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Bangladesh: Women's Day – Women deserve equal dignity and protection from violence and discrimination
Asian Human Rights Commission Statement - March 8, 2012
International Women's Day is being observed in Bangladesh like many other parts of the world. The programmes on the occasion of the day in the country may contain speeches by high ranking officials of the government with rhetorical pledges and statistics of success of the government or the incumbent regimes along with criticisms to their political counterparts.
On the ground, the women, who are half of the national population, face unimaginable discrimination at home and different other stages across the society throughout their entire life. Sever forms of discrimination against a female child, which begins within a family, spreads all around in the socio-economic and political life in the long run. Often such discriminatory mind-sets lead to endless violence against women in various heinous forms like molestation, rape, acid-throwing and even murder.
Dowry, as deemed to be an integral part of women's life before and after their marriage, now appears to be a social cancer in Bangladesh although there is a special law to prevent dowry for three decades. Majority of the violence against women could have been avoided if the society had ever changed its mind-set of compelling the bride's family to pay dowry.
Misinterpretation of Islamic norms, which has already been declared unconstitutional and unlawful by the highest court of the country, continue unabatedly while it is needless to mention that the women become the prioritised victims of inhuman treatment including lashing, caning, stoning and isolation in the given community.
Extreme degeneration of human values in the Bangladeshi society has been contributing to violent forms of attacks like stalking and acid-throwing against girls and women in the country. Almost regularly girls and women become victims of stalking and sexual violence that end in either the suicide or homicide of the victims. Apart from that the surviving women have to face social stigmatization for the violence they suffer although they sustain the pain helplessly.
A woman hardly feels safe to walk on the street without a male company in most of the places of the country, which implies the condition of the women in general.
In a democracy it is the state's undeniable responsibility to protect any segment of the population from discrimination and violence by all means. Enjoying rights with equal dignity as human being is fundamental rights of the women for which the state has constitutional obligations. The nation can never deny that thousands of women had sacrificed their lives and prestige during the war of independence, which not only liberated the people from Pakistani discriminatory rule but also incepted the nation itself. The historical contribution of the women once again asserts that the women deserve rights with equal dignity.
But, ironically, the criminal justice system, including the complaint mechanism which is mostly controlled by the police, is not capable of creating an atmosphere for the women who could feel that there is any reliable mechanism to protect their rights let alone ensuring justice to the victims. Instead, it appears that the governmental authorities, particularly the police, mostly deny access to the complaint mechanism whenever the women are victimized. There have been numerous allegations against the police investigators that they police insist the female victims to marry their attackers or rapists, which further explains that the women are deliberately cornered in a helpless den. Moreover, the law-enforcing agents constantly fail to prevent the extra-judicial trials of women that happen regularly in the form of arbitration in the country.
Violence against the women recurrently takes place despite the fact that there are laws like the "Dowry Prohibition Act-1980", "Acid Crime Prevention Act-2002", and "Prevention of Women and Child Repression Act-2000" along with other relevant jurisprudence are being developed in the country. None of the laws or jurisprudence or rhetorical speeches protects the dignity and rights of the women. The nation should ask itself why the system fails to accomplish its fundamental obligations.
If the women constantly face discrimination at home and away and justice is denied to the victims, the whole nation will not only suffer from the same pain as that of the women but will also face the shame for its failure to ensure the basic dignity and rights of the women. Democracy can never be established in a country by discriminating against its women citizens. Likewise, proper development of a nation will remain an unachievable goal unless the existing mind-set towards women is not changed.
The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.