Violence Against Women, Bangladesh and CEDAW

Sultana Kamal Violence against women is not a phenomenon peculiar to Bangladesh. Nevertheless one cannot help thinking of Bangladesh as soon as the issue of violence against women is raised. It is unfortunate that despite remarkable achievements in the field of women’s development and bearing a glorious history of women’s movement, incidences of violence against women is rather high in Bangladesh. It is not easy to say whether violence against women has decreased or increased over the past few years because of lack of reliable base-line survey, but in absolute term, the number of incidences is alarmingly high. To quote from the record by ASK documentation unit prepared on the basis of newspaper reporting, there have been about 1500 incidents of violence against women in Bangladesh in the year 2006 which included acid burns, dowry related violence, rape and attempted rape, violence instigated by fatwa and violence against female domestic workers. According to the information provided by Mahila Parishad, a leading women’s organization of Bangladesh, only for the months of January and February 2007, the numbers stand at 332 and 462 respectively. Another source reveals, of the 1,254 cases of violence against women reported by various Newspapers in 2006, about 50 per cent of victims were under 30 years of age. 741 women were victims of rape, 334 subjected to violence due to dowry whereas number of fatwas issued by imams (religious leaders) stood at 39. Some improvement was seen in the case of acid burns, which decreased from 270 in 2005 to 221 in 2006. However, in the period between January and March 2007, ASK documented already 4 fatwa related cases of violence, 126 incidents of rape including 10 deaths and 2 suicides, 67 dowry related violence with 34 deaths and 4 suicides. Cases of acid burns were 28. The above statistics are particularly disturbing for Bangladesh as Bangladesh is a country known for the resilience of her people against repression, discrimination, undemocratic and autocratic military rules in which women have always played a significant role. In fact Bangladesh is one of those countries where women at different very critical junctures of time took the responsibility of leading the country forward. This is true of the time during the nine-month long liberation war when it is the women basically who were left back in the territory to look after the country while most of the male family members were either killed by the Pakistani occupation army or they had to leave the country to save themselves and join the liberation force. Even before that, over the decades of fifties and sixties, women gave leadership to the literary and cultural movements culminating in the mass upheaval of 1969 and the liberation war itself. In the post liberation war period too, we see women leaders engaged in the reconstruction of the country both in the private as well as public sectors, moving for the trial of the war criminals, participating in the political, social and cultural rebuilding of the society. But the contributions of women

These two clauses are the most important ones as far as women’s equality is concerned. right to be free from all kinds of violence including sexual violence.most of the time choose to opt for submission to male domination and control to save themselves from dislocation. right to health. It is therefore important to work towards full ratification and materialization of CEDAW’s principles. defeats the principle of equality before law so pledged.1©. right to privacy. The Constitution of Bangladesh. however. the right to choose. It is important to note that the women of Bangladesh. special measures to bring women at par with their male counterparts and repealing of discriminatory laws. equality for women in the public life. That is why the state interventions to stop violence against women limited themselves to making prohibitive laws for taking and giving dowry under the title of the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1980 and the Violence Against Women (Deterrent) Punishment Act of 1983 which overlooked the route causes of violence against women which are basically related to women’s subordination and their role in the society and family defined by gender. through various forums tried to sustain the pressure on the governments to take the issue of violence against women seriously and to deal with it in a holistic manner. for the policy makers of Bangladesh generally meant only gross violence like rape and murder. the right not to be subjected to torture or ill treatment. This brings us to the discussion of the UN Convention for the elimination of all kinds of discrimination against women (CEDAW). Violence against women. right to be free from discrimination. . The UN CEDAW (1979) binds all the UN member states signing and ratifying the document to review its laws to examine whether they are good enough to give women the desired it private or public. Women’s subordination is a necessary condition of patriarchy. is a pre-condition to minimize violence against women. and clauses relating to rights within the family. tradition and religion. pledges and also guarantees equality before law for everyone including women. which endows supremacy of men over women and to maintain that supremacy the system uses both psychological conditioning as well as disciplinary measures. Bangladesh was one of the first countries to sign and ratify it but reserving clause 2. And equality in every sphere of life. which cannot be easily questioned without being branded as infidels or even ‘fallen’. Otherwise the penalty is too high for them to be able to deal with. Women’s subordination. during or after the war of liberation. The situation becomes even more precarious for women as the violence inflicted on them is sanctioned by the society as well as the state in the name of culture. it is needless to say denies her the basic human rights to life.equality not only in terms of opportunity but also equality in result.have not been given due recognition in history before. But application of personal laws to govern people according to the dictates of the religion one is born into. Women living in constant fear of retaliation. The 1996 government withdrew reservation on two of the clauses still retaining the same on clause 2 and 16.

