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Violence against women: Bangladesh needs change in societal mindset

Legislation is an important step towards ending violence against women in Bangladesh. But in order for significant change to occur, societal mindset must transform in order to end the stigma and victim-blaming that women face when they report violence carried out against them, writes Amity Saha for South Asia Monitor.

Apr 21, 2017
By Amity Saha
 
Violence against Women (VAW) is the most palpable gender-specific violation of human rights. This is a form of discrimination against women. It enforces women`s subordination and patriarchal structures throughout all levels of society, leading to issues such as the undervaluation of women`s economic contributions. VAW is not only rooted in gender norms; the society’s gender norms are also constructed through VAW.
 
The low status of women -- economically, socially, culturally and politically -- both constitutes and enables the further denial of human rights in gender-specific ways, often at the hands of family members, male and female” (Reilly, 2009, p.78). Thus, VAW both reflects and determines gendered social structures (McMillan, 2007). That is why it is required to take immediate action to challenge the economic, social and cultural marginalisation of women in Bangladesh.
 
Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world and its estimated prevalence rate of violence against women is extremely high which, in turn, is “an obstacle to the achievement of equality, development and peace”. Due to a lack of reliable base-line surveys, the exact number of women affected by violence is unknown (CEDAW/C/BGD/Q/7). However, non-governmental organisation (NGO) reports indicate that Bangladesh has one of the highest rate globally despite advancements of women`s rights and a strong history of women’s movements. Deeply embedded in cultural and socio-economic practices, violence against women is sanctioned by both society and the state, in the name of culture and tradition as well as in the name of religion.
 
Bangladesh has a high prevalence of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence and child marriage. According to a UNFPA/Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics study, more than 10 million Bangladeshi women experience physical or sexual violence every year. The Report on Violence against Women (VAW) Survey 2015 by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) has found that 50 percent of the women said they were physically tortured while 27 percent said they had been sexually abused.
 
The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) study was based on interviews of 21,688 women between August 13 and 22 last year. In comparison with the figures of 2011, the rate of sexual abuse of married women decreased, but in cases of physical torture, it had increased. The study found that in 15 per cent of the cases men abused their wives in efforts to control their behaviour.
 
* Women aged between 15 and 34 are at the greatest threat of facing torture. 51.8 percent of rural women said they had been abused. The rate is 48.5 and 49.6 per cent at the urban and national levels respectively.
 
* Little difference was found between the ratios of economic exploitation faced by rural and urban married women.  In the case of rural women it was 12 per cent while in urban areas it was 10.2 per cent.
 
* The study shows that the tendency of abusing wives is found less among educated couples.
 
Many women in Bangladesh fail to report violence committed against them because there is a burly stigma surrounding rape, abuse, and domestic violence in the country. The police are also likely to blame the victim and favour the abuser. From 2010 to 2012, the Bangladeshi police received 109,621 complaints about violence against women. However, the police determined that only 6,875 of these complaints were ‘genuine’ and should be further investigated. The Inspector General of Police responsible for investigating crimes involving violence against women told the Inter Press Service news agency that “On many occasions . . .  the law was used to harass the accused. It does seem that not all complaints are genuine”.
 
Most of the women do not get the justice they deserve in Bangladeshi society still; because of stigma surrounding violence against women. In 2011, there were 420 recorded cases of rape in Bangladesh, and only 286 reached the prosecution stage.
 
There are also specific laws which have been instituted by the Bangladesh government in an effort to prevent violence against women. Some of these laws include the 2010 Domestic Violence Act and the 2000 Suppression of Violence against Women and Children Act.
 
The 2010 Domestic Violence Act criminalises domestic violence. This was a landmark act because many Bangladeshi women face cruelty by their husbands. A 2007 report stated that 53 per cent of married women in Bangladesh were physically and/or sexually abused by their husbands. If the court deems that domestic violence is likely to occur, it can either relocate the victim to a shelter or throw out the perpetrator of the violence.
 
The Suppression of Violence against Women and Children Act was passed in 2000 and makes clear that there will be harsh punishment for those convicted for committing violent crimes. The law targets rape, trafficking, and kidnapping.
 
We know that legislation is an important step towards ending violence against women in Bangladesh. But in order for significant change to occur, societal mindset must transform in order to end the stigma and victim-blaming that women face when they report violence carried out against them.
 
(Amity Saha is a Research Assistant (International Affairs) at Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs (BILIA). Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent to editor@spsindia.in)

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