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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: 11
March 17, 2007

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Violence against Women

Breaking the impunity at home

Sadrul Hasan Mazumder

Ending Impunity for Violence against Women and Girl - is the slogan for marking the International Women's Day 2007. The United Nations General Assembly, composed of delegates from every Member State, celebrates International Women's Day to recognize that peace and social progress require the active participation and equality of women, and to acknowledge the contribution of women to international peace and security.

The idea of an International Women's Day first arose at the turn of the century, which in the industrialized world was a period of expansion and turbulence, booming population growth and radical ideologies. On 8 March 1857, Garment Workers in New York City, in the United States, staged a protest. They were fighting against inhumane working conditions and low wages. The police attacked the protestors and dispersed them. Two years later, again in March, these women formed their first labour union to try and protect themselves and gain some basic rights in the workplace.

On 8 March 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter work hours; better pay, voting rights and an end to child labour. They adopted the slogan "Bread and Roses", with bread symbolizing economic security and roses a better quality of life. In May, the Socialist Party of America designated the last Sunday in February for the observance of National Women's Day. Following the declaration of the Socialist Party of America, the first ever National Woman's Day was celebrated in the United States on 28 February 1909. Women continued to celebrate it on the last Sunday of that month through 1913. Since those early years, International Women's Day has assumed a new global dimension for women in developed and developing countries alike and subsequently March 8 has turned into International Women's Day.

In spite of national and international initiatives, Violence against Women is a daily and most deadly fact in our society and largely abused by close associates like husbands and relatives at domestic level. Domestic violence is the most unrecognised form of violence and a very pervasive, serious social malady in every cluster of the society whether rich or poor, literate or illiterate, developed or underdeveloped. Domestic violence especially wife beating has been found as the most widespread form of violence against women. The forms are gargantuan and not covered under the existing laws of the land. The saddest part of the existing legal instruments is that woman has to wait to be brutally tortured or injured certified by a registered doctor to get justice, without which complaints of torture/violence are not taken into cognizance. This is because immediate reforms are needed to bring the required change in the legal arrangement so that in one hand domestic violence can be addressed according to the intensity of the committed offense and prohibiting misuse of that arrangement in other hand.

Only the physical violence are visible that includes threats and ends up with emotional disaster and psychological disorder of the concerned individual or family, which are not commonly attributed in our existing social norms and practices. Spouse battering is not an isolated incident. There is a continuum from the normal amount of quarreling through mild violence up to serious battering. Frequently couples treat even rather extreme violence as if it were nothing special, or else dismiss it as if it were an unpredictable aberration. Typically Domestic Violence is directed against women which includes physical, sexual, economical and emotional or psychological. Various threats of violence are also found as life threatening and systematic that prevails for along time. Physical violence that causes internal injuries, permanent handicaps and disability or death mostly ends up psychological/mental disorder.

More absolutely it has been found as a fashion existing as if such behaviors heighten the value of being man in the society. Interestingly it prevails both in the affluent and lower class of the society, the difference is that when it happens in the slum we notice quickly as the women come out of their homes shouting but in the affluent class of the society we notice only when it turns into a suicide or when any body is brutally murdered. Such circumstance pose a serious threat in designing social programmes for addressing violence against women and girl child in general and Domestic Violence in particular. So called social prestige also found as one of the inherent causes of such silent violence against women and in most cases woman has to faces indecent queries like, “What did you do to make your husband angry”? People at large continue to believe that domestic violence is a private matter between a couple, rather than a criminal offense that demands a strong, swift and integrated response to resolve. We should help the society to keep up such superstitious believes and extending support to possible sufferers.

Since most of us grew up in families that provided unique forms of love and support, we tend to think of families as places where people are nurtured and protected. Generally family members do care for each other, provide for each other and help each other to survive. Since we like to think of families as protective and caring, it is sometimes difficult to accept the fact that so many people intentionally inflict pain and suffering on other family members. While it is important to acknowledge that support and gentleness are typical of most families, it is also important to examine violence in families and to begin to understand why it exists. Family as multisided reality now a day has become a topic of controversies cutting in all directions. The concept of joint family has been fading away giving birth of nucleus families, which has turned into center of violence. Frustratingly families are one of the most common contexts of violence in our society. This is generally caused by Economic Class-the dimension ranging from poverty to wealth, and includes the occupations and carriers by which people get their income; Power-determines who controls whom ranging from state to personal level, such as who gets to decide when to have sex; Status-the dimension concerning who is held in most respect. Such erosions has to be protected bringing real sense of respect among the family members as family is being considered as the fundamental institution- where every individual gets the first lesson on earth. If any individual fails to respect his or her family members s/he can never respect the norms of a society. Behaviors among the members in a family construct the social attitude at large which is said to be changed for addressing Domestic Violence and restoration of piece in family. So without attempting to make respectful of every individual towards other members of their family programming against domestic violence may not succeed as aspiration.

Traditional way of accounting for marital violence was either to ascribe it to lower-class culture or else to describe it as psychologically pathological and deviant. As we have experienced, there is some support for the idea that the lower class is especially prone to violence, but this can not be the whole story, since violence also occur in middle class. To ascribe it merely to pathological individuals, however, evades the question of explaining it. One particularly pernicious psychological account is the argument that women are masochistic and hence “ask for it”. Actually violent husbands often use this as an excuse for a description of what happened. What it implies, sociologically, is that there is a wide spread cultural belief that women should behave in certain ways; if they do not, it is legitimate to violence against them. Laws actually gave a husband the right to physically chastise his wife for nagging or other offense against her unless it is not mentionable or serious in nature.

There is evidence that intergenerational transmission of violence affects women. A woman who was abused by her own parents is more likely to stay in a violent relationship with her husband. This is because she tends to perceive violence as normal, or because she has low self-esteem and little sense that she could improve the situation and cumulatively lives in greater social insecurity. She does not have any option to leave her violent husband and return to her parents. Perhaps even more importantly, husbands who were subjected to a great deal of physical punishment when they were children are especially like to assault their wives. The more violent a husband is to his wife, the more likely she is to use violent punishment on her children. Violence husbands are also more violent to their children. This closes the circle and sets off the likelihood of children growing up to become spouse abusers in the next generation. This vicious cycle has to be broken for addressing Domestic Violence, which can not be attained only through ensuring strict enforcement of laws. We need to device an integrated social response very immediately.

Socio cultural reasons and weakness in the existing laws are factors that help perpetuate Domestic Violence. So programming against Domestic Violence requires measure to change social attitude and beliefs that legitimate male violence and essence of male superiority. The measure might include changes in education, incentive to enhance the moral quality during the tender age. Urgent initiatives needed to board creating a social safety net based on community participation that includes supports like counseling and legal aid as protective measures. In addition to that integral services for identifying the possible victims and enhancing local government initiatives so that they can handle such victims within their capacity and jurisdiction. Largely media can play a pivotal role in framing the attitude of the society along with a specific legislation on Domestic Violence, which requires urgent and immediate response.

The author is the Project Coordinator of Bangladesh National Women Lawyers' Association (BNWLA).


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