Women throughout the world are subjected to violence on a daily basis.
Violence against Women and Children (VAWC) is one of the most pervasive human rights violations worldwide, regardless of any distinction as to geography, culture, and wealth. Bangladesh is not an exception to that trend.
In our context, domestic violence is a manifestation of inequality and both a cause and consequence of women's subordinate position within the home.
As a result of patriarchy deep-rooted in our society, women are generally viewed as inferior. There are countless glass ceilings that still exist and limit a woman's journey to move forward.
All women from their own respective positions are leaders - regardless of whether they are at home as a homemaker or at the workplace.
However, even today, women are not considered equals and continue to be dominated.
Although economic empowerment has helped, the violence from these predetermined views is common and destroys the goal of gender equality within family relationships.
Despite domestic violence being prevalent across cultures, it is still considered private and justified as a result of women's wrongdoing.
Ending impunity, recognising women's contributions and challenging patriarchy are essential to ensure more women in leadership and achieving equality in a post-Covid world.
Priya Devi (pseudonym) is a young bride of class 10. Just a few months into the marriage, Priya's new husband announced that he would not continue to live with her unless she gave Tk50,000 in dowry. Priya is unable to fulfill her husband's demand and for that, she is being tortured by her in-laws.
Farzana Begum (pseudonym) is an educated home-maker from a reputed family. After 12 years of marriage, she noticed changes in her husband's behaviour. Her husband started to come home late at night and abuse her physically and mentally.
One day when Farzana came to visit her parents with her nine-year-old daughter, she received a divorce letter from her husband all of a sudden.
Farzana came to know that her husband is now involved in another relationship.
Rehana Kabir (pseudonym) is a promising corporate official. After three years of relationship, she married her friend Sohan. After one year, Sohan started to ignore her and humiliate her for her complexion.
He indirectly demands money from Rehana and stops paying for family expenses although he earns well.
The stories of Priya, Farzana, Rehana are neither isolated nor unknown to us. These are pieces of day-to-day lives that we often hear.
We see women being subjected to different forms of domestic violence in our society regardless of the social and economic status and identity of the woman.
The most common form of domestic violence in Bangladesh continues to be intimate partner violence (IPV).
Domestic violence occurs for many reasons, most often connected to dowry demands, often perpetrated by the wife's mother-in-law and executed by her husband.
Violence may also take place for reasons such as poverty, non-cooperation, extra-marital relationships or, individual notion.
According to a Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics survey conducted in 2015, more than 80.2% of married women have suffered some form of violence at the hands of their spouses.
The report also reveals that despite high rates of partner violence, victims do not share their experiences in most cases; only 2.6% sought legal support.
Concerns for family honour, being afraid of the perpetrator, and shame or embarrassment are some of the reasons behind not sharing their experiences.
The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the incidents of domestic violence. The crisis also hindered the ability to address specific justice 'needs', such as addressing the rise in gender-based violence, especially domestic violence.
Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) found that 4,249 women and 456 children were subjected to domestic violence in 27 selected districts of Bangladesh amid the lockdown.
Among the survivors, 1,672 women and 424 children endured the violence for the first time during this lockdown.
The pandemic and the states' responses to domestic violence are having an unprecedented effect on the functioning of justice systems. With the Covid-19 crisis, some consider talking about domestic violence a luxury.
As local authorities and the police became burdened with relief distribution, implementing lockdown and social distancing measures, and monitoring the spread of infection, the VAWC response during Covid-19 slowed down.
The already limited number of shelter homes stopped taking in new survivors for the lack of testing kits.
Due to the closure of public transport, it became even more difficult for women to reach out for help and access justice.
Domestic Violence Act: A progressive law
Aligned with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act has been enacted by the Government of Bangladesh in 2010.
Along with other progressive provisions, one of the major features of the Act is that the definition of domestic violence under the Act includes not only physical and sexual abuse, but also psychological and economic violence.
The Act gives comprehensive and effective civil remedies with criminal procedures to ensure effective protection and relief to victims of domestic violence.
It introduces some unique remedies to provide relief to a victim of domestic violence, including an interim protection order, protection order, residence order, compensation order, and custody order for children.
Furthermore, the Act includes and assigns stakeholders - namely enforcement officers, police officers, service providers, medical and shelter service providers - to ensure that the survivors receive the intended relief as provided through court orders.
After 10 years of implementation of the Act, an initiative needs to be undertaken to measure how far the law is being implemented and to assess the effectiveness of the law concerning survivors.
Starting from home
The enactment of a progressive law is not enough to extend state commitment of social welfare to all its citizens, including women.
There is a need to create an enabling environment for women in every stratum in which women can assert their rights and seek legal remedies whenever they are required.
Thus, it is essential to address the inequality within the home. The need for budgetary allocations; to ensure effective implementation, and a proper strategy should be in place - from public awareness campaigns and promoting multi-agency coordination and responses.
While trying to find a way to bring an end to the impunity of violence against women, more often than not we forget to identify the root cause of violence against women at home: Centuries-old patriarchy that perceives women as the inferior class in society.
Women are perceived as subordinate to men and extend that the term 'woman' means a person lesser than a man - a person short of an independent human being.
Societal progress and the emergence of a market economy have probably improved the position of women on many counts, but the position to be counted as a full and independent human being is yet to be achieved for women.
Until such time when men and women both would have equal status, measures have to be taken for the protection of women against many forms of tortures and victimisations that women are currently subjected to. Enacting special legislation for the protection of women and making them effective is one such measure.
The way forward
While pursuing measures such as making special legislation (such as the one mentioned above) more effective both in terms of the remedies available under the law and making these remedies actually and effectively available, other steps also need to be taken.
Change needs to be in the personal and inheritance laws, to remove inequality between men and women. Primary and secondary education should be freed from religious and traditional views toward women, as these systems teach children to see women as inferior to men.
Radical changes also need to be brought about in the political arena so that women are not seen in the state, in law, in religion and, in all spheres of life as inferior to men and as an object to be owned, managed, and controlled by men.
Until the day women can ensure their status as equal to men in all sense of the word 'equality', the protective measures under special laws made especially for women and children would protect women from torture, cruelty, violence, but such protection would always in principle be something like protection of an animal and other subordinate creature against the cruelty of men.
Jenefa Jabbar is director, human rights and legal aid services, social compliance and safeguarding, Brac.