female feticide. battering. materially and psychologically on me for protection turning women literally into chattels for men. malnutrition. society and state. It is mainly the three areas – family. commoditization of women’s body etc could be cited as social violence whereas condoning social and family violence is a form of state violence in addition to not offering protection in case of communal violence or violence at times of war and conflict. This shows the mindset of the . It is also important to identify the physical areas or frames within which violence against women occur. the main focus of the act was on enhancement of punishment rather than substantial and procedural competence.based violence is very important to challenge the genesis of violence against women. Even though Bangladesh has a much discussed law under the title of Suppression of Violence against Women Act (1995 amended in 1997 and 2000) has been enacted after intensive and extensive consultation with he women’s groups. forced marriage. (murder for dowry or other reasons. which motivates both women and men to accept it as natural takes place. women’s bodily integrity. her right to control her body including her sexuality and reproduction too are violated through such controlling authority given to men. mobility and labour. Family violence is manifested in physical torture. Conviction rate is significantly low compared to the complaints lodged and cases filed. As a result it is not only physical torture that women are made to suffer. Society does it normally by humiliation and sanctioning family violence in the name of social norms. exploitation. absence of health services. control over reproductive rights) sexual violence by rape and other sexual transgressions and mental torture by obstructing women’s mobility. Absence of adequately qualified persons with strong motivation is still a problem within the government institutions. In the above situation women are made to depend physically. The most unfortunate part is that the violence at the very personal/private level within the limits of the family is not even recognized as violence by the state in Bangladesh. State validates this by either making laws in favour or refusing to provide remedies against. Failing which. The socialization process ensures men’s control and disciplining power over women’s body. socio-economic and political powers. efforts to stop violence is more likely to meet frustration than success. Recognition of this dimension of gender. denying equal rights by application of discriminatory laws or imposing unequal status by statute to uphold patriarchal values. pornography.Gender based violence also becomes difficult to combat as it is directly and closely linked to cultural. Trafficking. but also mental and psychological assaults. deprivation or oppression are not that uncommon. The women’s ministry has only a meager percentage of 1-4 allocated to combat violence against women. murder of girl-child. gang rape. Threats. sexual harassment. It is yet not the fullest understanding of the issue. vindictive behaviour. Not only that. forced prostitution. threats of eviction from the family etc. Family and the society are the places where indoctrination and socialization of patriarchal values nurturing the principles of male hegemony over women. food deprivation. assault. The challenge still remains to see violence against women in the violation of not only the violent acts perpetrated on them.

CEDAW anyhow does not deal with the issue of violence against women but the very premise that equality in every sphere of life would ensure violence free life for women is the basic in the concept of the instrument. However. Thank you all. It is very important to remember honour lies in honestly recognizing the wrong to make it right. the changed policy has been sent in abeyance. Policies for appointment in responsible positions were also removed. The alliances of ANCVAW. Moreover.officials responsible. To mention CEDAW in relation to violence against women it is important to recognize the value of full ratification of the convention. have shown considerable commitment to combat violence against women through individual or collective networks. it may not be out of context to discuss the Diaspora mentality towards violence against women. We Can Stop Violence Against Women. in the face of challenge by the women’s groups. The Non-Governmental as well as activist organizations. one cannot expect to see any effective result in this area. of course. In the last few years violence against women has been practically the main focus of these organizations. Gender and Development Alliance are the most active now in Bangladesh on the issue of violence against women. In conclusion. Otherwise without accepting the basic clause of equality (2) and equal rights within the family (16. Beijing Platform for Action and SNAT of 1996 was changed clandestinely in the year 2004 to replace equality clauses by vague words signifying no definite rights for women in the area of property ownership and resourcesharing. which is typically characterized by the tendency to hide incidences of violence lest family or national honour is hurt. The women’s policy formulated in 1997 on the basis of recommendations of CEDAW.1©). . Application of CEDAW principles in court has also given women the desired result in some cases. recommendations by CEDAW regarding the reform in police stations to offer special assistance to women has proved to be really helpful.

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