In Bangladesh the patriarchal, patrilineal, and patrilocal attitudes put women in a position within which they always remain submissive to male domination and in most of the time which results violence. For a woman the high risk area of violence is her home and most surprisingly the person who is more likely to assault is her husband. The two common reasons behind this violence are dowry demand and not performing the household chores properly. Whether the violence is physical or mental, violence against women is a common and in some cases regular scenario in most of the countries of the world. Especially in South Asian countries it is a daily practice and sometimes deadly picture of life for millions of women. That is why violence against women is considered as 'normal' activity of daily life- even by a woman herself. Their silence due to social pressure made the situation even worse than before. The first official definition of violence against women was incorporated in Article 1 of the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women in 1993. The definition says, "Violence against women means any act of gender based violence that results in or likely to result in, physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life".
Men's sense of ownership over women is considered as a reason for domestic violence. As a result a large number of women fall a victim to domestic violence every year in Bangladesh. So, domestic violence is a social burning issue in Bangladesh than any other issues. In the country, women suffer various forms of violence including domestic violence, rape, dowry death, harassment, suicide, forced marriage, trafficking, and so forth.
Domestic violence does not mean physical abuses only. These abuses take many forms. Women are treated like men's own property. Moreover, their sexual activity, labour and income are controlled by men too. Nowadays more women are entering into workplace, yet they do not enjoy any controlling power over their things. In a patriarchal society like ours, a man is given more importance than a woman. In almost all families boy children hold a sense of superiority from very beginning of life. However, our constitution states men and women have equal footing in every sphere of their life. Moreover, the state has the responsibility to assure non-discrimination and to maintain gender equality among its every citizen. But the sad part of the story is the state is yet to ensure their rights. Behind this deprivation some civil and personal laws are very much involved.
Bangladesh is a Muslim majority country along with some minority groups. Women of both groups face gender disparity under respective laws and customs. For instance, according to Muslim Law of Inheritance, a son receives double amount of property than a daughter gets. In addition, a Muslim mother will lose her custodial right if she marries a man who is not a relative of her child. Polygamy, up to four wives for a man, is permitted under the written permission of his wife. The Holy Quran expressly states, 'marry such women as seem good to you, two, three or four, but if you fear that you cannot do equal justice to them all, then marry only one.' Thus Islam imposes a precondition upon the husband regarding polygamy. However, no one follows the condition. In spite of that men are taking permission from their wives by means of coercion, threat and violence. On the other hand, a Hindu woman, according to Hindu personal law, will receive only a limited share of her paternal property. Moreover, to some extent she has no right to bring a divorce suit.
There are several factors involved behind this existing situation. First of all, patriarchal attitudes (as mentioned earlier) are an important source of domestic violence. In village areas these attitudes are even legitimized on the basis of religion. Secondly, community people are not supportive towards women rights in order to keep their own position unopposed in the community. They try to enforce patriarchal tradition and discourage women empowerment. That is why they are found remaining silent and lack of feeling motivated to protest violent activities against women. Thirdly, there are many laws passed for the protection of women but not properly enforced in favours of the victims. On the other hand, manipulation takes place regarding the process since there are loopholes in those laws. Criminals know very well that they can easily escape the eye of law and can avoid punishment. Consequently violence occurs against women more than before. Moreover, many cases of violence against women are filed as false cases and many accused get acquittal for the lack of witnesses and evidences. Finally, community people do not take necessary steps to stop this violence as they are afraid of those abusers and their political identity.
In Bangladesh violence against women is closely related to the institution of marriage too. Some common cases of violence which are related to marriage are wife-beating for dowry or permission-seeking for another marriage. Nevertheless, there is some habitual beating as well. For example, a wife's getting late in serving dinner on time, violence during time of pregnancy, prohibiting wives from income, acid is thrown at (or in many cases raping happens later on) if any man is rejected by a girl. So, we can say that, women in Bangladesh are at a high risk of being victimized at any time.
The first and most important consequence of domestic violence is gender inequality, which has left an effect upon the development and wellbeing of women. Without women's contribution our country will not reach to its development goal, since women constitute half the population of Bangladesh. The fear of violence deters women's power and sometimes willingness from accessing to their basic needs and rights. It leaves a bad impression on women's physical condition and also restricts all development activities. Physical injuries may not leave a long-term impact on body but it surely leaves a serious impression on their mind. Sometimes it creates psychological disorder. It causes anxiety and depression. It also restrains women from participating in social or economic activities. Since victimized women are most likely powerless women, they have very less freedom in terms of decision making, control over family income or taking care of children and family members. As a result their healthcare issue is overlooked and they suffer fatal mortality, deliver babies of low birth weight and more likely lose the infant.
There is an intergenerational consequence also seen because of this violence. For example, girls who witness violence against their mother are likely to go on to accept violence in their own marriage. In our country, we have the law --- Women and Child Repression Prevention Act, 2000 --- which deals specifically with women and children and include measures against domestic violence. Despite this act domestic violence continues to go unpunished. Some reasons behind this situation are --- women are often reluctant to report the crime out of shame and when the crime is reported, the investigation and prosecuting officers can be insensitive to the difficulties faced by victims. Above mentioned are not only offences happened against women in Bangladesh, but they are common and very frequent happenings.
Personal laws have turned out to be a great obstacle for women to enjoy their rights equally along with men. The enactment of legislation alone will not change the present situation. The best way to improve the situation is to enforce the legislation appropriately and effectively, since these are hardly enforced or sometimes misused as well.
Md Nazmus Shaydut and Faria Haque Tina are MDS students, BRAC University