|Volume 5 Issue 07 | July 2011|
When will change come?
This summer I am writing my Major Research Paper (MRP) on Birangona and what justice could mean for them today and what could be achieved. I spent the hot summer days reading, making notes and writing in peace until Rumana Manzur's news came about. For about two or three days, I just read and watched in shock and horror about her ordeal and her pain. I had spent a year at UBC in the Women's Studies department and even though we never met, I felt a close affinity with her. Like her, I was a graduate student, from a middle class middle class family, married and hoping to get an MA to move forward in life.
Of course, I was relieved when her husband was caught. And of course, I was shocked again when I heard her husband's statements in the press conference. What was the point of accusing Manzur of having an extra-marital affair? And even if she was having one, does that justify being gnawed at the face, and having one's eyes gouged out? And last but not the least, I was even more shocked when I read various people's comments from different newspaper websites, people who were trying to justify the husband's behaviour.
Why? Why must we as a nation try to find fault in battered women? Why can we not just accept that a woman can be a victim of domestic violence without having any faults? And why as the bhodro somaj, do we ask women to make compromises in marriage (maniye nao, they say)? When will all this stop? When do we say enough is enough? When do we stop?
A few days ago, a page on Facebook caught my eye -- "ulta palta dress porihito meyederke eve-teasing korar onumoti deya hok", and over 4,000 people had “liked” this page. Again, we are putting the blame on women. A woman must be chaste, virginal and proper, otherwise we can justify abusing her, teasing her, raping her and gouging her eyes out. “Act and behave right, be passive, be obedient, be submissive and nothing will happen to you. Act out of line, and feel the wrath,” that's the tag line engrained in our society about women.
We (both men and women) have to speak up against domestic violence. We have to come to terms with our past. We have to seek redress for the Birangona and right the wrong. We have to give back the respect and humanistic concern women deserve as human beings. It is a long road ahead, but we have to start now. This is the right time to do something. Anything. If you see someone being harassed, confront the harasser. Write to the local police station and let them know. If you see a family member or friend being domestically abused, don't turn a blind eye but offer her support. If you see the ongoing war trials are not bringing up the case of Birangonas, then create awareness, write to your local newspaper, publish a blog, let your friends abroad know. We need to create enough social awareness and tolerance that when a woman leaves her husband, we don't blame her and call her characterless. Today is the day to create that change. Do something!
State of women's inheritance in Bangladesh
Recently, there was much upheaval about the National Women Development Policy 2011 changing the state of women's inheritance in the country. So, what is it saying about our inheritance rights? Well, the National Women Development Policy 2011 sadly does not say anything about the equal distribution of inherited property; it, however, vaguely speaks of assurance to provide women what they have inherited rightfully.
While Bangladesh is a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), it has reservations on Article 13 (a) of the convention which grants equality to women as to the right to family benefits. In Bangladesh, inheritance is governed by a person's religion-based laws in the country, which has left much of the inheritance process of women unequal and discriminatory, raising the need for an uniform and secular family code to deal not only with the inheritance issue, but with issues such as marriage, divorce and guardianship as well. A comparative analysis of current women's inheritance rights in Bangladesh is presented below:
In Bangladesh, under Muslim law, the wife inherits a fixed share of one-eighth of the deceased husband's estate if he leaves children, whereas the husband receives one-fourth of his deceased wife's property. If he does not leave any children, then the wife inherits a quarter of the husband's estate. A daughter, who is an only child, inherits half the estate of her late father or mother. If there is more than one daughter and no son, then the daughters jointly inherit two-thirds of the estate. However, if there is a son or sons, then the daughter's or each of the daughters' share will be equal to half of the son's or half of each of the son's share. In all cases, men inherit more than women do.
On the other hand, in Hinduism, as applicable in Bangladesh, a large number of women are also excluded from inheritance. According to Hindu personal laws, not all daughters of a man are equally eligible to inherit. Unmarried daughters and married daughters with sons can inherit. Barren widowed daughters or daughters having no son or probability to have no son are excluded from inheritance from their father. Moreover, a daughter cannot inherit anything in the presence of son, grandson and great grandson. In addition, a Hindu woman has limited rights to her property in the form of life interest i.e. on her death, the property reverts back to the next heir of the person she had inherited the property from. Widows inheriting property from her husband also inherit on limited rights i.e. life interest. In Buddhism, inheritance is also governed by Hindu laws in Bangladesh.
Inheritance rights of a woman not only adversely affect her economic and financial control and conditions, the situation makes it especially worse for female-headed households in Bangladesh. While the Constitution of Bangladesh states that it shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth, it only guarantees equal rights of women with men in all spheres of the State and of public life, which leaves the women vulnerable regarding their rights in private and family life. Equal rights of women in all spheres in Bangladesh is not only a question of women's development, it is a fundamental human right that remains yet to be guaranteed by the State.
While some progressive provisions have been made by the current government towards enacting laws for women's rights in Bangladesh, many issues still remain unaddressed. While the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2009 has made amendments to the Citizenship Act, 1951 to make provisions to grant Bangladeshi citizenship rights to children of Bangladeshi women by descent, it has shadowed the fact that foreigner husbands of Bangladeshi women are still not eligible to acquire Bangladeshi citizenship under it, while Bangladeshi men exercise different privileges.
Concrete policy formulations and law amendments need to be made to remove women's discrimination, ensure women's equality and rights equal to men in Bangladesh, especially through affirmative action and secular approaches.
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