On the 25th of September 2021, Kamla Bhasin – renowned Indian poet and feminist advocate – passed away. Throughout her life, she argued and demonstrated how patriarchy manifest itself in this sub-continent and how violence against women stems from this acutely regressive social institution. Unfortunately, governments in this part of the world have done very little to challenge this social injustice, even though the purpose of a government is to enable the people of a nation to live in safety. Domestic violence refers to the violence and abuse which happens in a domestic setting like cohabitation or marriage. It is important to remember that domestic violence is not just physical but any kind of behaviour that tries to gain power and control over the victim through coercion. It can affect people from all walks of life and is basically subjected towards a partner, spouse or intimate family members.
Research reveals that women and children are often victims of such gruesome crimes that result in a number of fatalities. Apart from others, illiteracy and economical dependency on the menfolk are regarded by many as key factors behind domestic violence. Moreover, children also become victims of this inhuman behaviour quite often. It is important to recognise the double standards and hypocrisy of society. On many occasions, the abuser is either psychotic or requires psychological counselling. However, in a more general term, domestic violence is the outcome of the cumulative irresponsible behaviour which a section of the society demonstrates. It is also important to note that the abuser is not solely responsible, so are those who allow this to happen and act as mere mute spectators.
Women and girls in Bangladesh are facing increased domestic violence during the Covid-19 Pandemic, highlighting the long-term systemic barriers to legal recourse, protection and social services. This crisis comes as Bangladesh enters the final phase of its national plan to build “a society without violence against women and children by 2025”. In spite of this goal, Bangladeshi women and girls undeniably face endemic violence in all facets of their lives.
Human Rights Watch interviewed 29 women from six of the eight divisions of Bangladesh who were survivors of gender-based violence, including acid attacks. The government has made addressing acid violence a priority, but these cases shed light on the underlying systemic barriers that still prevent even these survivors from gaining legal recourse and protection. They additionally reviewed case files and interviewed women’s rights activists, lawyers, and academics working on acid violence, violence against women and girls, and legal reform in Bangladesh.
Most women and girls in Bangladesh are affected by some form of gender-based violence. According to a 2015 Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics survey, over 70 percent of married women or girls have faced some form of intimate partner abuse. About half said their partners physically assaulted them, and yet the majority said they never told anyone and fewer than 3 percent took legal action. At least 235 women were reportedly murdered by their husbands or their families in just the first nine months of 2020, according to media reports collated by Bangladesh human rights group Ain o Salish Kendra.
Recently, Bangladesh has marked the anniversaries of two landmark pieces of legislation on gender-based violence: the Nari-o-Shishu Nirjatan Daman Ain (Women and Children Repression Prevention Act), 2000 and Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act, 2010. But Human Rights Watch found that women and girls often cannot seek meaningful legal remedy under these laws, and abusers are rarely held to account,
Many survivors never report abuse out of concern that they would not be taken seriously and fear that without any available safe shelter, witness protection, or other support services, reporting abuse could only put them in further danger. Human Rights Watch found that the police often refuses to file a report or simply leaves a case in open investigation for years. Often when a woman or girl reports an assault to the police, they demand that she describes the abuse over and over again to multiple officers, risking re-traumatization and encouraging the survivors to give up on seeking justice. Compounding this problem is the fact that with a backlog of some 3.7 million cases, trials are often delayed or drawn out for years. The financial and emotional toll of continuing in Courts, combined with the fear of, or threats from abusers without any witness protection law or measures, means that the survivors are often pressured to negotiate out of Court for a resolution that does not adequately reflect the harm they suffered. In Bangladesh, women seldom have proper access to information and legal counsel, leaving them particularly vulnerable to such corruption and abuse. Obtaining legal assistance is particularly hard for a woman who is financially dependent upon her husband – who may well be her abuser.
The government should take its obligations under international law, its own Constitution, and domestic laws seriously to prevent, investigate, prosecute, and punish those responsible for violence against girls and women and assist survivors. This includes weeding out the incompetence and corruption endemic throughout the criminal justice system effectively. The authorities should also undertake serious efforts for prevention, such as comprehensive education and awareness raising campaigns, and provide accessible services, such as psychosocial support, safe shelter, and legal assistance.
The government should seize this pivotal moment to implement real reform that could save lives and promote the equal society, it envisions.
Maham Sanjida Rahman is a student of Law at the British School of Law