Bangladesh

Women’s rights: An integral part of protecting human rights in BD

women

Mir Mosharref Hossain Pakbir

MNA Editorial Desk: Within four walls of the house they are mothers, daughters, sisters and wives. In the society they are friends, philosophers and guides. Thus, the women, like anywhere in the world, in Bangladesh also, form an integral part of human race and almost half of human populace.

Therefore, neglecting or ignoring women’s rights is an inhuman act. Though in Bangladesh women rule the roost in politics and governance, but we cannot undermine women and their role in anyway nor can see them as downtrodden compared to their men.

Neglecting women’s rights is a violation of human rights – the UN World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna confirmed in 1993. The declaration came 45 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted, and eight years after UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) came into force.

It was striking that this statement was even necessary as women’s status as human beings entitled to rights inherited at birth should have never been in doubt. Yet this identifies negligence to women’s rights as a human rights violation and also brings focus on the connection between gender and human rights violation. Rights of women as well as their empowerment have been an issue all around the globe and still many countries have not ratified to CEDAW.

Women are very important part of the society and it is impossible to achieve societal development leaving them behind. Most of the developed countries have ensured the rights of women. In spite of that, debate goes on whether women are treated equally in those countries as men. The situation is much worse in developing and under-developed countries including Bangladesh.

Human rights, a crucial widely admitted right matter in today’s world, cannot be considered separate from women’s rights as even in Bangladesh, according to Bureau of Statistics, women are around fifty per cent of the total population. Even if we want, we cannot deny their contribution in our family, society or economy.

Women’s rights are the fundamental human rights that were preserved by the United Nations for every human being on the planet in 1945. Numerous international and regional instruments have drawn attention to gender-related dimensions of human rights issues, the most important being CEDAW, adopted in 1979.

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, adopted in 1995 at the UN’s Fourth World Conference in Beijing, was a rallying cry to embed gender equality and women’s rights in every facet of life.

These rights broadly include the right to live free from violence, slavery, and discrimination; to be educated; to own property; to vote; and to earn a fair and equal wage.

In Bangladesh, there are several aspects of women’s rights that need to be addressed to ensure women empowerment. The government and the human rights organization are actively working for the last two decades to improve the lives of women in Bangladesh. But still there is huge scope of improvement especially in rural areas. It is true that, our women have come out of the dark ages but they are still not much aware of their rights and what they are entitled to.

The greatest curse faced by Bangladeshi women must be child marriage. We rank fourth in the world in terms of child marriage as around 59 per cent females experience that in Bangladesh in spite of decades-old law banning marriage before 18 years for women and 21years for men.

Regretfully, a new law was passed where girls can be allowed to marry before 18 years of age in ‘special cases’, which is definitely an addition to the misery of women in our country. Under-age marriage and premature child bearing create huge risks for a girl as she has to endure everything for which she needs to reach certain maturity.

Mostly, girls married in kinder ages drop out from schools and lose their opportunity to be self-sufficient and independent. The situation gets even worse as they face health issues during untimely pregnancy. Over half a million women die each year from pregnancy and childbirth-related causes throughout the world.

Dowry, another alarming factor, is a custom in practice in Bangladesh and neighbouring countries. Women are often tortured and killed for dowry. A large number of women meet premature deaths due to such incidents where the husband and in-laws tortured the wife to death for non-payment of promised or expected dowry. It is also a psychological burden on the women which cripples them from the very beginning of their married life.

Violence against women is one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world. It knows no social, economic or national boundaries. Worldwide, an estimated one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime. Gender-based violence undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims, yet it remains masked in a culture of mystery and silence.

Women in Bangladesh are often victims of several types of violence including domestic violence. We have hundreds of incidents happening everyday where women become victims of murder, rape, acid attack, eve teasing, torture and many things.

They are not even safe at their homes or in their immediate neighbourhood, in the school or at a park. Almost one-third households in city areas experience incidents of domestic violence and from that we can guess the situation in rural areas.

Taking birth as woman generates lots of challenge in Bangladesh. The girls are often deprived of education. The parents especially in suburbs and rural areas do not feel the importance of educating their girls as they are taken for granted for household works. In this process, they can never become independent and cannot fight for their rights.

The women are entitled to similar wages as men as per the constitution or law. But still they receive lower salary and wages than men for the same level of works. Not only in Bangladesh but also in many countries of the world, the scenario is same.

Women’s participation in economical and political works is much lower than what it should be. Though our prime minister as well as the largest opposition party’s chairman and former prime minister are both women for which we take a lot of pride, women’s participation in such works is not satisfactory.

Other than these, women are the greatest victims of human trafficking around the world. Moreover, in many countries women’s right to property are not ensured. These are serious violations of women’s rights.

In the Constitution of Bangladesh, women’s rights are protected under the broad and universal principles of equality and participation. Article 10 of the Constitution provides that steps shall be taken to ensure participation of women in all spheres of national life.

The State shall endeavour to ensure equality of opportunity to all citizens as per Article 19 (1). Article 27 specifies that all citizens are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law.

Moreover, Article 28 (1) provides that the State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth while article 28 (2) more directly says that women shall have equal rights as men in all spheres of the State and of public life.

Other than that, several special laws prohibit certain forms of violence against women like; the Penal Code 1860, the Anti-Dowry Prohibition Act (1980), the Cruelty to Women Ordinance (1983), the Suppression of Immoral Traffic Act (1993) and the Prevention of Repression against Women and Children Act (2000).

In order to prevent violence and discrimination against women, it is necessary to practice the rule of law, to reduce poverty and all kinds of discrimination and to implement existing laws protecting women.

At the same time, it is necessary to ensure the security of witnesses and victims, and corruption must be fought from when a case of violence is filed until the trial is finished and political pressure must be stopped.

Most importantly, strong emphasis must be provided on women’s education. Our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has taken few strong steps which have brought good results but yet a lot needs to be done. Nationwide coordinated campaign should be carried out by the government, NGOs and administration. Rights of women should be included in textbooks from junior level schooling. If our women get educated and people are aware of women’s rights, the situation will improve a lot.

The NGOs and law enforcers should focus on activities which will protect women from violence and discrimination. Right now, they are only focusing on victim support which is not helping much as crimes against women are increasing everyday. Moreover, they are not sometimes very helpful to the victims as they try to capitalize the incidents by harassing even the innocents. To improve the scenario, they must work to ensure that women get equal opportunity as men and are treated respectfully in their home, office, on streets and everywhere.

Only improving the lives of women in city areas will not ensure women’s rights in Bangladesh. We must focus on the whole country. Only when women are safe and free from violence; can earn their livelihood; can have an equal voice in their family and community; can decide when they get married or have children, then we will be able to say that they have equality and justice.

To become a developed country, we must ensure women’s rights, an integral part of human rights development goals. We believe, with a little more planned and coordinated effort, we can achieve that goal soon. And here, the much talked about “zero tolerance” policy may play a magic!

The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA) and Vice Chairman, Democracy Research Centre (DRC).

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