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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 186
April 16, 2005

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Law Alter views

Who will cast the first stone?

Saira Rahman Khan

I am a wife, a mother and an impatient observer of the frustrations of life. But I am a woman first. As a woman, it is easy for me to zone into searching for women's rights and possible violations in anything I see or read. If I see an advertisement stating that 'women are encouraged to apply' I think 'yes, but how sincere are the employers about this?' and 'what will the office atmosphere be like?' and 'will the job be flexible enough for her to handle work, home and children?' and 'will her husband encourage her and lend a helping hand?' I wonder if men ever think about the multifarious tasks that women have to perform in a mad circus act. Other little, inconsequential things such as the lack of sufficient public restrooms (ok, toilets) for women in government offices and dare I mention it even in the Supreme Court, for both the women in the office and their clients or visitors, the lack of office space, the absence of crèche facilities for children, etc. constantly tug at my brain-strings. The Constitution encourages the participation of women in public life and the Government should at least make the atmosphere welcoming and comfortable. Or is the government not interested in doing this miniscule bit of public service?

Hundreds, if not thousands, of reports, articles, papers and research documents have been written, published and disseminated right up to the UN level regarding the situation of women in Bangladesh. The violence faced by women in both public and domestic life is laid open in these reports. The government has been criticised, lambasted and even (subtly) threatened to improve its human rights record, albeit from countries that may have worse records but are far richer and powerful which for some mad reason seems to justify their behaviour. Regardless of such bombardments, why is the record of violations against women still so high in the country? Is it due to lack of interest? Corruption? Criminalisation of politics? Faulty NGO tactics? Lack of government will? Or all of the above and more? A layman might ask 'If there are so many laws available for the protection of women, would not be easy to prosecute men for acts of violence against women?' If only it were so!

When will the government start doing something to curb violence against women? I realise there are other social and economic factors involved in this issue- and the whole picture needs to be improved. This may take some time but when? In the mean while, more that 300 women are falling victim to acid violence every year, over 200 to rape, hundreds are being trafficked (though this is one area where we have been bullied into behaving) and hundreds are victim to dowry-related violence. God only knows how many are silently bearing the brunt of domestic violence and sexual harassment in the workplace. It is shameful to think that we had to be externally threatened with dire consequences if we did not 'improve' our record on trafficking in persons. Were we really incapable of doing it on our own? Will we need such international arm-twisting to reduce other violations against human rights? If so, then what does that say for Bangladesh? Has our constitution become mere fading words on paper? Are all the laws aimed at protecting women and children mere fairy tales?

When will we see significant drops in the violence perpetrated against women? It does not matter how educated a women is, or how many girls are now studying in the free- for -girls education system introduced by the government. All are potential victims of violence and harassment, whether it is mental or physical and whether it is the uncomfortable brushing against in a crowded bus or rape. When will the laws to punish and protect be implemented in full?

The author is assistant professor, School of Law, BRAC University.


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