Inclusiveness in political economy refers to a situation when there is no discrimination against any citizen on the grounds of religion race, caste, sex or region. It is a situation when all citizens are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of law. It is a situation where all citizens have equal rights in all spheres of state, social and economic life.
Inclusiveness is absent when the Arakani Muslims are deprived of their citizenship right. It is not found when President Donald Trump orders ban on the immigration of people from certain countries into the USA. One does not find inclusiveness in many Middle Eastern countries where political opposition is not allowed. Inclusiveness is non-existent in many countries where equal right of women is not recognised.
It is recognised by the civil society across the world that inclusiveness is essential for a healthy democracy and economy.
According to Article 27 of the Constitution of Bangladesh, all citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law. Article 28 states that the state shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or region. Article 28 also guarantees equal rights of women with men in all spheres of public life. The constitution also guarantees freedom of speech, assembly, election at all tiers of the government and equal rights of all citizens in accessing economic opportunities.
In Bangladesh, there is a demand for fair and inclusive election, the latter implying participation by all political parties. Some major political parties did not participate in general elections on a number of occasions. Participation is a sign of exercising rights in a democratic polity. All parties, irrespective of ideology and opinion, should get scope to participate in the democratic process. Discrimination against dissenting parties or groups jeopardise democratic system. The right to expression and assembly guaranteed by the constitution should not be curtailed. It leads to political instability, chaos and indiscipline in society and thereby affects economic development. For the last two years, there was no political movement or violence (with some exceptions of the ruling party's internal clashes) in the country. Still, political uncertainty is being considered one of the important factors for sluggish private sector investment. Private sector investment is pivotal for sustained economic growth and development.
Participation and social inclusion are very important for socio-economic development. Socio-economic development centres on the people. People comprise heterogeneous groups which have different realities, obstacles and opportunities. Some groups in society lag behind others in economic and social awareness. They are the unempowered, excluded and vulnerable groups in the society. Some of them are women, children, indigenous people, persons with disabilities and other disadvantaged groups. A comprehensive sustainable social and economic development framework is needed to address these disadvantaged groups.
Efforts have been going on for women's advancement and rights. The purpose is to ensure women's advancement and rights in the activities of all sectors of the economy. Women's participation in the labour force has increased to 32 per cent in recent times. Gender parity in enrolment of primary, secondary and higher secondary levels has almost been achieved. Yet, there are some current challenges that are to be addressed effectively. These are: (i) focusing poverty reduction of women, (ii) employing females in mainstream economic activities, (iii) stopping violence against women, (iv) stopping early marriage and dowry, and (v) effective implementation of the existing laws rules, regulations and policies to look after the interest and welfare of women.
There is some progress in the area of children's advancement and rights. But there are some challenges that need to be addressed. These include: (i) preventing dropouts in primary and secondary levels of education, (ii) increasing sanitation coverage, (iii) preventing child labour, (iv) caring for child health and nutrition, (v) protecting children from abuse, exploitation and violence, and (vi) mainstreaming street children and abused children under social protection system.
In the context of Bangladesh, inclusion of indigenous communities in economic activities deserves effective attention. There are about 45 different indigenous communities. Most of them live in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, greater Mymensingh, greater Rajshahi, greater Sylhet, Patuakhali and Barguna. The Chakma, Garo, Manipuri, Marma, Tipra, Munda, Oraon, Santal, Koch, Khasi, Mro, Hajang and Rakhain are the well-known indigenous communities in Bangladesh. There are about two million indigenous people in the country. Some of the hardcore poor are found among these communities. They allegedly face discrimination and are subject to extortion by land grabbers. The government has been taking various initiatives and programmes to ensure their social, political and economic rights, and to preserve their cultural identity.
Persons with disabilities constitute another sector where the government is found taking some initiatives. More attention is needed to ensure their basic human rights. There should be a provision of free access to education, health care and employment opportunities. The patterns of building, road and transport system should be friendly to disabled persons.
Since socio-economic development is of the people and for the people, inclusion of all citizens irrespective of religion, race, caste, sex and political opinion is essential for over-all development of a country. This is vital for Bangladesh in its journey towards a middle- income country status within a short time.
The writer is a former secretary to GOB and an economist.