Violence against women is a common phenomenon worldwide, which occurs both inside and outside the home. Domestic Violence (DV) is a form of violence that may occur against any family member at home. However, data suggest that women and children are the primary victims of DV. According to UN Women, 35 percent of women worldwide have experienced DV by an intimate partner, and some national studies show that up to 70 percent of women (nationally) are the victims of DV. According to a report from Bangladesh Bureau 2015, 80% of women are victims of DV.
Two of the leading causes of DV are the patriarchal culture and gender inequality permeating different spheres of the society. These exist across every institution, including State. Family as a unit of society and state, manifests the curse in the form of DV. Thus women's subordinate position in the society gets reflected in the family through the subordinance of women to men. A child learns from the family and is influenced by the environment surrounding them. Therefore, male children learn how to act violently from their father, whereas female children learn to tolerate the same from their mother; in both instances, following their basic role model. This pattern of learning expands from the family back to the community, society, and State. Thus, a community attitude is developed where individual acts in the community are performed according to the established norms and traditions.
Bangladesh does not have a structured approach to tackle DV. Some NGOs are working to change the society's attitude; however, in absence of integrated state-run measures, the steps taken by the NGOs rarely seem to be of help. Bangladesh has a specific law: The Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act 2010 (DV Act), however, without a specific policy dedicated to DV. In Bangladesh, the policy that is currently being implemented for women is the National Women Development Policy 2011; and only a part of that policy is dedicated to violence against women, including DV.
Bangladesh has excellent support services in both government and non-government sectors. This includes shelter homes (government and non-government), victim support centres, apart from general police activity, One Stop Crisis Centre, and a national helpline. However, all these support services are scattered, lacking coordination, and the number is far too low compared to the population. In addition, because of a lack of publicity, general people are not aware of these services either. These departments are also not properly aware of their responsibilities, as provided by the DV legislation, because of lack of training. Therefore, women are not getting fully benefitted by neither the support services, nor the legislation.
The vice of DV has increased manifold amid the coronavirus pandemic. In response to the COVID -19 epidemic, many countries adopted 'state-wide lockdown'. Bangladesh was not an exception.According to a recent report of Action Aid Bangladesh, during such lockdown period, worldwide violence against women, especially domestic violence, has increased extensively: such as in 2020 the increase is in Italy 59%, in Nigeria 700%, in Palestine 700% and in Bangladesh 983% compared to 2019. In addition, in Bangladesh, sexual and domestic violence has increased tenfold, and a 345% increase in cases of physical violence against women in Bangladesh has been seen. According to Ain-O-Salish Kendra, 235 women were murdered by their husbands and husbands' families within the first nine months of 2020. In a survey by Manusher Jonno Foundation 4,705 women and children were found to have reported the incidence of DV in April 2020.
To respond to this situation, the UN urged governments to ensure legal services, safe shelters, and support phone lines for DV victims. Some countries developed some innovative practices; for instance, France has set up communication/warning booths at groceries and pharmacies to alert the authorities. In USA, the National Domestic Violence Hotline offered service via online texting. Italy has introduced an app which allows a survivor to ask for help instead of making a phone call.
In this regard, Bangladesh acknowledged that GBV would increase. But no special measures have been taken by Bangladesh to face these emergencies. Government and NGOs have groups to work on this matter. Still, there is lack of implementing schemes for the DV law. Advocate Kamrun Nahar, a member of Naripokkho, mentioned that People are not aware of the DV Act, service providers are very reluctant, and enforcement officers are not available. Even women are trapped within violent households, unable to escape because of lockdown, and go to alternative shelters.
It is time for Bangladesh to come forward to reduce DV incidents in everyday life and in any emergency situation, like the current one. Bangladesh has to formulate a specific DV policy, create structured support services, and implement laws properly. Most importantly, it is immensely important to acknowledge the patriarchal culture and state of gender inequality in the country and to take steps to tackle the same effectively.
The writer is Advocate and Expert – Family and Domestic Violence.