freedom House Index and the CSO Sustainability Index, in which Bangladesh’s score has been declining since 2013.

In the first index, political rights deteriorated by 42 percent, while the civil liberty score fell by 27 percent.

He also said that the arbitrary use of the draconian digital security law affects civil society and the media in various ways.

Speaking at the event, Selim Jahan, former director of the Human Development Report Office, UNDP, said Bangladesh has an impressive track record in terms of human development, in terms of measures such as the size of the country. economy, per capita income, life expectancy, etc.

“The achievements are impressive, but they are not evenly distributed among all socio-economic groups, genders and regions of the country,” he said. “Another increasingly important challenge lies in the area of ​​the rule of law, accountability and transparency of public services.

At the same time, presenting another article, Sohela Nazneen, a researcher at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Sussex, said Bangladesh has made rapid but uneven progress on gender equality. .

She said gender inequalities in some areas remain persistent – apparent in high levels of malnutrition among women and girls, child marriage and violence against women.

“Rigid social norms and gatekeepers still restrict women’s access to resources, spaces within formal institutions and their voices,” she said.

Among others, Sabina Alkire, Director of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, University of Oxford; Elora Shehabuddin, Professor of Transnational Asian Studies, Rice University; and David Lewis, professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, also spoke at the program.

The session was chaired by Bina Agarwal, Professor of Development Economics and Environment at the Global Development Institute, University of Manchester.


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