[16days_discussion] [WorkingWithBoysandMen] FW: Gender equality in Bangladesh

Laxman Belbase l.belbase at gmail.com
Mon Jun 29 03:39:42 EDT 2009


Dear all,

This article worth reading.

Regards,
Laxman
------------------------------

*Gender equality in Bangladesh*

Source: The New Nation-Bangladesh's Independent News Source
URL: http://nation.ittefaq.com/issues/2009/06/25/news0096.htm
Posted date: 25 June 2009

Bangladesh is a highly patriarchal society and gender discrimination is
present at all community levels. Women are dependent on men throughout their
lives, from father through husbands to sons. While there are constitutional
affirmations of gender equality, state legislation and institutions
frequently overlook the rights of women. For example, women and young girls
are more disadvantaged than men in their access to education, health care
and financial assets. Traditionally, women were often discouraged from
participating in public life and mainly recognised only for their
reproductive role. However, due to increased poverty and an increased demand
for labour, female employment has risen since the mid 1980's. Most of the
information below concerns the Muslim population, which makes up over 80
percent of the total population. Where information is available for
Bangladesh's Hindu and Christian populations, this is mentioned as well.

Half of all girls between 15 and 19 years of age are currently married,
divorced or widowed in Bangladesh (UN, 2004). This is the highest rate of
early marriage in Asia and among the highest worldwide. By marrying their
daughters young, parents decrease the economic burden on the household. A
more encouraging trend, however, is that of increased contraceptive use and
declining fertility rates.

Polygamy in Bangladesh has decreased over the past 50 years, particularly in
the cities, but still there are over 10 percent of married men in a
polygamous union. The practice, however legal, is considered by many to be
outdated. This was reflected in a law passed in 2006 in Bangladesh's
fourth-largest city, Rajshahi, which introduced a so-called polygamy tax;
any man taking a second wife will be asked to pay a one-time amount of 10
000 takas (142 US dollars). The tax rises to 30 000 takas for a third wife
and 40 000 takas for a fourth wife (Islamic Republic News Agency, 2007).

The issue of parental authority is treated differently depending on
religion. Women are not regarded as legal guardians under Islamic law,
something that may lead to children being taken away by in-laws in the case
of a father's death (in the case of divorce, women can retain custody of
sons until age seven and daughters until puberty). Similarly, under Hindu
law, fathers are viewed as the natural, legal guardians of children.

Inheritance practices, too, differ between religions. According to Islamic
law, daughters inherit half as much as sons and, in the absence of a son,
daughters can inherit only as a residuary (i.e. only after all debts and
other obligations are settled). A wife is in principle entitled to half of
the assets when her husband dies. Under Hindu law, a widow, or all widows in
a polygamous marriage, inherits the same share as a son. For Christians, the
Succession Act of 1925 provides equal inheritance between sons and
daughters. Female genital mutilation is not practiced in Bangladesh.

Early marriage and dowry customs are major factors in the continuation of
domestic violence against women. Laws that have been passed against these
practices have proven difficult to enforce, especially in rural areas where
traditions and family laws tend to govern social life. A report released by
the U.N. Population Fund in 2000, asserted that 47 percent of adult women
had reported physical abuse by their male partner. The government, the
media, and women's rights organisations have fostered a growing awareness of
the problem of violence against women.

Gender-based violence outside the home includes sexual harassment in the
workplace, assaults, rapes and acid attacks. Revenge by a rejected suitor
and land disputes are common causes for acid attacks against women.
Insufficient shelters for victims of abuse have led the government to hold
women who file complaints in safe custody, usually in prison. This custody
frequently results in further abuses, hence discouraging the filing of
complaints by other women.

The occurrence of missing women (including female infants and children) is
widespread in most South Asian countries and Bangladesh is no exception. In
fact, Bangladesh is one of the very few countries in the world where males
outnumber females. Census data show that over 2.7 million Bangladeshi women
were missing in 2001 (Hudson et al, 2005). This is primarily the result of
son preference and female sex-selective abortions, or through relative
neglect compared to boys in early childhood (including abandonment).

*Civil Liberties*
Women can move relatively freely in the vicinity of their home and local
neighbourhood. To various degrees - much depending on the traditions of
individual families - the Islamic system of purdah may impose some
restrictions on women's participation in activities outside the home, such
as education, employment and social activities. To engage in any such
activities, a woman generally needs her husband's permission.

With regards to women's freedom of dress, it is customary for most
Bangladeshi women to cover at least their hair.

Despite women's growing role in agriculture, there is evidence that social
and customary practices virtually exclude women from any hope of direct
access to land.

It is often the demographic composition of a woman's household that
determines her qualification for and access to bank loans and other forms of
credit. A woman's lack of mobility, particularly in rural areas, forces her
to depend on male relatives for any entrepreneurial activities. While
Bangladesh's NGO's provide micro-credit to a large number of women, there is
a growing concern to whether or not these women actually retain control over
their loans.

According to the national law, men and women have equal rights to property,
but in practice women have only very limited access to property. Their
situation is further impaired by discriminating inheritance laws and
Bangladeshi women are not likely to even claim their share of the family
property unless it is given to them.
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