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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: 79
August 1 , 2008

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Rights of Muslim Women

PROFESSOR Dr. Taslima Mansoor, Chairman Department of Law and former Dean Faculty of Law, Dhaka University, Gender Equity and Economic Empowerment: Family Law and Women in Bangladesh, British Council, EWLR, Dhaka 2008

Samaha M Karim

THE book provides recognition of the existing law concerning women's rights with respect to dower, maintenance and inheritance and the large gap between what is stated in law and what is practiced in Bangladesh. Women in Bangladesh seldom take full advantage of their rights; this is due to the fact that they are mostly ignorant of them. Even if they are aware of these rights their lower socio-economic status often prevents them from exercising those rights.

This stimulating book explores whether women in Bangladesh are deprived of their economic rights. This topic had been analysed in a sociological context. In fact, the topic of women's status automatically demands a sociological approach. The book contains a lot of empirical studies, which are reprinted in order to provide an easy access to the reality of women's problems and issues. This well researched and thought-provoking book is a most welcome addition to the growing literature on the subject.

The author is a Professor of the Department of Law, Dhaka University and Chairman of the same. She did her LL.B (Hons), LL.M from Dhaka University and Ph.D from University of London. In 2004 she was awarded Commonwealth Post Doctoral Fellowship in University of London. She is associated with several institutions and organizations including BNWLA (Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association), EWLR etc. She is a well-reputed scholar on family law, human rights, judiciary, gender and development issues.

This publication is an outcome of the research implemented under Common Wealth Academic Staff Fellowship and under EWLR (Empowerment of Women in the Legal Regime) a Higher Education Link Programme of Law Department Dhaka University and SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) University of London supported by the British Council.

Divided into six chapters, the first chapter of the book defines the parameters of the study as a whole.

Chapter 2 begins by focusing on the Sharia and women in a wider context in the global setting. Religion to legal reforms and to judicial activism, the book traces the factors contributing to women's economic empowerment. By investigating the forces that protect and strengthen the position of women, the chapter then focuses on the standing of women in Bangladesh and examines a variety of aspects of legislation and judicial reform.

In terms of family laws and the personal law system, the state has retained the previous divisions of personal and general law, although the Constitution of Bangladesh (1972) seems to guarantee sexual equality. The inconsistency between the religious family law and the constitutional rights is depicted when women's rights under the constitutional framework is analysed. Analysis of the personal law system indicates how the Constitution ensures the personal law system to continue to survive although it is not in line with some basic principles of the Constitution.

Chapter 3 concentrates on whether dower is giving the economic empowerment to Muslim Women. In order to provide proper emphasis to this economic right of women, the chapter clarifies the confusion of dowry with dower. In justifying the claims on dower the chapter ends by providing evidences from reported and unreported cases.

Chapter 4 explores the issue of maintenance highlighting on the recent judgement on post-divorce maintenance and development of the Bangladeshi law after that. The legal connotations of Muslim wives regarding maintenance have also been reprinted to give a complete picture of the issue. In the end of the chapter evidences from reported and unreported cases on maintenance are provided.

Chapter 5 gives a basis of Sharia law of Inheritance and gives special reference to women. The chapter then provides a socio-legal perspective of the issue by reprinting two studies. The first study, through tapping the resources of inheritable entitlements, searches for security and poverty alleviation of women. The second study deals with economic transformation of women through enforcement of family law. Providing evidences from reported and unreported cases, the chapter ends, justifying the claims on inheritance.

Chapter 6, the concluding chapter, gives analysis that by enforcement of family law better economic justice can be provided to women in Bangladesh. There is a wide gap between the theory of religious and official family laws, intimately connected with the lives of women, and practical application in society. For example, women hardly receive their rights of inheritance, dowers remain unpaid and there is a distinct gap between women's maintenance rights and actual practice. Also as stated in the book, "Why should Muslim women, who are supposed to be protected by dower, become victims of dowry?".

The book attempts to highlight these issues and recommend how these gaps in law and practice can be narrowed, although it is not feasible to absolutely close the gap by the law.

Another aspect highlighted in the book was the consideration of an out-of-court settlement. This is an informal dispute resolution through Shalish as provided by the legal aid centres. In Bangladesh the local arbitration or Shalish on women is recognised by the Family Courts. There are many voluntary legal aid centres in Bangladesh. These not only give women opportunities to have judicial redress, but also legal literacy, Shalish and mediation. The drawback of the Shalish, through the legal aid, is that it does not have the same sanction or authority as the Family Courts. The parties may simply avoid appearing. Also at times, the alternative of these legal aid services means that women are given considerably lesser remedies than the Family Courts would grant. The accused may escape punishment.

These alternative structures of justice could give practical remedies to women. Quoting for the book, "The most significant and positive impact of applying mediation as an ADR mechanism through the Family Courts is that the monetary claims of dower and maintenance have reimbursed in huge amount through amicable settlement in these recent years in comparison to that of the earlier periods."

The book tries to convey the message that if the judiciary is more sensitised about the particular needs of women it will be able to protect women more effectively. It also urges for a better implementation of the existing legal rights of women. This carried out at all levels would secure for women, freedom from economic deprivation, which is at this time required.

Some judicial decisions are remarkably enlightened; this is seen as a departure from the patriarchal mould. As stated in the book, "These decisions signify concern of the higher courts not only about giving general emphasis on women's rights but also about the need to protect women from cruel treatment and deliberate economic deprivation". However, there are also many judgements in which the courts are interpreting the legislation only on the basis of orthodox concepts, failing to give effect to the underlying social purpose of the convention or legislation.

The book is particularly readable as it is well researched and well structured. The language of the book is simple and arguments have been presented in a logical, realistic and persuasive style. The book contains useful charts, composition of reported and unreported cases and bibliography. Students of Family law, academics, the legal professionals and readers in general will undoubtedly find this book an appealing and informative read. The book provides brief traces of the Sharia origin and placing them in the context of the modern statutory enactment and practice in the courts, especially in the Family court, it allows to consider whether the state and the religious law are finding expression in social reality.

The reviewer is working with Law Desk.


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