Bangladesh has achieved significant progress in the empowerment of women. The Prime Minister of the country, Leader of the opposition party, Speaker of the National Parliament, all of them are women. In our country, women represent 49.4 per cent of the total population. But how much power really they hold at home and outside? As I'm a person involved in medical science, I have the opportunity to interact with women from different social class and profession everyday. Here I'm sharing some of my experiences that I got while discussing with them, and treating them.
In the present scenario of the world, infertility has become quite prevalent. According to medical science, the reasons behind infertility are accounted as 50 per cent due to men, and 50 per cent due to women. However in our country, still the women are solely blamed for not having any child. In many cases the male partner is responsible for infertility. But they don't believe it, or don't want to admit it. Some of them go for second marriage to save their lineage. But no child is born there.
The government provides free maternity service. Even though, 45 per cent of the pregnant women don't obtain that service. Among them, 68 per cent think that they don't require that service. As the women are not financially independent, they cannot establish their rights and regular needs in the family. They don't have the authority to take decisions and thus they are even deprived from the healthcare services which are free. Though the government is encouraging to deliver child at the facility at free of cost, still now 71 per cent of the child are born at their house.
Though the primary identification of cervical cancer is done for free, in the last 10 years we could include only seven per cent of the total female population into the process.
Sixty one per cent of the couples are using birth control methods, and the decision of the male partner gets more priority here. How many children should they take, what birth control method should they use, these things are also decided by the male partner in the family.
The research papers of ICDDRB and PLAN reveals that among the women of age group 20-24 years at present, 64 per cent got married before they're 18 years old. Taking the child daughter on his lap, the father may dream that one day his daughter will grow up and be in some respected job. Though the government provides free education, many of us cannot utilize this opportunity. Many feel insecure with a growing up daughter at house. It seems that their responsibility is fulfilled if they can arrange a bridegroom for her.
We don't have any proper and adequate discussion in the society regarding the issues like natural physical changes during puberty, arrangement during menstruation, the process of impregnation, the spreading and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, etc. For this reason we find ignorance, superstitions and wrong explanations regarding these issues and the reproductive health of women is at risk today. As there is no opportunity for proper management during the period of menstruation, many of the girls remain absent in school during that time. If they remain absent for 3 to 4 days per month due to this reason, then in a year they'll be absent for 36 to 48 days. It affects their result in the exam, and their confidence.
The frequency of sexually transmitted disease in adolescent girls is increasing as they don't have any perfect knowledge about the spreading and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. They don't have complete knowledge about the process of impregnation. So when they get pregnant, they chose the path of abortion. In most of the cases it is done secretly, and following insecure method. Still at present, one of the major reasons for maternal death is unsafe abortion.
While passing through our life, our mental health is constantly afflicted by various illogical prohibition, neglect, injustice, torture and violence. According to the information of BMMS, among the premature deaths of women, 9 per cent is suicide, 14 per cent is maternal, and 21 per cent is cancer. But have we taken any initiative to prevent this 9 per cent death due to suicide?
The homemaker in the family takes care of every need for every member in the family, including their fooding, clothing, medicine etc. She covers everybody with her blanket of care. But do the other members in the family look at her needs and requirements? Do they ever ask whether she's taking her medicine in proper time or not? As we're always coping up with these norms and customs, it seems that we women have forgotten how to ask what we need.
A few days ago, I went to an internationally renowned insurance company to insure an education policy for the future education life of my child. There I was informed that to do this, I need a written approval from my husband stating that he doesn't have any objection. I asked them, if my husband comes here for the policy, would he require my approval? Then I learned, no, it won't be required.
It will take some time for us to get out from this web of conventional ideology and practice, and establish freedom and equality for women in reality. We're now passing through a transition period. Though the society has achieved significant progress in education, information technology, per capita income and so on, when we go back to our home after finishing our daily work, most of us look for that universal role of a woman, that we have seen earlier, or have read in the novel. And when we don't find it, we get stumbled. People express it in different ways. If anybody wants to show any positive expression, it seems that the society is holding him back.
I believe that we cannot ensure women's rights only by enacting laws. All the male and female of the society need to realize and accept it from their heart. We need to practice equality in our family, so that the future generation can learn from it. Otherwise the women in high positions will remain as mere ornaments of our society. The mass people will not get any benefit from it.
Dr Nowsheen Sharmin Purabi is a commentator on health and social issues.
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