Although women constitute half of Bangladesh's population of approximately 160 million, unfortunately they are not as empowered as their male counterparts.
Violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men and the prevention of fuller advancement of women.
Women have limited access to education, employment, social security, health care and nutrition. Their right to self expression is curtailed and their participation in the overall development process is impeded. Women's day long household activities have not been included in national statistics and the unemployment rate of women in the formal sectors is 70% in comparison with 12.4% for men. Mostly, women are engaged in agricultural activities but 73% of them are unpaid family labor.
The constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh guarantees equal rights for men and women in all spheres of national life. Women, despite having equal rights as men, both under the constitution and most of other laws, their actual legal status and entitlements are greatly influenced by culture, customs, and norms—both social and religious.
Some major acts of violence committed against women include dowry killing, rape, sexual harassment, stalking, acid attacks, physical and mental abuses, and sex trafficking. Nearly two out of every three women in Bangladesh are victims of violence. There were 2,981 cases of gender based violence in 2004, but the incidence soared to 4,563 cases in 2012. Ain o Salish Kendra estimates that in the eight months between January and September2015, 70 women were physically tortured, 129 women were tortured to death and nine women committed suicides in dowry related cases. But many such incidents go unreported. Many women in Bangladesh fail to report violence committed against them because there persists a stigma surrounding rape, abuse and domestic violence in the country.
If women work for their families, patriarchal values dictate that they are not given control of family wealth and income. Even they are not able to spend the money they earn as they see fit.
There are specific laws which have been enacted by the Bangladesh Government in an effort to prevent violence against women. Some of them include the 2010 Domestic Violence against women and children (Resistance &Protection) Act. The 2010 Domestic Violence Act criminalises domestic violence. This is a landmark act, because it provides remedy for women facing cruelty in the hands of their husbands. A 2007 report stated that 53% of married women in Bangladesh were physically and or sexually abused by their spouses.
The suppression of violence against women and children act was passed in 2000. It stipulates harsh punishment for commission of violent crimes against women like rape, trafficking and kidnapping.
Though legislation is an important step towards curbing violence against women in order for a significant change to occur in their position, the reality is that domestic violence exists in almost every household and it is almost a daily occurrence. Domestic violence has not yet been brought under the law as people sweep this under the carpet terming it as a family matter. Most women who faced domestic abuse would say they did not dare protest because they were afraid of their husbands. This happens because girls grow up believing they are weak and need protection and in the exchange they must serve men. They take oppression of women being something customary, even normal. In the process men tend to develop macho complex which finds perverse expression through gang rapes. Bangladesh is also reportedly notorious for recording highest worldwide incidence of acid crimes.
Bangladesh is a source and transit country for women and children being subjected to human trafficking, specifically forced labour and prostitution. Women and girls are trafficked from Bangladesh to India, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates (UAE) for sexual exploitation. More than 20 million Women are victims of trafficking globally. It's a regional and global problem.
Societal attitudes must change in order to end the stigma and victim blaming that women face when they report violence carried out against them. Cyber harassment includes posting pictures, comments, obnoxious and humiliating messages and so on. It causes the victims psychological stress, disorder defamation of individual and family, social stigma and suicides in the worst case scenario.
A revised National Women Development Policy was adopted by the Government in 2011, on the basis of that a National Action Plan has been drawn following the Beijing Platform for Action and Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
In Bangladesh the convention on Elimination of All Forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW) was ratified many years back, but its important articles have not been introduced yet. Article number 2 is about abolishing all type of laws and practices against women rights. The government has some reservations on them, which need to be withdrawn so that gender equality can be achieved.
Development policies and programs tend not to view women as integral to the economic development process. This is reflected in the higher investments in women's reproductive rather than their productive roles. Women's economic empowerment requires bold and sustained action to advance women's opportunities and rights and to ensure that women can participate and their voice heard. Earning money helps women become economically empowered. Economic empowerment can help women to be empowered in other areas.
Women's economic empowerment sets a direct path towards gender equality, poverty eradication and inclusive economic growth. Women make enormous contributions to economy through on-farm activities, as entrepreneurs, or by doing unpaid work at home. But they remain disproportionately affected by poverty, discrimination and exploitation. Economic empowerment not only benefits the economy but also other social elements of existence. Importantly, it can reduce violence in the community. With economic independence, mobility of women becomes smoother, their acceptability in the family increases and as a whole their position in society is strengthened.
Action for changing the patriarchal attitudes is required to relieve women of their double burden through a reform of the traditional gender-division of labour. We should introduce gender equality in the school curriculum. Even in politics, we don't see that much participation of women. The political parties don't have any quota system to accommodate more women.
Some progress has been made in closing gender gaps as many women are now members of the local government councils that have important responsibilities for rural and urban development. The rapid growth of the garment industry has provided a large number of formal sector jobs to women, who now comprise more than 90% of labour force in the sector.
Women's role as change agents in brining social transformation should be recognised and furthered with an inclusive policy mix backed by a determined political will.
The writer is a women's rights activist