Gender Sensitivity: Judiciary not trained enough
Rights activists have long been demanding effective gender sensitivity training for judges and lawyers dealing with cases of sexual violence so the victims, especially rape survivors, are treated with gender responsiveness and sensitivity throughout the legal process.
But there is still a lack of gender sensitivity within the judiciary and one of the reasons is that there is hardly any training exclusively on gender issues and sensitivity during their professional training, experts say.
They said if the judges, lawyers and others falter, especially in gender-related crimes, they imperil fairness and inflict damage on the survivors' quest for justice.
The verbal observations that former judge Mosammat Qumrunnaher of Women and Children Repression Prevention Tribunal-7 of Dhaka made on Banani Raintree double-rape case have once again raised questions about the sensitivity especially among those who hold women and children repression prevention tribunals.
While delivering the verdict on November 11, she verbally recommended that police not register any rape case if the complainant goes to them 72 hours or longer after the incident, which drew flak from different quarters.
In light of the situation, experts stressed the need for providing regular training to the judges and lawyers as it would help them avoid stereotyping and unconscious biases that can creep into judicial reasoning. It will also make them better aware of the laws and the constitution, of their powers and jurisdiction, they added.
"As rape and other forms of sexual violence are normalised to problematic extents in the society, it is necessary to ensure that the judges and lawyers involved in the trial of sexual offence cases are gender-sensitive enough to not be swayed by gender biases, which re-traumatise survivors and perpetuate the culture of impunity," said Taqbir Huda, advocacy lead of Brac's Gender Justice Programme.
"There are numbers of examples of judgments, which feature the gender insensitive language used in rape cases," he said.
Taqbir, a member of the Rape Law Reform Coalition, a body of 17 leading rights organisations, said the training must include a comprehensive breakdown on what counts and does not count as consent in sexual relations so that the key question in any sexual offence trial is properly guided by the questions of capacity and consent, instead of a complainant's character or lifestyle choices.
Taslima Yasmin, associate professor of law department at Dhaka University, said the women and children repression prevention tribunals were introduced to give protection to the victims of sexual offences, but they are still being treated the way they were treated by courts before the inception of these tribunals, with the same gender biases and patriarchal mindset.
"We have separate laws and tribunals for women, but we couldn't touch upon that barrier -- whether those dispensing justice are gender-sensitive or not, and whether we could have sensitised them towards the plight of the victims," she said.
"Rather, we are in a way nurturing the same overwhelming mindset continued from the British period that the victims of sexual offences are lying -- we will receive them with utmost suspicion -- and their duty will be breaking that suspicion beyond any reasonable doubt, which ultimately becomes difficult for them to prove," she added.
Taslima conducted a study on the effectiveness of the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act-2010 in 2020 and found a dismal picture of training implemented by the Judicial Administration Training Institute (JATI) of Bangladesh.
The study said the judges' training includes a module on the DVPP Act under its four-month foundation training, which consists of only a couple of hour's sessions taken by an external organisation invited by JATI, and is highly inadequate to build a proper understanding on the detail and peculiar provisions of the law.
"Such project-based training cannot create awareness or sensitisation. Instead, there must be a regular, and institutionalised approach," opined Taslima.
According to JATI, currently it has a wide range of training modules for different judges, but it does not provide any training exclusively on gender issues and sensitivity.
Md Golam Kibria, director (training) of JATI, said when senior judges conduct the training, gender issues come up invariably.
"But this remains only one component of the curricula and usually covered in a day workshop," he told The Daily Star.
Besides, for the judges of women and children repression prevention tribunals, it has a week-long refresher course after their joining, conducted by Supreme Court judges, external members, forensic experts and others, the director said.
"But we have some limitations -- we only have one institute for 1,800 judges, and we form a batch with only 45 judges. It happens that a judge doesn't get any training for two to three years," added Kibria, also a senior district and sessions judge.
Speaking to this newspaper on condition of anonymity, some judges said JATI's training is inadequate and irregular, and they require more attention, because what they studied in universities are completely different from the real-life experiences.
A senior judge who conducts training at JATI said it also happens that some judges are called for a fundamental training two years after holding courts without any experience.
Another senior judge of a women and children repression prevention tribunal said the observation that judge Qumrunnaher gave is not surprising because there are many who often make contradictory remarks.
Advocate Salma Ali, president of Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association, said it is the duty of the government to arrange regular training for judges and lawyers, and make them aware of some specific issues -- how to deal with the victims, keep their protections in mind, and share positive landmark judgments with them to avoid unnecessary biases in sexual offence cases.