A Catholic lawyer has become the country’s first female Christian member of parliament in Muslim-majority Bangladesh. Gloria Jharna Sarker, a mother of two, will represent the ruling Awami League party in Bangladesh’s Lower House. The Awami League retained power by winning national elections on Dec. 30 by a landslide. “I thank God for this blessing, and I am grateful to many women and my Christian community who supported and prayed for me all these days. This is a victory for all,” Sarker told ucanews.com. She said she wants to work for the empowerment of women and the rights of minority Christians. “I hail from a southern coastal region [Khulna], where women are mostly poor, powerless and voiceless. I would like to contribute to their development and give them a voice. Also as a Christian I will do whatever is necessary for the empowerment and protection of rights of the community,” she said. The Awami League was allotted 43 places for 50 seats reserved for women in the Jatiya Sangsad (National Assembly) and submitted its list to the Election Commission on Feb. 12. The commission validated the list on Feb. 13 and selection should be finalized by March 4. Sarker is the third Christian parliamentarian since Bangladesh gained independence from Pakistan in 1971. Nirmol Rozario, president of Bangladesh Christian Association says he expects her to work for the advancement of the Christian community’s rights. “For years Christians have been pressing for 10 demands from the government, which includes a public holiday on Easter Sunday, an end to the grabbing of Christian lands
by Muslims, the protection of minorities and a ministry for minorities,” said Rozario. “We expect her to support our cause for greater welfare for the Christian community and minorities
,” he told ucanews.com. “The Christian community truly welcomes Sarker’s selection for parliament. We hope she would make us proud, add value to our community and society, and become an inspiration for more women in this country,” the Catholic added. Sarker is well known amongst the Christian community thanks to her involvement and activities with various social and development groups including the Young Women’s Christian Association, the Bangladesh Christian Association and the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council. She has been involved with the Awami League for years and recently became a member of the party’s sub-committee on legal affairs.
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The lawyer was among 10 Christian leaders who sought nomination from various political parties before the polls, but she was the only one selected. Sarker joins Jewel Areng, an ethnic Garo Catholic who was directly elected to parliament for the second time in the Dec. 30 election. Areng is the son of Promod Mankin
, the country’s first Christian parliamentarian and a government minister who was elected four times. Mankin died in 2016. Muslims make up about 90 percent of Bangladesh’s more than 160 million population. Hindus number about eight percent and the rest belong to other faiths including Christianity and Buddhism. Christians, the majority of them Catholics, account for less than half a percent or about 600,000 people.