Grim battle for a decent life

Posted: ফেব্রুয়ারি 13, 2009 in Women Rights

Life for women in the country seems to be really tough. Overworked and under-appreciated, most of them fight an uphill battle to survive. Those who work outside their homes get little sympathy from the boss and virtually no help from their husbands.

All governments promised political and social equality for the sexes, but women are still victimised. Despite the societal improvements that have come about, incidences of sexual harassment and assault on women are taking place. Economic compulsion and fear for their reputation and social stigma drive most women to silence.

Shockingly, every year scores of women are falling victim to acid violence. Reports indicate that there were 1428 cases from 2002 to 2007, and 300 in 10 months up to November 2008. Often the perpetrators are spurned suitors who feel that, if they cannot have the woman they desire, they must mangle her so badly that she has no takers. Others do it as punishment in property feuds or because a bride did not bring enough dowry.

“This is possibly a new form of violence that is spreading fast,” says a woman activist and reputed lawyer handling cases of repression against women. Perpetrators have chosen this safe way, which leaves hardly any evidence. Driven by vengeance and using this new weapon as a threat so that the victim’s family dare not proceed with the court case, the perpetrators are now targeting the parents as well.

Reports in newspapers revealed that Nasima filed a rape case against one Aziz and his associates, who raped her 11 year-old physically handicapped daughter. On her refusal to withdraw the case, the alleged rapists threw acid on Nasima. Sensible citizens agree with Dr. Samantalal Senhe, who said: “What could be could be more brutal for a mother than to receive acid burns instead of justice?”

Mental and physical abuse, humiliation, discrimination in pay and status, and barriers in taking loan and other facilities from either banks or other government agencies, are still hurdles to be cleared by women

The social prejudice and double standards of the male dominated society stigmatise a woman, and she is more sinned against than she has sinned. Because of the increased opportunity of employment abroad and freedom of travel that women these days enjoy, some manpower racketeers are taking advantage of them. All rhetoric of liberating women will ring hollow unless we stop women being used in the flesh trade.

While women today are better educated and better represented in various professions they still remain second-class citizens. They are confined to low paying positions and are noticeably absent from management posts. Women have rarely challenged the status quo, which entitles men to be waited on, first by their mothers, then by their wives and female employees.

Nor did women ever challenge the concept that they should assume responsibility for child related matters, whether that involves family planning, child rearing or, if a marriage breaks up, child support. Shopping has almost become women’s job.

Small wonder that, in such a situation typical Bangladeshi women are far less interested in redefining their role than in redefining their life. Working women want greater control over their time, longer maternity leaves, and flexible work schedules. In rural areas, the wish is far more fundamental: gas cylinders for cooking in place of firewood.

While officials claim that females have equal opportunities, women have no such illusion. True, fields that were male preserves in the West are now open to equal employment. But in Bangladesh that prospect is still a far cry. Women working in NGOs, garment factories, business houses and private schools receive less pay and meet more discrimination than their male colleagues.

A report in the Daily Star (February 8) says that the management of a garments factory forced female workers to walk barefoot during lunch hour in a bid to compel them to return early smacks of gender discrimination of the worst kind. Speaking about lower pay for the same work, one agitated female teacher grumbled: “It’s not written in any law that women’s salaries for the same work will be lower than what her male counterpart gets, but that’s what happens.”

In government offices, the situation is more appalling. The higher the posts, the more they are male dominated. We have too few women at the decision making level, other than a handful of ladies in the ruling party and the main opposition party. They include the country’s prime minister and the leader of the opposition in Parliament. And many women even seem resigned to the situation that women are not suited for administrative positions overseeing men. Says a highly educated and enlightened female employee, almost in frustration: “Somehow I feel that for a woman to be the boss is against the natural order.”

People, especially the women folk, feel happy that Sheikh Hasina has affirmed her personal and her party’s commitment to an ideal environment where both men and women can realise their potentials in full. Only fulfilling the constitutional obligations incumbent upon the head of the government, and the provisions of international covenants — such as the convention on elimination of all forms of discrimination against women , to which Bangladesh is a signatory — will go along way in reducing the gender disparity.

Md. Asadullah Khan is a former teacher of physics and Controller of Examinations, BUET. E-mail:

The daily star 14.02.2009






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