Some 43.5% of 45 female upazila nirbahi officers in the country have faced various obstacles while taking action against corruption, finds a research by the Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB).
The obstacles include pressure from local influential people and politicians, false allegations, and non-cooperation from law enforcement agencies and the district administrations, according to the report.
While conducting drives against corruption, 45.5% of them were pressured through false allegations while around half of the obstacles came from local influential people and politicians.
"We refused to lease out a government jalmahal to a bidder as the documents he had submitted were not compliant with the government rules. Then, he tried to create pressure by making false allegations against me in different places," said a female UNO while interviewed under the research entitled "Role of Women Upazila Nirbahi Officers (UNO) in Establishing Good Governance at the Local Level: Challenges and Way Forward''.
Findings of the research, conducted from June 2020 to March this year, were published in a virtual press conference on Thursday.
As of June last year, 149 out of 485 upazilas in the country had female UNOs. Even though the TIB sent a set of questions to all of the 149 female UNOs for the survey, only 45 responded.
The research found that 78.3% of the female UNOs faced challenges while performing their duty. Most of the challenges were posed by upazila chairmen, local journalists, local MPs, law enforcement agencies, politicians, DCs, ADCs, and local populace.
They faced challenges when they tried to perform their secretariat work under upazila parishad. In performing such duties, around 34.30% of them were pressured to get involved in irregularities in distributing relief goods, while 31.4% were pressured to justify the rationality of various expenditures, 28.6% to approve fake bills, and 25.70% to commit irregularities in purchasing-related works.
Nonetheless, 89.1% of the female UNOs could take action against corruption, which include encouraging the victims to lodge complaints against corruption, punishing corrupt individuals, and complaining against the corrupt to the Anti-Corruption Commission, according to the report.
TIB Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman said, "That one-third of the country's UNOs are women is an example of women empowerment. But the challenges they face are overshadowing this achievement."
"The situation indicates that society and administration are still discriminatory to women, not gender sensitive," he said.
The research also finds that 40.5% of female UNOs did not get cooperation from upazila chairmen. However, they also faced different types of unethical pressure and sexual harassment.
"Someone deliberately pushed me from behind while going to inspect development work along with the chairman and the minister. Then I said I would not go to such work if I was not provided with security," a female UNO told the researchers.
Meanwhile, 91% of the women UNOs faced various challenges in dealing with the coronavirus situation, which include a lack of necessary budget, corruption in distribution of social security materials, a lack of assistance from offices concerned, and corruption in procurement of medical safety equipment.
In addition, 98% of them faced a variety of challenges, including pressure to commit irregularities in distributing relief materials, in addressing natural disasters.
Besides, they had to face the challenge of coordinating various government works. Those include the additional complexity of coordination between different departments, a lack of timely cooperation from law enforcement agencies and the district administration.
The TIB also put forward a list of recommendations to develop the working environment of women UNOs.
The recommendations are: organising training programmes involving public representatives and government officials to address negative attitudes towards women UNOs, keeping gender sensitivity as an indicator in the annual confidential report (ACR) of government officials, rewarding women UNOs at the district level for to recognise their activities against corruption, providing legal assistance and security in the event of an attack or conspiracy.