This pandemic has set its foot on our neck with abundance of disappointing news. Amid the news of overwhelming deaths, scandals, unemployment issues, fire hazards etc., we have also heard news of rise in divorce rate and domestic violence in Dhaka. Sadly, our discourse and attitude towards domestic violence is cliché. When we talk about domestic violence, we only focus on violence against women, but do we think that men are also victims of domestic violence?
Statistics show that women also perpetrate violence such as rape, emotional torture, bullying, physical torture and body shaming against men. However, this side of the tale always remains under the table. According to a news article published in The Guardian, in 2018, one in six men experience domestic violence but only one in twenty men report about that. In 2020, Bangladesh Men’s Rights Foundation (BMRF) published a survey that reports 80% of men experience mental abuse perpetrated by their spouse. Despite this, incidents of men’s abuse are absent in our gender rights discussions and news reports. So, why do we turn a blind eye on this sensitive issue?
Secondly, lack of legal support is a major factor that is undermining the issue of men suffering violence in marital relationships. The only Domestic Violence Act, 2010 for the people of Bangladesh defines domestic violence as any kind of physical abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse or economic abuse against a woman or a child of a family by any other person of that family with whom victim is, or has been, in family relationship. This definition itself excludes men's position as victims of domestic violence, it is self-discriminatory. The act disregards any presence of domestic violence against men, which restrains men from seeking legal help in case of abuse by women. As there is no judicial support, men cannot raise their demand; thus there is no discussion on this in our mainstream media. In fact, this law depicts the influence of masculine ideals present in our society.
Ironically, masculinity is seen to be crippling men’s rights, whereas it has been always considered a weapon of women-subjugation. Nevertheless, lack of social and legislative support can have adverse psychological impacts on the victims e.g., anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Consider the sensational suicide case of Dr. Mustafa Murshed Akash in 2019, who posted on Facebook that his wife tormented him psychologically while having an extra marital affair and refusing to file a divorce. While this is just one story that got viral because of a Facebook post, there might be many stories unheard due to the lack of social and legal support. We should adopt effective measures to avoid such damages and violation of men’s rights.
To begin with, the definition of ‘domestic violence’ should be changed as it is not correctly stated in the present Domestic Violence Act, 2010. The definition provided in chapter 2 of the act should only replace the word ‘woman’ with ‘individual’, this change will make it a gender-neutral act. This small change will give institutional recognition of domestic violence against men and open up legislative support for them. Having legal protection, men will have the courage and confidence to report about their victimhood. More complaints will be filed more accurate statistical data will be available to facilitate research on this area. Moreover, judicial support will reduce such abuses to a greater extent if not completely.
On a policy level, a special ‘men’s right’ cell can be formed to ensure protection of men’s rights. The cell will conduct and promote research, dialogues, awareness programmes identifying knowledge gaps and possible solutions for domestic violence against men. Effective preventive measures can be adopted based on the outcomes of those programmes. It can also set up a national hotline service for men to give emergency support.
Social awareness about domestic violence is a crucial factor to work on. We need to accept men victims of abuse and offer them our help on psychological and social basis, and for that we need to come out of our ideals of stereotyped masculinity and gender norms as it withholds men to be explicit about their experiences of domestic violence. As masculinity’s ideals are presented through institutions like media representations, religion, and persuasions; we should explore our ways to reform the ideals of masculinity using the same institutions. This will also change people’s perception of domestic violence, and people will grow acceptance towards male victims. Also, this will help men to overcome their inferiority, fear of losing social respect, protection, and be expressive about their victimhood.
The writer is a Research Assistant, Centre for Sustainable Development, University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB)