Women's legal rights and discriminations
Women characters are one of the most wanted subjects of literature, and Bangladeshi women are not exceptional. The beauty and charm of Bangladeshi women are decorated in poems, legends and short stories. But the suffering of Bangladeshi women hardly comes out in the literature. Bangladeshi women tolerate oppression and deprivation in their own family, community or in the society at large. They are also subjected to violence and discrimination. In an overpopulated country like Bangladesh, with its socio-economic and legal systems biased against the poor and the women, Bangladeshi women are in difficult situation.
Under the 1972 Constitution of Bangladesh, women's rights are protected under the broad and universal principles of equality and participation. These principles are found in the following Articles in the Constitution:
* Article 10 of the Constitution provides that steps shall be taken to ensure participation of women in all spheres of national life.
* Article 19 (1) provides that the State shall endeavour to ensure equality of opportunity to all citizens. Article 27 specifies that all citizens are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law.
Moreover, Article 28 (1) provides that the State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth. Article 28 (2) more directly and categorically says that women shall have equal rights with men in all spheres of the State and of public life. This latter provision means that all rights mentioned in the Constitution, such as right to life, right to personal liberty, right to property, freedom of movement, freedom of speech, freedom to exercise a profession or occupation are equally applicable to women in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh has a number of special laws, specifically prohibiting certain form of violence against women including the Penal Code, 1860, the Anti-Dowry Prohibition Act (1980), the Cruelty to Women Ordinance (1983), the Suppression of Immoral Traffic Act (1993;), and the Prevention of Repression against Women and Children Act (2000).
Despite the legal support for women's rights, in Bangladesh women are still practically not given equal treatment. Practices of inequality are manifold, of which the following deserve a special mention:
* In case of wages in the informal sector, women are paid a lower grade than men for the same work.
* In divorce, women need a court order to enforce their right to divorce, which requires proving the validity of their reason for seeking divorce. Men, on the other hand, do not need such court order and thus they can divorce their wives even without any proper reason, and at any time they wish.
* In inheritance, a woman is generally given half the share of her male counterpart. A son would exclude his paternal uncle or aunt from inheriting from his deceased's father's property, while a daughter would not cause such consequence.
Bangladeshi women who fail to pay the dowry to their husbands and their families are subjected to violence. Some have been beaten, set on fire or poisoned. Women who turn down marriage proposals are in danger of suffering violence from spurned men. There is increasing number of cases of men throwing acid to the faces of women with the aim of disfiguring them.
There are also cases of trafficking of Bangladeshi women to other countries for purposes of forced prostitution. Because of the hidden nature of trafficking, reliable statistics are hard to find. Nevertheless according to one report, the rate of trafficking of women and children in Bangladesh is as follows:
* 200 - 400 young women and children are smuggled and trafficked every month from Bangladesh to Pakistan and Arab countries;
* An estimated 10,000 - 15,000 are trafficked to India annually;
* On average at least 70-80 women and children are trafficked daily from Bangladesh to other countries;
* An estimated 200, 00 women have already been trafficked to different countries including girls as young as 9 years old.
This situation restricts the free movement of women. They fear for their safety. They are not safe whether they are inside or outside the house. Parents, relatives and the women themselves are constantly worried about their physical security. This led to the situation where women cannot anymore freely move around without another person acting as bodyguard, and where parents insist that they return home before its gets dark whether their work is finished or not. The Bangladeshi government created the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs to assist women victims of violence. Assistance cells have been created in different parts of the country to implement the program. However, the number of such assistance cells is very limited to be able to cope with the demand for service.
Early marriage is another obstacle in promoting women's rights. The Majority Act, 1875 clearly provides that a woman must at least be 18 years old to be able to get married. This legal requirement unfortunately is disregarded, especially in rural areas. Many marriages are held without the 'free consent' of the women. The parents give the consent as if there is no justification for getting the consent from the women. Poverty, family honour, social insecurity are some of the major reasons for early marriages. As a result, the women's right to education, a pillar for realizing one's own rights, suffer.
In livelihood, Bangladeshi women suffer discrimination in getting bank loans. Since most of them do not have properties of their own that can used as loan collateral, and husbands or male relatives have to give consent to any bank loan transaction, the opportunity for women to access to financial resource from the bank is limited. Employment of women is still low. This is true for the both private and government offices. And women who occupy government jobs have lower status and very little influence in government decision-making processes.
The discriminatory attitude against women, rooted in the family and extends to the State level, should be ended. Because of the constraints from the family, society and the state in general, Bangladeshi women are not aware of their rights. And even if some of them become aware of their rights, they still would not assert them due to the "ingrained unexpected continuity" (i e, the traditional belief of keeping women under the shadow of somebody such as their fathers or husbands).
The writer is PhD researcher, lawyer in Bangladesh Supreme Court. He can be reached at email@example.com