Today in Bangladesh, more women than ever have greater equality in legislative areas, local government bodies and in economic activities.
A greater number of women than before have been holding authoritative positions in politics, business and academia. Of course, this is a positive development. However, it does not mean that the fullest empowerment of women has been achieved. The material and visible changes might seem remarkable; however, the social and mental acceptability have been improving at a relatively slower pace.
There is a lot of cosmetic demonstration of accommodation of women in different spheres because of the pressure from civil society, donors and other actors. However, the true acceptance is reflected through different day-to-day behaviour of men in their day-to-day interaction in life. The number of incidents of women’s repression is on the rise. The main types of the oppression of women include dowry, trafficking, kidnapping, rape, physical torture and acid throwing.
Almost every day, women are victimized by these acts of violence and repression. Nine hundred and forty-five women and girls were raped, 133 burnt with acid and 661 became victims of dowry-related violence as of October 31, 2010 since January 6, 2009.
Domestic violence at the hands of husbands is a very routine practice in Bangladesh. Rumana Monjur (a teacher of Dhaka University) has been the victim of such brutal domestic violence by her husband. It is beyond imagination that any husband could repress his beloved wife so cruelly with whom he spent ten years of his conjugal life. I do not know what made this engineer, Sayeed, to become so violent. Maybe, he was suffering from an inferiority complex by seeing the progress of her wife’s professional career. Of course, a BUET graduate may get frustrated if he has no permanent job. If he was suffering from such a trauma, he could have asked for separation instead of attacking her.
Repression against Rumana is not a unique case in our country. Such incidences are taking place every now and then. Some of these incidents are highlighted in the media and others do not get media coverage.
Now a pertinent question is: why are such incidents taking place when there are several laws protecting women from being repressed and harassed? Due to the lack of exemplary punishment, stalkers or miscreants are feeling emboldened to repress women. Even in Rumana’s incidence, the police did not show enough enthusiasm to arrest the criminal. Newspaper sources stated that a number of ministers of the government were trying to save Sayeed. Finally, he got arrested by the DB police after the High Court issued Suo Moto to the administration. It seems that the police were compelled to arrest him only after interference of the Court. If it happens in case of people from the higher echelons of the society, one can imagine the fate of the ordinary people.
One can even ask whether violence against women is hindering the process of women empowerment or not? Obviously, the answer is yes. Globally, Bangladesh is recognized as a country where women’s empowerment is getting encouragement. But it should be realized that the leadership position of two women along with four ministers in the Cabinet do not necessarily indicate a vigorous situation of female empowerment in the country.
Of course, few women-friendly laws have been enacted in the last decade which has increased representation of women in the decision-making process. But representation and participation are two distinct issues. Laws have created an environment for greater representation of women. But, whether these elected women representatives are discharging their responsibilities— effectively or not— is a matter of great concern.
Apart from a few women dominating central level politics, the state of women in the decision making process—generally—could be greater. This is the view of some. Patriarchy and the male-dominated societal structure seem to not want women to play their deserved role in the decision making process. Male colleagues of women have always considered their role secondary.
There are thousands of instances of women getting harassed and assaulted while discharging their various responsibilities. The alleged mindset of the society is probably hindering the process of female empowerment. And the government, for political reasons, does not want to play a proactive role in this regard.
Our policy makers should realize the fact that their responsibilities should not be limited to making women-friendly policies only.
They should ensure strict and timely enforcement of these laws as well. Otherwise, these stalkers would continue their violent activities against women.
If violence against women continues in such a manner, one can point a finger at the intention of the government. In a country where the prime minister and home minister are women, they are expected to take the initiative to give exemplary punishment to those who repress women. Only then can the incidents of violence against women be expected to decline. If the government fails to punish engineer Sayeed for his brutality, women empowerment will remain only as rhetoric rather than a reality.
The contributor is an Associate Professor and the Chair in the Department of Public Administration at Rajshahi University, Bangladesh.
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