Why do majority of women endure domestic abuse?
Since the beginning of the year, the lockdown has ensued a tidal surge of domestic violence cases. But in our country, it has always been a pressing issue with a very little route to justice. Not only has it been prevalent among the lower class but also, the unfortunate occurrence resides within the upper-middle class of our society.
Mahima, a woman fallen into the plight of constant physical and mental abuse for the past two decades. At the age of 24, she struggled to find peace amidst her parent's toxic conjugal lives and her brother's addiction to drugs. To escape her unstable household, she decided to live with her sister and brother-in-law. Unluckily, it turned out to be a costly mistake that has aggravated with time.
With Mahima's strong academic background, she maintained her job for six years. But eventually, she left the job after agreeing to take care of her sister's kids. Meanwhile, the mental and physical abuse started gradually. In the beginning, she was confused about what was happening to her. "The victim's parents tried to bring her home several times. But she felt that it was better of living with her sister even if they were abusing her," said her friend.
Although she had enough financial backup she still faced difficulties leaving her sister's home. So the conundrum trails back to one puzzling question, "Why couldn't she leave?"
Mahiratul Nabia, Gender, and Social Inclusion officer at British Council, indicates the fear of being alone and societal taunts often influence their decision-making process. "As women when we think of deciding to leave we feel conflicted with our confidence. We keep doubting ourselves and wondering whether we would be emotionally or financially stable."
Our society is heavily structured on patriarchal beliefs. Unfortunately, as a country, we only equate a woman's success and value to how well they lead their domestic lives in the name of tradition. If deviating from such a pattern, women have to bear the lifelong stigmatizations and exclusion that not only comes from society but also her family members. Eventually, we fail to see women as autonomous individuals. Instead, they merely get inhibited with self-limiting beliefs.
The lack of a social support system has been integrated within our culture. It's a form of systemic oppression continuing to exist over centuries. Unfortunately, in cases of domestic abuse women struggle to tightly grasp on to their own personal boundaries.
To further worsen the situation, the abuser often constructs a subservient behavior in victims through coercion or manipulation, known as gas-lighting. Its repercussion results a loss of confidence in women. In return, they come to think the abuse is normal and it is what they deserve.
While speaking to Kamrun N Koly, a psychologist who founded Women Support Initiative Forum (WSIF), we find insights into the breadth of the problem. She reveals that even if the victim is financially secured the complexity of our society makes it difficult for women to take an affirmative step.
From adolescence, the majority of women have been expected to adjust and suppress their needs for the sake of societal reputation and their parent's demands. "It is quite difficult when you are not subconsciously learned to be prioritized in the small extent of any decision-making process. Sadly, its adverse effects start to accumulate from a young age". It can vary from having a control over their education to a small action of a father asking the son's opinion about a cake over their daughters. In the space between she does not learn to claim her autonomy nor her confidence.
As we continued our conversation she mentioned, it's very rare in Bangladesh for a female to live by herself due to lack of security. The only space she could be accommodated in is either with parents or in-law's house. If the condition in both households is unpleasant then where is the victim supposed to go?
After the passing of Mahima's father, things started to get out of hands. Her inheritance got confiscated by her brother-in-law when he lured her to give him her initial fund from the developers of her property. She is now left with no monetary backup. Mahima's mother, who is suffering from a chronic illness, and brother have become dependent on her elder sister's income. In return, they have to compensate for Mahima's reality with dutiful silence.
Two decades have been passed. Now, Mahima is in her forties and still lives in her sister's house. Till this day, she has been enduring abuse from both her sister and brother- in- law. "They refuse to take her to the doctor when she is sick or does not provide adequate food," explains Mahima's friend.
A few days back, the abuse turned pretty grotesque. "After she demanded her money back, they hit her hard and smothered her mouth with a piece of cloth to cover her screams from the surrounding neighbors."
According to UN Women, seven out of every ten women has experience some form domestic violence in their life. It is one of the notorious gender based violence breathing around every corner of our society. The United Nation defines domestic violence is a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner or family member. It can transpire in form of psychological, emotional, economic, physical or sexual abuse.
Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), an organization that centers on human rights violence recorded a total of 334 domestic violence cases occurred from January till July. But only 174 cases have been filed for legal action.
The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, CEDAW in short, was adopted in 1979, and came into force in 1981. Amidst a total of 189 countries, Bangladesh have ratified the act to work towards eliminating overall gender discrimination in work place and households.
On top of that, our country has adopted Section 3 of the Domestic violence (Prevention and Protection) Act 2010 that ensures legal action if one struggles with domestic violence. Then the question remains, why is our nation swelling with cases of domestic violence?
The findings by Action Aid reveals only 2.1per cent of women inform or report the local leaders of their experience. Meanwhile 1.1per cent women seek help from the police. Amongst the case filed, only 3per cent chance that victims will be assured with justice and the remaining 97per cent of the cases get dismissed before the court.
"As police, we are confused as to why the number of women seeking help from police is so low," said Assistant Inspector General (AIG), Sohel Rana from Police Headquarters.
"When we have any reported domestic violence case we are trained to take affirmative action through issuing a chart sheet and a thorough investigation. Despite all that, particularly women are afraid or reluctant to come forward as they are held back by many social taboos. The majority are pressured to adjust and tolerate abuse by their own family or friends. Before the police can take any action against the perpetrator, the victim needs to overcome these challenges", he continues. According to the study, when justice is delayed it creates impunity for the accused and gives them courage to commit the crime again.
Meanwhile, our country has taken lawful measures to ensure justice and protection for women the nation still struggles to find lawful governance in our judicial system. Our society is in shambles too. We have a lack of compassion where the majority still spews out judgemental comments without thinking of its repercussions. In its perplexing manner, victims no longer find solace neither in their households nor feel protected by the laws.
Mahima's case is just one of the many cases that still has not been reported. Our laws may not assure us with protection but it is never too late to take the governance in our hands. While we are caught up with our mundane routine, there could be some form of domestic violence taking place behind closed doors. Support women in your community and check on your neighbours because we cannot afford cases like Mahima's shameless breathing among the very existence of our lives.