The shadow pandemic of violence against women
Every year, 25th November marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.The day is observed with a view to inviting governments, international organizations and NGOs to unite andcollectively organize activities designed to raise public awareness of the issue.Since the Covid-19 outbreak, all sorts of violence against women and girls have increased worldwide to a noteworthy extent. Combating these widespread, persistent and devastating human rights violations call for action both at the international and domestic level.
On this day, it is pertinent to look back and question the system that is failing to break the pattern of widespread gender violence targeting women and girls in Bangladesh. Here women and girls frequently endure intimate partner violence (marital rape, domestic violence, psychological abuse and torture, economic control), experience sexual violence and harassment (rape, femicide, teasing, unwanted sexual advances, forced marriage, child sexual abuse, cyber harassment, workplace harassment). They are subjected to human trafficking, slavery and exploitation;and girls become victims of child marriage.These crimes remain largely unreported owing to the social stigma, ostracization and the malicious culture of impunity surrounding the crime. Even so, the fractional image of the situation presented by prominent Human Rights organizations is quite appalling.
More than 70 per cent of married women have encountered intimate partner violence and half of them admit to having been physically assaulted by their husband, reveals a 2015 survey by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS). Bangladesh finds its place in a list of 36 countries that haven't criminalized marital rape, regrettably not a proud list to be in. Rights watchdog Ain o Salish Kendra reported 1349 rape victims, 184 victims of dowry-related violence and 74 among them tortured to death, 483 victims of domestic violence and 268 of them murdered by their husbands or in-laws, 180 victims of sexual harassment by stalking, 24 victims of Acid attacks in just first ten months of 2020.
This dreadful scenario of violence against women is facilitated by the ineffective implementation of existing laws and existing barriers to legal recourse and support. The constitutional commitment to protect and work for the advancement of women cannot be upheld unless immediate steps are taken.
Article 27 of the Bangladesh Constitution entrenches the equal rights of both men and women in all spheres of state and public life. Article 28(1) pledges not to discriminate against any citizen on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. Article 28(4) allows the State to make special provisions in favor of women and children. Concerning its international commitments, Bangladesh has adopted the Convention for the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1984, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA) in 1993 and endorsed the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) in 1995 to work towards eliminating violence against women in both public and private life; to attain the objectives of safeguarding gender equality, legal rights and empowerment of women as well as to end all forms of sexual harassment, exploitation and trafficking in women.
Over the years, the State has enacted several domestic legislations to combat violence against women. The major legislation among them is Nari O Shishu Nirjatan Daman Ain, 2000 which has been highly criticized for securing an abysmally low conviction rate and inconsistencies in the legislative framework. The Dowry Prohibition Act 1980, the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act 2010 and the Family Courts Ordinance 1985 deals with violence against women but the existing inconsistencies ultimately affect access to justice for women. Despite the inconsistencies, proper enforcement of these legislations could have ensured justice to a significant number of victims.
However, perpetrators of gender based violence are rarely held accountable for their acts. Lack of accountability combined with institutional barriers, gender biased legal system and endemic corruption makes it harder for women and girls to seek justice in the first place. Unless the gaps in enforcement, coordination and awareness are addressed, access to justice for women will remain practically unobtainable. Therefore, Bangladesh needs to rethink its past actions, bring much needed legal reforms and take necessary steps to uphold its national and international commitments to work towards the elimination of violence against women and girls until each and every woman is safe.
The writer is a student, Department of Law, University of Chittagong