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OP-ED: The need of the hour

  • Published at 02:02 am November 24th, 2020
Violence against Women
Photo: BIGSTOCK

It is high time we address violence against women

As I’m writing this article, the news of a 40-year-old woman getting gang-raped somewhere in Natore is popping up on my home pages. She has allegedly been raped by 14 men, including her daughter’s father-in-law. Then there is a man who has killed his 26-day-old daughter in Narayanganj because he wanted a son.

Amidst all of this, I hope we still have not forgotten the brutal Noakhali rape incident which occurred in September, where five men raped a 35-year-old housewife and the video footage went viral on social media; it was reported 32 days after the crime took place, only when the case caught the attention of netizens.

From January to August 2020, according to an Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) report, 889 women have been raped in Bangladesh; among them, 9 women committed suicide and 41 were murdered after being raped. There have been 152 cases of sexual harassment. Disturbingly, 192 women faced rape attempts, and 163 women have been murdered by their husbands.

According to the 2011 Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey, 87% of Bangladeshi women are abused by their husbands. A nationwide survey recently conducted by the Brac James P Grant School of Public Health found that 63% of men from both urban and rural areas agreed that “wives can be hit if they refuse to have sex with their husbands” while another 62% believed that “there are times when wives deserve to be beaten.”

Remember Nurunnahar who died in October due to child marriage and marital rape? These numbers are just indicators of how rampant violence against women is. 

As a woman living in this country, this alarming evidence, affirming the current rate of violence in Bangladesh, makes me feel horrified, agitated, and at the same time, disparaged as a human.

According to the United Nations, violence against women is any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.

Global estimates published by WHO say that about 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or intimate partner or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. And then, apart from rapes and rape attempts, there are filicide, forced and early marriage, domestic violence, marital rape, trafficking, acid attacks, female genital mutilation, and so on.

Bangladesh experiences an alarmingly high rate of violence against women, and with the increased rate, this crisis has become a severe threat to the country’s social, cultural, and economic progress. 

Moreover, having a critical connection with the safety and autonomy of women and girls, this crisis poses a greater threat to equality and women empowerment. This issue is directly connected not only with health and economic aspects, but is also integral to the country’s progress towards its attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals with a pledge to leave no one behind, particularly SDG-5. We can’t forget that 49% of the total population (81.3 million) of Bangladesh are women.

What we need to do first in order to address this crisis is point out and eliminate the root causes. This pervasive concern is a result of various factors including patriarchy and power control, poverty, dowry, stigma, a lack of education and awareness, problematic parenting, absence of relevant topics in school curriculums, a lack of proper law enforcement and policies, etc. 

Most of the cases even go unreported. Moreover, very few research programs covering violence against women get adequate support and exposure.

Interestingly, there prevails a number of laws and acts in the country that claim to protect women against violence -- the Prevention of Oppression against Women and Children Act, Sections 375 and 376 of the Penal Code of 1860, the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act 2010, to name a few.

But sadly, the main problem is in the implementation process. Then, there are gaps in the policy framework. For example, marital rape is still not criminalized by our law, and is excluded from the Penal Code. Besides, there is a lack of strict enforcement of laws against child marriage.

We appreciate that the government is taking some measures to combat this challenge. Recently, a hotline number has been launched to provide support to victims of violence. The government’s efforts to address acid attacks as well as eve-teasing are noteworthy. But there is still a lot to do.

For this, according to experts, we need to get to the root of the problem -- a society that constantly feeds patriarchy and gender role beliefs, but fails to ensure the provision of comprehensive awareness and education. The culture of silence must end. What we need is the robust enforcement of all the pertinent laws. The administration’s approach has to be out-and-out systematic.

It makes me particularly sad and frustrated when I see a statement coming from a member of parliament -- a lawmaker and a person with a public profile -- blaming feminists for the rampant rape and violence, and further referring to former Hefazat leader Shah Ahmad Shafi’s “tetul theory.” 

We really need to see the people in leadership be more sensible and upright concerning what stand they take. Otherwise, such saddening and careless remarks will only add to the woe and encourage the perpetrators.

After all, sensible and conscious efforts must be made from all levels, including communities. Here, the collective efforts from the government and civil society can play a crucial role in terms of awareness raising and prevention. Speedy trials for all forms of violence against women and children have to be effectuated, so that the offenders realize that they cannot escape justice and thus refrain from committing future crimes.

We believe that the government will be more serious about taking action against the rising violence. It is the need of the hour that the laws be applied properly and in a timely manner by ensuring exemplary punishment for the perpetrators. More relevant research and awareness programs should be advocated. There is evidence that advocacy interventions are helpful not only to create awareness, but also to improve access to services for survivors of violence.

November 25 is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. And on the eve of this occasion, we should pledge to raise a louder and more collective voice and take serious action against the violence. It is now or never.

Farah Nusrat is a Development Communication professional.

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