18 September 2012by Hale Yavuz, JTW
Human Rights Watch has released another report titled “When Will I get my Dues? Before I Die?” The report addresses the problems of marriage, separation and divorce of women in Bangladesh. Unfair legal applications, unregistered crimes against women, so-called religion based laws treating women as “second class citizens,” and the difficulties they go through in their lives are some of the subjects mentioned in the report based on research and interviews with Bangladeshi women belonging to all religions.
Women’s rights are one of most the controversial issues of human history. Although civilization and modernization is said to bring “equal and fair” rights to men and women, the reality is different than what is on paper. Even in “first world” countries, women face gender discrimination and have to back down. However in countries like Bangladesh, the violation of women rights is an undeniable, overt issue.
The new report is based on interviews with 255 people in 2011, including 120 women who have experienced the shortcomings of Bangladesh’s personal laws, as well as lawyers, experts, government officials and former judges.
HRW’s report deals with the problem regarding their legal rights in divorce or separation cases, polygamy, state assistance to divorced and separated women, measures against domestic violence, women’s economic status and implications of marriage. Many of these problems are within personal law arrangements which are not current and vary with regard to arbitrary interpretations of religions, and moreover some were codified a century ago. Therefore it is not surprising to see male-dominated, unfair laws trapping women in abusive marriages, poverty, homelessness, and hunger. There are also civil laws that apply to all religious communities in the context of marriage or divorce but are rarely used.
According to the data of the report, over 55 percent of women and girls over ten years old are married. For many, marriage means economic security. They make contributions in many forms to family homes, businesses, and fields. None of them are paid for their care and labor; on the contrary, husbands buy property, further their education, and establish businesses with their wives’ efforts. It is not just their husbands imposing on them but their in-laws too.
There are some changes in law arrangements since 2010, when a law against domestic violence was introduced. It was followed by a nationwide research for Muslim, Hindu and Christian personal laws, made by the Law Commission of Bangladesh supported by the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs. In spite of the resistance of religious leaders who argue that “religious” teachings offer no scope for reform, there are ongoing preparations to alter the situation but it is obvious from the report that it will take a lot of time, energy and determination to break the chains.
As in all other reports, HRW ends the report with recommendations. Getting all couples married under the Special Marriage Act regardless of their religion to make marriage registration compulsory and prevent men remarrying, raising awareness about polygamy, recognizing the efforts shown by women, and giving equal rights under protection by laws applied in all regions and to everyone are among the basic steps to be taken according to HRW’s report.