- Bangladesh, often cited as a model of progress in achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), appears to be sliding backwards when it comes to dealing with violence against women (VAW).
Police statistics and assessments by
non-government organisations (NGOs) working to establish women’s rights
show that there is in an increasing trend in VAW.
According to police records, while there were 2,981 cases of
dowry-related violence in 2004, the figure has already hit 4,563 in the
first nine months of 2012. Also, where there were 2,901 rape cases
recorded in 2004, the figure for the current year, up to August, stands
Farida Akhtar, an internationally known rights activist, told IPS
that the disturbing aspect of this rising trend in VAW is that it is
“taking on different deceptive forms that go beyond the statistics.”
“When women are better aware of their rights through education, and
want to assert them, they suffer violence,” said Akhtar, a founder of
the NGO, ‘UBINIG’, acronym for ‘Policy Research for Development
Alternatives’ in the Bangla language.
With school enrolment at 95 percent, Bangladesh is well on track to
achieving the MDGs that deal with gender parity in education by 2015.
But gender equity and women’s empowerment are another matter.
Akhtar said there is evidence that Bangladeshi women are now facing
more mental torture than before. “Unfortunately, mental torture cannot
be quantified and often goes unreported. But, the fact that suicide is
the biggest cause of female deaths in this country is telling.”
Women’s rights leaders say that atrocities go unreported
because of fear of harassment by religious or political leaders and, of
the cases that are registered, a large number end up being dismissed as
Police data show that 109,621 complaints of various forms of VAW were
lodged during the 2010-2012 (up to August) period. Of these, 18,484
complaints were taken into cognizance, but only 6,875 cases were deemed
‘genuine’ and fit for further proceedings.
Mohammad Munirul Islam, additional inspector-general of police
responsible for dealing with crimes related to VAW at the police
headquarters, told IPS, “On many occasions our investigations showed
that the law was used to harass the accused. It does seem that not all
complaints are genuine.”
Afroza Parvin, executive director of Nari Unnayan Shakti, a women’s
rights NGO, told IPS, “Due to better awareness female victims have
learnt to raise their voices, but stop short of seeking police help.
During our 20 years of experience on VAW we have found that police often
do not cooperate with victims and favour the accused.”
Leading women’s movement activist Shireen Huq says that the main
difficulty is that of “establishing a prima facie case for lack of eye
witnesses, evidence, etc., with the result that the accused are easily
acquitted and cases are recorded as false.”
Huq, who is also a founder member of Naripokkho, a local NGO, told
IPS that “no matter what the offence or what the form of violence,
police and lawyers find it convenient to file the complaint under
‘torture for dowry’, and since this is a non-bailable offence we often
hear of the elderly parents of the accused being arrested.”
Failure to fulfill dowry demands is a major cause for VAW in
Bangladesh. On average 5,000 complaints of dowry are recorded annually.
In 2010, police reported 5,331 cases of dowry, which jumped to 7,079 in
Despites the debates, official statistics show that VAW continues
unabated and many complaints are dismissed without justice. Data from
Bangladesh National Women Lawyers’ Association (BNWLA) show that of the
420 recorded rape cases in 2011, only 286 reached the prosecution stage.
Salma Ali, executive director of BNWLA, told IPS that one of the
difficulties in establishing the rights of women is the fact that
Bangladeshi society is strongly patriarchal. “This means that women
suffer discrimination in respect of matrimonial rights, guardianship of
children and inheritance – often through religious injunctions or
directives,” the prominent lawyer said.
Hameeda Hossain, chairperson of Ain-o-Shalish Kendra, a leading
women’s rights organisation, told IPS that if “women are still
suffering socially, culturally and politically” it is due to “social
acceptance of women’s subordination, discriminatory laws and poor law
“Crimes against women within the family are often ignored, and the
women silenced,” Hossain said. “There is social tolerance of domestic
violence and limited intervention.”
To its credit the Bangladesh government has taken a number of legal
steps to improve the situation of women, starting with the Suppression
of Violence against Women and Children Act in 2000. In 2009 the National
Human Rights Act was passed followed by the Domestic Violence Act in
Bangladesh is also signatory to international conventions designed to
protect women and their rights. Yet, very little is being done on the
ground to ensure a secure and safe environment for them, rights