Is Bangladesh a “hostile to women” country?

Let me mention a few incidents where the question of whether Bangladesh is “unfriendly” towards women may not seem out of place. Among many others, the latest is the case brought against sitting Member of Parliament Dr Murad Hasan, former Minister of State, by his wife, alleging physical and mental torture, use of abusive language and death threats.

The wife (I don’t want to mention her name) had to call 999 because he was about to beat her. But Murad could easily leave his home 30 minutes before the police get there and still, there is no news of his arrest (as of this writing on January 8).

Previously, charges had been brought against Murad for using deeply vulgar, misogynistic and derogatory language against women, as well as threats of rape.

He bragged about his male power, claiming that he could use state law enforcement agencies to forcefully entice a female citizen to satisfy his lust. But these cases were dismissed by the district courts.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina subsequently ordered him to resign from his post as Minister of State. He then left the country for Canada, but had to return because he was refused entry. Calling 999 was only helpful if the woman could be escorted to the police station, but the assailant was able to escape safely.

This incident and the delay in the arrest of Dr Murad Hasan show the power relationship between the perpetrator and the victim, and how it works against women in the country.

Another incident was the gang rape of a woman, visiting Cox’s Bazar with her husband and their eight-month-old child, which occurred on December 22, 2021. A group of men took her husband and her child held hostage in Laboni in the city. Point and allegedly raped her several times.

The rapists then took her to a guesthouse and raped her again. The three men threatened to kill her husband and son if she told anyone about the rape and left, locking the door from the outside.

The victim called 999 but received no response. She was later rescued by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). In this case, calling 999 did not work.

Following this, another event highlighted the overall situation of women: the Cox’s Bazar district administration declared an area dedicated to women and children visiting the sea beach. It included an area of ​​150 meters for that female tourists feel “safe” on the beach.

News of the inauguration of a “reserved area” for women and children on the beach drew criticism nationwide and had to be canceled after just 10 hours.

There were 1,348 incidents of violence against women in 2021, of which only 734 were rapes according to Ain O Salish Kendra, i.e. over 54% were cases of rape and 136 or 10% were rapes. cases of physical torture. I am sure that incidents that occur in the upper class of society are not included in these cases except when the victim seeks legal help.

The question can also be asked whether there are any women friendly countries in this patriarchal world given that almost everywhere a universal pattern of discrimination and crime against women continues to prevail.

The answer according to the general manager of CEOWORLD magazine is “Frankly, there is no nation in the world that is 100% safe for women with the freedom to live equally. But some countries are better than others when it comes to equal rights, social inclusion and a sense of security. “

According to a new report published in June 2021 by CEOWORLD magazine, the Netherlands was ranked the best country in the world for women; Norway and Sweden are respectively second and third. And Denmark came in fourth.

Eight of the top ten countries for women were in Europe. According to the magazine’s website, to produce the “Best Countries for Women” list, 156 countries were given ratings on nine attributes: gender equality, percentage of legislative seats held by women, sense of security (women aged 15 years and over who report feeling safe walking alone at night), income equality, concern for human rights, empowerment of women, average years of education among women, women 25 years and over who have paid work and the inclusion of women in society.

Sadly and unsurprisingly, Bangladesh was not even on the list of 156 countries. So we don’t know our ranking, or we could continue to inhabit somewhere outside the global hemisphere. Obviously, the nine attributes will not get enough marks in Bangladesh for a favorable ranking.

It is important to note here that feeling safe walking alone at night is one of the nine attributes by which a woman’s safety is rated. Women in Bangladesh do not feel safe even in their homes, as the above cases suggest.

In another index, Bangladesh ranked 142, with a score of 0.612, on the Women, Peace and Security Index (WPS) which measures and ranks the inclusion of women’s well-being (economic, social, political ); justice (formal laws and informal discrimination); and security (at the individual, community and societal levels).

The percentage of legislative seats held by women in any one country illustrates the political empowerment of women. Unfortunately over the past 50 years, women have held only 73 seats out of 350; and among these seats, 50 seats were reserved and not directly elected by the voters.

Only 23 of the general seats were disputed between men and women equally. The 50 reserved seats have been appointed since its creation in 1972 and depend on the majority party.

Due to the electoral process, members of the reserve seat of parliament do not see themselves as representatives of women in the country, but remain loyal to the high-level party leaders who have given them the rare opportunity to become members of parliament without have to go there. by the arduous tasks of soliciting the vote in their constituencies.

The women’s movement, Oikhyaboddo Nari Samaj, since 1987 and later Sammilito Nari Samaj since 1996, are calling for a direct election to the reserve seats.

The women’s movement only demanded a real competition between the candidates of the different parties and the independent members. It is imperative to reject the masculine-patriarchal representation of power in the figure of the biological woman. Unfortunately, neither the BNP nor the Awami League have kept their promises to amend article 65 (2) of the constitution on the method of electing members of the reserve seat.

Although at present the percentage of representation of women in parliament is 20 percent of the total seats, women parliamentarians often repeat their respective male members like parrots.

Women members of parliament have been silent on many issues of violence against women, as they have on Murad’s misconduct against women. Now, it is time to see, in the next parliamentary session, if they are ready to share parliament with a member who poses a threat to other women, including his wife and children.

Will they denounce acts of violence and cases of rape committed by the party in power? Those who are directly elected do not feel they have an additional responsibility to women, despite having been elected by at least 50 percent of the female voters.

On the other hand, women occupying reserve seats have no power in parliamentary sessions because they are not directly elected. The 11th Jatiya Sangsad (JS) will begin its 16th session on January 16, 2022.

It is claimed in the development literature that Bangladesh has made great strides in gender equality, with women joining many professions. Women have been drawn into the market to sell their productivity as “cheap labor” or to use their nation-building capacities to obtain “professional” jobs, serving corporations and multinationals.

What surprises activists is the role of bilateral and multilateral development agencies in the “empowerment” of women. Popular development rhetoric has consistently ignored the women’s movement’s longstanding demand for direct representation.

We have seen that development rhetoric is grounded in patriarchal neoliberal ideology. For them, empowering women means moving them out of the patriarchal sphere of the family into the patriarchal market where women are either cheap labor or patriarchal institutions.

Women are in law enforcement, bureaucracy, businesses, sports and everywhere. But the right to represent themselves directly and to represent their causes in parliament has been systematically denied. Add this harsh reality to the fact that women continue to feel helpless and threatened at home and in the public sphere.

“Unfriendly” is a sweet way to say how and where women live in Bangladesh. Women themselves must understand that insecurity, irremediable fear and a constant sense of uncertainty constitute what is called patriarchy.

On top of that, we live in a country where women’s political action has been denied both by our state as well as by development partners.

Women are engulfed in a hostile world.

Farida Akhter. Sketch: SCT


Farida Akhter. Sketch: SCT

Toya J. Bell