at the Law
like laming a dog and then saying, "See, it cannot
publication on marriage, inheritance and family laws in
Bangladesh has, with the above allusion, pretty much hit
the mark with regards to the position of women in our society.
Almost every day, the media carry news of repression of
or violence against women. From marriage of minors to dowry-related
crimes, from rapes to murders, hardly a day goes by when
another woman is not violated in some way, be it physically,
mentally or emotionally.
women simply accept it as the inevitable, thinking that
their parents have the right to marry them off without their
consent, or that if their husband simply pronounces the
word "talaq" three times she is divorced
-- not only as his wife, but from the whole package deal
of family, children and property that comes with marriage.
Only when they are conscious of their rights and given an
equal standing in society can women move forward to be on
a par with men.
Inheritance and Family Laws in Bangladesh: Towards a Common
Family Code, published by Women for Women and UNESCO,
takes a closer look at the status of women in our society,
both legal and actual. While some laws are in fact biased
against women, the bigger problem seems to be the ineffectiveness
of existing laws that in theory should be protecting them
but are not due to lack of implementation.
example, even though the law requires a man to be at least
21 and a woman, 18, to be eligible for marriage, early marriages
are a common phenomenon in our society, with girls as young
as 13 or 14 being married off to slightly older boys or
even much older men. According to the book, a recent study
has shown that 70 percent of girls in rural areas are married
off before they are 20. The direct consequence of this is
the rate of desertion and the increased female-headed households.
In Islam, a minor girl can apparently revoke an early marriage
upon becoming an adult (18 years of age), but many conditions
make the process difficult to implement.
of the bride and groom in a marriage is mandatory in almost
every religion. But there are still numerous forced marriages
taking place where parents and guardians impose what "they
think is best" upon their children more out of family
considerations than those of the individual. There is a
fine line between arranged and forced marriages, and, in
such marriages, "a woman's worth is weighed against
the amount of dowry the bride can bring to the groom's family
and in return securing her acceptance to the new family.
Often, even grooms are roped into marriage due to dowry
gains and other material considerations".
this in a system where dowry is forbidden and where it is
actually an offence punishable by law. But the brutal torture
and deaths of countless women for being unable to pay the
promised dowry after marriage continue.
of women are left abandoned by their husbands who remarry
with or without stating any reason. Even in religions such
as Islam where polygamy is technically permitted, a number
of conditions must first be met, including securing the
written consent of the Arbitration Council. But, as usual,
men belonging to a patriarchal society use religion to their
best advantage to have their way with women and marry multiple
times without any qualms.
not that all laws favour women anyway. While husbands have
inherent and unilateral rights to divorce, says the book,
women's rights to divorce are delegated and conditional.
In Muslim law, the wife can only divorce her husband if
she has been given the right of divorce by the husband;
otherwise, she has to file a suit for divorce under the
Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act 1939.
can claim maintenance, but even there, enforcement is difficult
and a lengthy process which scares off many women right
from the start. Regarding children, in most cases, the father
is the natural guardian while the mother is the custodian.
According to Muslim law, the mother is entitled to the custody
of a male child until he is seven years of age, and a female
child until she reaches puberty. Somehow, this situation
does not seem conducive for the mother. Not only is she
not the natural guardian of her child, but she is the custodian
for the most difficult years of raising the child. Not only
that, but in Hindu law, the mother is the natural guardian
of any illegitimate child, and she will not lose guardianship
even if she marries another man. Instead of this being something
positive, this places the onus of the illegitimate child
on the mother while absolving the father of his duties.
in Muslim law women inherit only half the amount of property
as a man, in Hindu law, married daughters without a son,
barren daughters who have passed their child-bearing age
and widow daughters without sons are excluded from inheritance
because of their "failure to produce sons for the appeasement
of the departed soul [of their father]".
are only a few examples regarding the legal status of women
in our society. Regardless of their religion, women are
discriminated against in every social situation. Either
they are not treated as equal to men by the law, or they
are treated unfavourably by society. Where age-old laws
should in fact be amended to fit the times, they are instead
being used to draw women back further. Perhaps a better
understanding of the laws regarding women, or even a reshuffling
of the whole system to suit the needs of a changing, modern
society, can be the only way to give women their true worth
in society. While establishing clear, proper, unbiased laws
may be the first step required, the most important thing
is to enforce them so that they do in fact bring positive
change to the lives of women.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005