Four out of five women suffer domestic violence
The Domestic Violence Prevention and Protection Act 2010 and its rules adopted in 2013 make domestic violence a punishable offence, and yet, it continues. Four out of five married women suffer some form of violence at the hands of their spouses in Bangladesh (BBS 2015).
The average age of victims to such violence is 27. Dowry and polygamy are the leading causes of violence and often husbands demand dowry when looking to divorce and re-marry. Husbands and in-laws are the lead perpetrators of violence.
Other factors contributing to violence include jealousy, control over mobility, and lack of permission to go outside (for pleasure, work, or to visit parents), unemployment of the husband and financial hardships, alcohol and other substance abuse.
Use of mobile phones was also cited as a source of suspicion and then abuse (data collected from Promoting Human Rights project study, June 2016).
Women are four times more likely to file a case in an upazila where an NGO assists in the process. The majority of cases filed under the Domestic Violence Act are brought to court with the assistance of NGOs; very few cases are filed privately. Survivors require door-to-door assistance to break the silence.
Victim-blaming attitudes contribute to a home environment tolerant of extreme violence, making it difficult for women to seek help. A cadre of doorstep counsellors trained in psycho-social and paralegals counselling can play a critical role in empowering these women.
Judges and lawyers are not interested in pursuing cases under the Domestic Violence Act because these cases are not lucrative. To date, in some districts of Bangladesh, not a single case has been filed in the relevant courts since the Act’s enactment.
Performance indicators should be set for courts to ensure women’s needs are served.
A new post in the District Legal Aid Committee office is needed to handle cases from survivors of domestic violence.
All cases should be digitally recorded and tracked. Grievance mechanisms should be set up.
Salish, or alternative dispute resolution, plays a very important role since more than 60% of domestic violence cases are dealt with through this method.
The salish members are in critical need of capacity-building and mindset change in order to perform their roles within the required gender-equal framework.
Evidence shows that most salish members and lower-tier local government members do not know about their duties and responsibilities related to protecting the rights of women. Salish proceedings need to be monitored to ensure that they are maintaining standards such as women-friendly, unbiased environment, receiving written complaints, documenting procedures, and including women’s participation.
Legal services should be made free and accessible to all even in remote areas through satellite legal camps. Awareness needs to be increased; divorced women often do not know that they are entitled to alimony through salish (informal) and court cases (formal).
Most police stations do not have female staff and nor does it host a women-friendly space. Police officers often harbour chauvinistic attitudes and do not consider domestic violence a priority area
Most police stations do not have female staff and nor does it host a women-friendly space. Police officers often harbour chauvinistic attitudes and do not consider domestic violence a priority area. They do not know details about the DV Act and Rules, nor do they have a register for domestic violence complaints.
The Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs said it would re-activate union, upazila, and district-level committees to handle violence against women cases. Perhaps one legal counsellor should be assigned in each upazila to play a pivotal role in DV Act implementation.
Upazila Women Affairs Officers should be trained to support victims of domestic violence. Lists of victims should be maintained at the union level.
Service providers who can help them should be mapped. The attitudes of union chairman, UNO, and district commissioners have great influence on the extent to which human rights are upheld in their regions. Key leaders such as these should be specifically trained on gender equality.
Public schools have now included gender-based violence in the national curriculum — dowry, child marriage, sexual harassment. This should be replicated at the madrasa level. Youths, teachers, and parents should be taught to value gender equality.
The 2009 High Court Guidelines on the prevention of sexual harassment in public states that a sexual harassment “Complaint Box” should be set up in all education institutes. Evidence shows that this box and the awareness training that goes along with it can help reduce the incidence of harassment.
Poverty is a major cause of vulnerability; child brides are most vulnerable. Adolescent girls need skills and incomes to gain independence.
Social protection programs could consider targeting survivors of domestic violence, delivering cash, and training benefits to help them gain economic independence.
No safety support is available to women survivors of domestic violence. Programs described as “transformative social protection” that aim to change lives through empowerment, equality, social inclusion, and the realisation of human rights, could play a role in empowering survivors.
To see rapid and sustainable change, coordinated action across sectors is needed. The responsibility is not the government’s alone.
Private sector companies should also be more gender-inclusive and can play a lead role in guiding vocational training institutes about their needs. Media can play a role in increasing awareness around this issue and shaping more gender-equal attitudes.
The Domestic Violence Act is a step in the right direction, but more targeted capacity-building and awareness is needed to ensure effective implementation.
Farhana Afroz is a development worker, currently working as Deputy Chief of Party for USAID’s Protecting Human Rights Program, Plan International Bangladesh and Shazia Omar is an activist, yogini, and author.