Bangladesh is a small South Asian country which borders India, Myanmar, and the Bay of Bengal. Since it gained independence in 1971, Bangladesh’s economy has been growing about 6% annually. However, while the economy in Bangladesh is becoming more progressive, socially, Bangladesh still has room for advancement. Patriarchal customs mean that many women in Bangladesh face threats of violence.
Some main acts of violence committed against women include dowry killings, rape, sexual harassment and stalking, acid attacks, physical and mental abuse and sex trafficking. Nearly two out of every three women in Bangladesh are victims of some form of violence.
Gender based violence is on the rise. In 2004, there were 2,981 cases of dowry related violence; women are beaten or killed because their parents fail to pay the dowry that her in-laws request. This number rose to 4,563 cases in 2012.
Gender discrimination also leads to women having less opportunities. The literacy rate for women in Bangladesh is only 43.2%, while 61.0% of Bangladeshi men are literate. The unemployment rate for women is 70.7%, much higher than the 12.4% unemployment rate for men. Even though many women help in the agricultural sector, 73% of those women contribute what is considered as unpaid ‘family labor’ and do not receive a salary. This is problematic because even if women work for their family, patriarchal values dictate that many of the women are not given control of the property or the family income, and therefore the women are not able to spend the money they earn as they see fit.
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. The police are also likely to blame the victim and favor the side of 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, who is 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”.
The stigma surrounding violence against women means that many women do not get the justice they deserve. In 2011, there were 420 recorded cases of rape in Bangladesh, and only 286 reached the prosecution stage.
Luckily, there are laws and programs being implemented to help reduce the amount of gender based violence that is taking place in Bangladesh. A joint program with the UN has instituted a three-tier strategy to help reduce this violence. The first part of the UN’s program is designed to enhance the capacities of the government and to support NGO’s in order to help prevent violence against women and protect victims. The program also aims to protect survivors of violence and to change social attitudes, which lead to much gender based violence.
Some important achievements of the UN’s program have been increased access to healthcare for women, a decrease in the rate of child-marriages and dowry-killings and more awareness about the lesser-known forms of gender based violence, such as sexual harassment in the workplace.
There are also specific laws which have been instituted by the Bangladeshi 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 criminalizes domestic violence. This was a landmark act because many Bangladeshi women face cruelty by their husbands. A 2007 report stated that 53% 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 evict 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.
Though legislation is an important step toward ending violence against women in Bangladesh, in order for significant change to occur, societal attitudes must change in order to end the stigma and victim-blaming that women face when they report violence carried out against them.
– Ashrita Rau