16 days of activism against gender-based violence

Ensuring the safety of women at home and abroad and reducing violence against them is essential not only for their own development, but also for their families and for the country. Photo: Reuters

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Ensuring the safety of women at home and abroad and reducing violence against them is essential not only for their own development, but also for their families and for the country. Photo: Reuters

This year, Bangladesh is celebrating its 50th anniversary. These 50 years have been marked by many achievements and promises in the economic and social fields. From a poor war-affected economy with low incomes and a high population, Bangladesh is now on a solid footing in terms of many economic indicators. Not only has the size of the economy grown, resulting in increased per capita income and reduced poverty, but our social progress has also been remarkable. The success is visible thanks to reduced maternal mortality, lower infant mortality and better access to water and sanitation.

On the gender front, achievements have been visible in the case of increased participation of women in the labor market over time. According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics Labor Force Survey, the participation rate of women in the labor force increased to 36.3% in 2017 from 23.9% in 2000. Of the total female labor force, 59.7% work in agriculture, 16.8% in industry. , 15.4% in the manufacturing sector and 23.5% in the service sector. Many women have joined non-traditional and emerging service sectors such as banking, insurance, telecommunications, hotels and restaurants, transport and real estate services. Higher education and skills upgrading have also contributed to this increase. It is undeniable that the economic empowerment of women has contributed to the improvement of their social status. Within their family, they are valued for their financial contribution and can express their opinions on family matters on this basis. Their income has helped improve the nutritional status of their families, improve the education of their children, reduce the number of child marriages and lower maternal and infant mortality rates.

Bangladesh has made substantial progress in terms of various targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This progress is also evident in the case of SDG 5, which calls for gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. Compared to countries in South Asia, Bangladesh does better on many gender-related indicators. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, Bangladesh ranked 65th out of 156 countries in the Global Gender Gap Index (GGGI). Although Bangladesh has moved from the 50th position in 2020 to the 65th in 2021, it is still ahead of all countries in South Asia. The GGGI takes into account four indicators: opportunities for economic participation, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. One of the reasons for Bangladesh’s decline could be the impact of Covid-19 on women.

Despite Bangladesh’s impressive economic progress, violence against women is still widespread and unstoppable. All types of violence, from verbal to physical violence to sex, are present everywhere. Women and girls of all ages face risks of abuse, harassment and violence in homes, educational institutions, workplaces and public places. At home, they fear they will face violence from family members. After marriage, girls often face domestic violence in their in-laws’ homes. In educational institutions, girls experience physical and verbal harassment from their male classmates, teachers and other government officials. In the workplace, women are at risk of harassment and rape by their supervisors and other male colleagues. And of course, in public places, including open places and on public transport, sexual harassment, assault and even rape are all too common.

When it comes to addressing such challenges, we often stress the need for appropriate laws and policies. What is needed, however, is law enforcement and the exercise of justice. It will not be automatic and requires a holistic approach. It is also a question of lifelong learning and mental training, as the gaze and perception towards women and girls develop from an early age. Families have an important role to play in raising children. Schools have an even greater responsibility to instill in children values ​​that teach them about gender equality.

Violence against women is due to imbalanced power relations between women and men. This is a bigger and more structural problem, and women’s economic empowerment and the formulation of laws and policies are not enough to stop it. There are social, cultural, psychological, economic and political factors behind such violence. In many social spheres, women and girls are seen as weak and less important. The cultural circumstances we live in unfortunately consist of showing power and undermining the weaker sections. The powerful feel that they have the right to harm those they consider to be the weakest. No one can protest if powerful people torture the weakest and most vulnerable – and this is true for all genders. Poorer men and women are in the same boat in many ways. But power relations determine a person’s behavior and attitude towards other people in society. Violence against women is exercised within the mental framework of them being weaker than men.

Political factors play the most important role in forming power relations between people. In the absence of the rule of law in a society where perpetrators are not punished, crimes will continue to increase. Rapists or murderers tend to take refuge in political parties. They often find safety under politically influential members of society after committing crimes. Law enforcement agencies cannot take any action against them in this case, unless they are mandated to do so by the highest authority. Even those who have no connection with powerful people commit violence against women and men because they believe they can get away with their crimes. It is this same culture of impunity that encourages men to torture and rape women.

If women do not feel safe, they will be reluctant to work outdoors. Their families will not allow them to go out to work, in order to protect their dignity. It is a setback. The achievements of Bangladeshi women over the past five decades will be lost if corrective action is not taken. For Bangladesh’s growth momentum to continue, women must increasingly participate in the labor market. They will have to seize new opportunities. This will require education, appropriate training and technological knowledge. In the case of education, gender parity at the primary school level has been achieved. The number of female students has also increased at the secondary level. However, at the higher education level, the participation rate of female students is still much lower than that of male students. This is reflected in the type of work in which women are engaged, as their participation in administrative, managerial, technical and professional jobs is low. Most women work in lower paying jobs. About 91 percent of women work in the informal sector. Those who are entrepreneurs lack funding, training, marketing opportunities and adequate information to grow their business and survive during crises, such as the ongoing pandemic.

Therefore, ensuring the safety of women at home and abroad and reducing violence against them is essential not only for their own development, but also for their families and for the country. Violence and the fear of violence limit the mobility of women and girls, their freedom and their rights. It pulls them back in terms of participation in educational and economic activities, which in turn creates more inequalities between men and women. Economic growth does not make sense if a favorable and supportive environment for women is not created and if the rights and security of women are not established.

Dr Fahmida Khatun is Executive Director of the Center for Policy Dialogue.

The opinions expressed in this article are personal.