According to a recent survey of Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF), a human rights organisation, at least 4,249 women and 456 children were subjected to domestic violence in 27 districts of Bangladesh in April 2020, where 1,672 women and 424 children faced violence for the ﬁrst time in their lives.
During the ongoing pandemic, domestic violence has been on the rise. Abusers use physical and sexual violence, threats, emotional insults and economic deprivation as strategies to dominate their victims.
Leaders of World Academy for the Future of Women (WAFW) Bangladesh initiated the project, My sisters' keeper, in light of the recent increase in domestic violence, to help and support women from all walks of life. They aim to promote positive stories of men shared by women to help them understand the differences between exercising spousal rights and abuse.
They are also offering a safe space to talk, reaching out to women and men individually online who need mental support, raising awareness on social media against domestic violence.
In our country, women hesitate to speak up due to the lack of support from their families and communities. This project helps them to raise their voices, make their own choices, take legal actions and help them find a safe rehabilitation centre, if needed. They are promoting the national helpline number 109, to report any violence against women and children.
A victim from a rural village of Gopalganj shared her experiences, stating that her husband never abused her before, she was physically abused for the first time during the nationwide shutdown. "Since the shutdown started, at ﬁrst, I thought it's just his anxiety as he is not receiving his salaries. But last night it was beyond my imagination," shared the victim. "I still cannot believe that he beat time for dowry after ﬁve years of marriage, I informed my family but they refused to take me back as their financial condition is not good." The lack of support from family members and the society's stigmatised view of abuse are also responsible for an increase in domestic violence.
WAFW a US-based nonprofit organisation working for the advancement and acceleration of women leaders globally. They run a programme, with eight modules of one-year training on leadership skills for women. WAFW has been successfully running this project in China for the past ten years, in Nepal for the past three years and in Bangladesh since 2018. Female students from different universities voluntarily work on this project.
WAFW Bangladesh is working with Rokeya Sadan, Bandhu Foundation, KNH Ahsania Mission, and Center for Abandoned Children and Destitute Women. As most victims don't have any places to live, they are working to provide safe shelters and food for abused women and children, who reside in Dhaka, due to lack of rehabilitation centres. More support is required in the rural areas.
In the coming days, science may help us to defeat Covid-19, but only humanity and respect for each other can stop violence against women. Leaders of WAFW Bangladesh are fully committed to contribute to the advancement and acceleration of women empowerment.
My sisters' keeper is not just a project to support women, but a platform to demonstrate solidarity, to help women recognise their potential and highlight their basic rights.
Nahida Shabnam Urmi is a freelance writer, currently pursuing her master's in Public Administration at the University of Dhaka. She is the former Student Director of World Academy for the Future of Women.