A Bangladesh for All – Not beyond belief, just beyond our grasp
10 Mar 2015
Violence against women is a widespread issue and it is not one that’s going away.
Over the past two decade, many global initiatives have been undertaken to promote and enforce women’s rights. Significant international mechanisms have been developed, world conferences held and even a decade dedicated to the plight of women (1975-85). In spite of these initiatives, progress towards the achievement of women’s rights globally has been slow and in Bangladesh, violence against women remains a serious concern. It is an issue that permeates all aspects and levels of society, making it a national issue.
When women and girls are prevented from enjoying education, are prohibited from raising their voice, are denied their basic rights or access to justice, Bangladesh as a whole suffers too. In fact, a 2012 study found that Bangladesh experienced a 20% loss of potential income as a result of women not being allowed to reach their economic potential[i].
While women all over Bangladesh face different forms of discrimination and barriers to justice, women in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) face a unique set of challenges. Such discriminations are further enhanced due to ethnicity, religious persuasion and socioeconomic marginalization.
A household survey conducted by the Human Development Research Center in 2013, who interviewed 2500 households across CHT, found over 50 per cent of the women in the region faced incidences of domestic violence, and whilst a major concern for all women in CHT, indigenous/tribal women reported rape and sexual abuse as the highest experiences of violence. Other incidences reported included early marriage, mental and physical abuse, neglect, and sexual harassment and even trafficking.
In CHT, victims of sexual and physical violence can often face a long road to justice, forced to navigate between formal legal structures and traditional justice systems. Further, many victims choose not to report crimes made against them due to social pressures, threats from perpetrators, complex court procedures and limited awareness of victim rights.
Since 2003, the CHT Development Facility has been working to promote women’s empowerment and leadership opportunities, particularly through nearly 2,000 women-led development committees and the programme’s Local Trust-Builder Network. As part of our approach to supporting gender equality and social inclusion, we work with communities to raise awareness on prevention of violence against women, facilitating discussions on the importance of women’s empowerment and linking individuals up with support service, such as local development bodies and different line departments. Working with communities at the grass roots level can also provide an important avenue for encouraging traditional leaders to look within and consider normal or customary practices from a new perspective
Recently, the Facility also signed an agreement with Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST) to provide free legal aid to marginalized survivors of violence in CHT.
But building gender equality is not just about working with men and women. The promotion of mutually empowering relationships among boys and girls is an essential step towards shaping positive attitudes between the sexes. Further, if a girl is to grow into a woman who is confident and capable of claiming her rights and contributing to society to her fullest potential, then she must be invested in and empowered from a young age. This is something that the Facility understands.
In 2014 we engaged over 200 boys and girls (almost two thirds girls) in martial arts, debate competitions, and football training camps. Why? Not only because they have proven to be a positive model for strengthening relationships between youth from different ethnic groups, but are a fantastic vehicle for breaking gender stereotypes and for instilling a sense of strength and respect regardless of one’s gender.
So on this International Women’s Day I encourage you to not only celebrate the important women in your life, but to make a commitment to place gender equality near the heart of your work.
Together we can end discrimination against women everywhere, every day, and build a stronger Bangladesh.
Author - Bipasha Chakma.
[i] Cuberes, D., and M. Teignier, 2012, “Gender Gaps in the Labor Market and Aggregate Productivity,” Sheffield Economic Research Paper SERP 2012017