The most ignored research aspect of gender-based violence in South Asia is perhaps women's violence against men. While domestic violence against women gets significant attention, domestic violence against men by women is not talked about enough. In Bangladesh, women are mostly victims of domestic violence, and nonstop incidents of rape and harassment against women also prove that. However, an increasing number of men complain that they are also facing abuse. Recently, a few incidents on social media have shed some light on this sensitive issue.
According to the Bangladesh Manabadhikar Bastabayan Sangstha (BMBS) database, in 2015, at least 500 men allegedly repressed by their wives contacted them for legal advice in order to continue their family life without harassment. The database also shows that in the first six months of that year, a total of 26 men submitted written allegations of harassment against their spouses. In 2018, an article published in The Guardian stated that one in every six men experiences domestic violence; however, only one in every 20 tends to report. Moreover, in 2020 a survey by Bangladesh Men's Rights Foundation (BMRF) stated that 80% of married men are victims of psychological torture by the wives (or their family members) in our country. Now the point of this article is when we talk about domestic violence, why do we focus solely on violence against women? Why do we not think that men can also be victims of domestic violence?
This definition itself prohibits a man’s status as a victim of domestic violence and, hence, it is self-discriminatory. The Act overlooks any presence of domestic violence against men, which holds men from seeking legal help in case of abuse by women. A writ petition was filed with the High Court Division of Bangladesh early this year seeking amendment of section 375 of the Penal Code, 1860, to include the word "person" instead of "women". However, it failed to receive much attention from the media and, to the best of my knowledge a judgment in this regard is yet to be given. In the case of domestic harassment against women, there also exist the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act, 2000 and provisions of the Panel Code 1860. But no Acts favour men who might be subjected to abuse.
Furthermore, not a single non-governmental organisation (NGO) addresses the issue or keeps any database to ensure men's rights. Therefore, the number of men harassed by women always remains unknown. It is notably a fact that men report spousal violence in private, and avoid speaking in public fearing social embarrassment. In our patriarchal society, it is deemed shameful for men to reveal their suffering in a male-dominated society. The fear of seeming ‘feminine’ or not ‘man’ persists enough. This toxic masculinity eventually affects a man and pushes him to start living in distress. So, we should adopt adequate measures to avoid such mental sufferings.
The primary factor concern on domestic violence against men is the lack of legal support. So, the first step should be to alter the definition of 'domestic violence’ in the Domestic Violence Act, 2010. The definition given in chapter 2; section 3 of the act should substitute the word 'woman' with 'individual'; this difference will make it a gender-neutral Act. This slight difference will have two significant impacts: institutional recognition of domestic violence against men and open up legislative support. As a result, men will have the courage to report their victims after legal protection. More complaints will be filed, more reliable and correct statistics will be available for further research in this area, alongside other benefits. Moreover, judicial support will reduce such abuses to a greater extent, if not wholly.
The writer a recipient of the prestigious DLA Piper Scholarship, and serves as the General Secretary of North South University Law & Mooting Society (NSULMS)