Four women were raped, 20 were subjected to sexual harassment and one was murdered during the first month of lockdown
In the last six months (April-September), 16,000 women experienced incidents of domestic violence in their lives for the first time.
The non-governmental organization Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) arrived at the figures by conducting a quick telephone survey among 1 million women in 59 districts of the country.
Of the 1 million women, 40,000 reported having suffered domestic violence in the last 6 months, with 40% of them facing domestic violence for the first time in their lives.
Manusher Jonno said domestic violence against women (DVAW) increased at an alarming rate during the lockdown caused by Covid‐19. But the data show that the situation is still continuing even after the countrywide lockdown ended.
In May the number of violent incidents against women was 31% higher compared to the other three months of the countrywide lockdown from March to July.
The survey revealed that four women were also raped, 20 were subjected to sexual harassment and one was murdered during the first month of the lockdown.
Reasons behind domestic violence
Nishat Manita (pseudonym), a smart and independent woman of 31, got married after nine years of a relationship. After two years of married life, she was brutally tortured physically and sexually by her husband for the first time during the pandemic. She is mentally disturbed and is trying to get a divorce.
She told Dhaka Tribune: “We both worked. My husband lost his job during the second month of the coronavirus pandemic. From then on he was annoyed with my work and the financial crisis started at the same time.”
She added: “I used to keep the video off during online meetings because my head and nose were frequently injured due to the torture. But more than that, I have suffered severely from mental torture.”
Usually, in case of domestic violence the rate of physical torture is higher. However, the rate of mental torture has surpassed physical torture during the Covid-19 situation, experts have said.
MJF said that of the total number of women who faced domestic violence almost 47% were mentally abused and the number was 15,577 during the four months of the lockdown (April-July).
And the second highest was physical torture, which accounted for 30% of the total number of incidents.
Dr Fauzia Moslem, acting president of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad (BMP) said: “We have been working with abused women for many years. From the less privileged to the upper classes, there is violence over dowry and men’s extra-marital affairs.
"This rate rose during the pandemic and added to this is mental torture in alarming rates, which cannot be understood through naked eyes.”
She said, “Here men have no control over their behavior owing to a lack of repercussions. They are torturing the weakest woman in the house in different ways to show power.
“This time what I heard the most from the women is 'Is our home safe’?” she added.
Dr Md Tazul Islam, professor of Community and Social Psychiatry at National Institute of Mental Health and Hospital (NIMH) said: “Of all the cases that we got during this pandemic most were related to anxiety and depression. Among those the majority were women and most of them were subjected to domestic violence.”
He said the magnitude of such family crises increases during any emergency situation. During such situations irritability increases in the human mind.
62% males believe women ‘deserve to be beaten at least once’
A nationwide survey has found evidence of implicit or explicit support for domestic violence against women.
The all-male survey, entitled “Male Youth and Their Sexual and Reproductive health and Rights (SRHR) in Bangladesh” found that 63% of men agreed with the fact that “a man can hit his wife if she does not have sex with him,” while 62% believe that “there are times when a woman deserves to be beaten.”
The findings were shared on October 29 by Brac James P Grant School of Public Health. The study was conducted through systematic random sampling from 81 urban and 289 rural clusters across 64 districts, where 11,102 male respondents aged between 15 and 24 participated.
Experts say the lockdown has made women and children vulnerable to domestic violence, abuse and rape. Due to the current situation, people are not able to go to the police station to report domestic violence and so many incidents are going unreported.
According to Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), based on national daily newspapers’ reports, 100 more incidents were reported during the lockdown (April-July) compared to the same period last year.
Advocate Salma Ali, chair of Bangladesh National Women Lawyers´ Association (BNWLA) said: “Our experience in the lockdown is that women are not complaining until they are brutally beaten by family members and husbands.”
The expert said: “We have laws but they are not enforced strictly yet. I think the incidents will decrease if government officials in every upazila are given the authority to take action and they pay attention to these issues and take appropriate steps.
Sheepa Hafiza, a renowned human rights activist and former executive director of Ain o Salish Kendra, said violence had doubled in this pandemic. It was not possible to change this situation without changing the way men think.
She referenced the incident that took place on November 18 in parliament, when the independent MP of Bogura-7 Md Rezaul Karim Bablu blamed women’s attire as being responsible for rape incidents across the country.
Through such attitudes it became clear that there was a greater need to change the attitude of men at all levels in the country, she added.