539 women die in 2 years
At least 539 women were killed in dowry-related violence in the country during the past two years, the annual human rights report of Odhikar, a rights body, revealed at an advocacy meeting yesterday.
The figure appearing in the report is a mere fraction of the entire scenario, as most of the incidents go unreported.
Ulla Anttiila, executive director of the KIOS, a Finnish NGO Foundation for Human Rights, told the meeting that violence against women at any level in any form was violation of human rights.
The violence encompasses coercion and arbitrary denial of personal liberty of women and physical, psychological and sexual harassment, said Swedish Ambassador Anneli Lindahl Kenny, citing the UN definition.
The Odhikar report shows 1,255 women were raped, 761 of them below 18 years, while 924 others were sexually harassed with 13 of them killed.
About 54 women allegedly committed suicide, and 167 others suffered acid violence, it adds.
The speakers said violence against women persisted due to defective criminal justice system, among others.
While criminal justice system in Bangladesh is patriarchal, weak and discriminatory to women, corruption of the law enforcers and court officials foil the chances of justice to repressed women, Saira Rahman Khan, a founder member of Odhikar, said in her keynote presentation.
Moreover, inaction of the related government agencies virtually facilitates the violation, as victims are often denied justice due to social discrimination although various laws are in place, she added.
Prof Mizanur Rahman, chairman of National Human Rights Commission, said the victims were denied justice in Bangladesh due to faulty criminal justice system.
“The criminal justice administration is in deep crisis,” he said, and it was well-manifested when prosecution declared at the higher judiciary that they had failed to deliver their duty.
Referring to the "disappearance" of opposition leader Ilias Ali, he demanded the government investigate the incident and make it public in shortest possible time.
It is the duty of the state to ensure security of any citizen, he said.
Replying to a question, Prof Mizanur said the commission had found involvement of law enforcement agency men in some cases, as they investigated some of such incidents.
The Swedish ambassador said unequal patriarchal power structure that threatens women's security was a root cause of the violence.
A concerted effort by the state along with NGO, media and civil society is a must to combat the violence as a development policy, she said.
Though Sweden is recognised to have the highest level of gender-equality, she said, incidents of men's violence against women were there in Swedish society too.
Sweden is the first country to have a law in 1965 that recognised marital rape, she said, adding that Swedish laws recognised violence against women as a criminal offence and awarded offenders up to six years of imprisonment.
Still, she said, 27,000 counts of violence against women were reported in Sweden in 2010.
Equal rights and empowerment of women, democracy and environment conservation feature as policy priority in Swedish international aid for Bangladesh, she said.
Farida Akhtar, treasurer of Odhikar, chaired the inaugural session of the meeting organised jointly by Odhikar and KIOS at the capital's Brac Centre Inn.