Bangladesh, which boasts of having women in the running of the country’s affairs amid greater women’s empowerment, still suffers a setback – violence and discrimination against them.
Rights activists said a culture of impunity, bias of law enforcers and administration, social and political unrest, drug addiction and a lack of awareness are the major contributors to violence against women.While talking to the daily sun, the activists said they are very happy to see women getting more opportunities in all spheres of national life, but suggested much work needs to be done to combat violence against women and children.
Bangladesh Mahila Parishad (BMP) statistics show a total of 3,918 women and girls fell victim to different types of violence, including rape and torture, across the country in 2018.
The number of victims was 5,235 in 2017, 4,896 in 2016, 4,436 in 2015, 4,654 in 2014 and 4,777 in 2013.
A total of 942 women and girls were victims of rape in 2018. The number was 969 in 2017, 840 in 2016, 808 in 2015, 666 in 2014 and 696 in 2013.
A recent survey of ActionAid Bangladesh found that 88 per cent of the women are mentally harassed by indecent comments from males, while 46 per cent face sexual innuendos and abusive words.
Among them, 86 per cent women face sexual harassment from drivers and their aides while 69 per cent from storekeepers and sellers, the survey report shows.Around 45 per cent of the women and 18 percent of the men surveyed blamed lack of respect for women for such abuses.
ActionAid Bangladesh country director Farah Kabir said, ‘Words itself have neutral forms but we give them gendered forms. A code of conduct could be enacted to curb such linguistic harassment.”
“At the end of the day, everyone had to realise the psychological impact of any individual who regularly falls victim to linguistic harassment,” she told this correspondent.
Bangladesh has been a role model in women empowerment in the past decade and is experiencing an appreciable change, but women are still facing violence like rape, murder, torture every day in the society, rights activists said.
They said the concept of women empowerment in this region has helped Bangladesh attain a steady progress in gender equality, which helped the country secure the first spot in gender equality among South Asian countries for the second consecutive year at the Gender Gap Index in 2017 published by the World Economic Forum (WEF).
The number of working women increased to 18.6 million in 2016-17 from 16.2 million in 2010 which is a sign of increasing economical participation of women.
According to the Global Gender Gap Report, Bangladesh secured the 47th position among 144 countries in 2017 whereas India 108th, Sri Lanka 109th, and Pakistan at 143th positions.
Bangladesh considers women’s participation as a vital issue in the path of women’s empowerment as one of the main drivers of transforming the country’s status from low-income to middle-income one.
Officials of the Women and children affairs ministry said, the government is conducting various activities for political and economical empowerment in the country. The achievements in the past decade have been exemplary in many sectors such as in reducing infant and child mortality, increase in women entrepreneurship, health, education, and poverty alleviation in the country.
The government increased women seat in parliament, appointing women in Army, Navy, and Air force, increased the maternal leave to six months from three.
A remarkable success have been took place in women education in the last decade. The participation of girls in primary schools is increasing as their overall enrollment rose from 57% in 2008 to 95.4% in 2017.
Insiders said women appointed in many top posts of the government including Prime minister, minister, speaker, justices which is big example of women empowerment in Bangladesh. Besides, the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was honoured with the Global Women’s Leadership Award in 2018 for her outstanding leadership for the advancement in women’s education and women entrepreneurship in Bangladesh and in the Asia Pacific region.
Earlier in 2016, UN Women also awarded Sheikh Hasina with “Planet 50-50 Champion” while Global Partnership Forum handed over the “Agent of Change Award” for her role in women’s empowerment.
Women rights activists said the government has achieved the successes in various fields in women development, but the scenario of violence against women and girls is still unchanged in the country.
Prof Dr Sadeka Halim, Dean of Social Sciences Faculty at Dhaka University, said, Women’s participation in all sectors have increased and women’s development is satisfactory, but violence against women was on the rise.
In a key note paper, she mentioned that “Some 1.62 crore women out of 5.41 crore-strong workforces are working in different sectors across the country.”
Manusher Jonno Foundation’s Executive Director Shaheen Anam said violence towards women and children is still a matter of disappointment though the women have reached a position that was unthinkable 20 years ago in the country.
She urged the government for strengthening preventive measures to stop the gender-based violence.
Human rights lawyer Advocate Salma Ali echoed others and said the government should ensure easy access to legal support, right to democracy and equal rights for women for preventing the violence.
Salma Ali, also former executive director of Bangladesh National Women Lawyers’ Association said, “Now we have to focus on preventing violence by taking various steps including increasing awareness and support the victims.”
“A women-friendly atmosphere will have to be ensured in the society while the laws will have to implement properly to curb the violence against women.”
Blaming the culture of impunity, she also said culprits escape punishment due to huge backlog of cases and it encourages them to commit crimes again.