Changing gender roles, which allow women to be empowered, lead to adverse conditions and spousal abuse in rural Bangladesh, a new qualitative study has found.
Research by the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B) has found that incidents of abuse remain high, regardless of changing gender roles that allow women to have greater access to education, mobility and employment.
According to the study, changing roles, women-focused NGO programmes, state policies on gender equality, promotion of female education, and laws favouring women have generated a perception of male disadvantage which contributes to the adverse conditions and abuse.
The results were discussed at a seminar on “Understanding Social Norms and Multi-level Drivers of Violence against Women and Girls in Rural Bangladesh: Implications for Prevention and Response” at the Sasakawa auditorium of ICDDR,B in Dhaka on Wednesday.
Rights activists Khushi Kabir and Sultana Kamal, other rights activists, NGO workers, and ICDDR,B researchers, among others, attended the event, which was coordinated by the Overseas Development Institute UK and partnered with Emory University, USA.
The study revealed that men strongly perceive that development policies and women’s empowerment initiatives are bypassing them and unduly favouring women at their expense.
It also showed that many boys and girls, and some young males 20-28 years of age, held attitudes that make allowance for domestic violence against women.
Thus, the research seems to suggest that gender inequitable attitudes and justification of domestic violence are stilled at a young age, with boys and girls holding conventional views on such violence by the age of 15.
The study undertook a qualitative approach, highlighting the complex, multi-level nature of the drivers behind domestic abuse at the individual, household and community, or societal level.
It was conducted using data collected from April 2016 to April 2017 through interviews with men and women residing in five villages of Dhaka and Mymensingh divisions.
A total of 23 in-depth interviews, 40 key informant interviews, 11 group discussions and meetings with seven intergenerational trios were carried out.
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Speakers discuss the findings of an ICDDR,B study which found that incidents of spousal abuse of women remain high, despite changing gender roles ICDDR,B
ICDDR,B Senior Scientist Dr Ruchira Tabassum Naved said: “The potential implications of policies and legislation addressing gender and violence against women should be carefully assessed, and adequate measures should be taken to ameliorate any backlash that ultimately harms women.
“It is critical to assess and conduct campaigns on costs of hegemonic masculinity and help men to understand the advantages of gender equality and violence-free life for all involved,” she said.
The study discovered that, at the community level, abuse is driven by norms internalised over generations. In an attempt to list women’s perceived faults, from disobedience to refusal of sex, participants were found to believe that it is a husband’s duty to discipline wives who raise their voices against gendered or religious norms.
ICDDR,B Senior Research Officer Aloka Talukder said: “Spousal abuse of women can also be a representation of masculinity – with men expected to control wives, provide for families and be aggressive – with an acceptance that they are violent when frustrated, alongside perceptions of the abuse of wives as a private matter.”
The study suggests that action is needed to counter the multi-level influences and patterns of domestic violence against women, with approaches taken toward mainstream prevention and response across all relevant sectors.
Country Representative of UN Women Bangladesh Christine Hunter, also the special guest at the seminar, said that women’s economic participation is dropping in reality.
She said: “Bangladesh has made tremendous progress and really has pushed for women’s empowerment in a number of ways. But the study reminds us social change is just really difficult and takes time.”
Advocate Sultana Kamal, a renowned human rights activist and chairperson of WE CAN Alliance to End VAW (Violence against Women), was also the chief guest.
She said: “Many social norms have changed but there are many – which support violence against women – that have not changed. That is probably a challenge we really have to work on.”
Findings of an earlier ICDDR,B research study, carried out in the urban slums of Dhaka and revealed at a seminar on May 17, saw divergent results. The study showed that involving the male community in helping combat violence against women and girls in the slums is more productive than adopting a female-centric approach to the problem.
The research found that when men are also involved in preventative measures, the risk of spousal physical violence against women is reduced by 21%.
Also Read- ‘Women-centred approach not best way to solve Dhaka slum violence’