Teach your son to respect women and girls
Mahmuda Rahman Khan writes for DOT :
We have been independent since 1971, to be precise we will celebrate 48th year of independence this year. Bangladesh will be the third fastest growing economy in the world in terms of achieving high Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2019, according to a United Nations report. The country’s economy is growing at a consistent rate of 7.2% in last few years, striving to become a middle income country by 2021.
In the last 48 years, Bangladesh has progressed a lot, both on economic indicators as well as social indicators. The maternal mortality rate has gone down to 174 per 100,000 live birth in 2014 compared to 600 per 100,000 live births in 1975. Between 2007 to 2016, the literacy rate for females has risen from 43.74% to 69.90%, and for males from 49.83% to 75.62%. Bangladesh has also topped the South Asian countries in gender equality for the third consecutive year, ranking 47th among 144 nations. These are all remarkable statistics, without a doubt.
But my question is, where we really stand when we talk about gender equality? I would like to point out two important issues. As I understand, in order to have equal status with men, a) women have to have a secure, violence free society, b) equal access to and control over resources to exploit their full potential. Do we really have that? Statistics tell us a different story.
The prevalence of high rate of gender based violence in Bangladesh is one of the major barriers for achieving gender equality and promoting women’s empowerment. As per the BBS VAW survey 2015, 73% of ever married women in Bangladesh have experienced any kind violence by their current husband, 55% reported any type of violence in the past 12 months, and 50% reported physical violence in their lifetime. A large number of incidents remain undocumented. In a recent interaction with corporate sector, it appeared that there are high incidences of sexual violence in work places despite high court division’s landmark directives for protecting women from sexual violence. As a result of that many women and girls often just leave the job as there is no place to talk about it; and even if women talk about it, most likely they would be blamed in our patriarchal society. In that discussion, men kept on referring to existing laws and blaming the society for this kind of incidence.
Yes, lack of enforcement of the laws is an important issue but as an educated member of the society, can men deny their responsibility to stop gender based violence?
Secondly, though our constitution gives equal status for both men and women but on the other hand women cannot have equal share of property due to discriminatory inheritance law. In Bangladesh, under Islamic law, the wife inherits a fixed share of one-eighth of the deceased husband’s property if he leaves children, whereas the husband receives one fourth of his deceased wife’s property. A daughter, who is an only child, inherits half the estate of her late father or mother. If there is more than one daughter and no son, then the daughters jointly inherit two-thirds of the estate. However, if there is a son, then the daughter’s share will be equal to half of the son’s share. In all cases, men inherit more than the women do. However, the point I want to make here is the word “deceased”. So, the inheritance law applies once a person dies. All the fathers are very fond of their daughters and the daughters are extremely affectionate towards their fathers. If this is true, why can’t those fathers distribute the property equally to their daughters and sons, when they are alive? Who stops them distributing equal share of property between son and daughter?
So, no matter how many good laws and policies we develop, unless we change the mindset of people, especially men, we have a long way to go. For changing mindset, family is the first institution, where you teach your son to respect women and girls, to equally share everything with sister, starting from food to property.
At the end, I would like to salute and pay respect to all the women who contributed to the Liberation War of Bangladesh in 1971. During our Liberation of War, around 200,000-400,000 women were tortured and raped by Pakistani Military and their collaborators as mentioned by Shah Tazrian Ashrahi in the Daily Star today, however, these Birangonas were never respected and their contribution to war was not recognized. These war heroines were tortured by men and they were not recognized because of the patriarchal society. Finally, educate your children especially son about our history, the history of our heroines who are the freedom fighters, for whom we are independent today!
The writer is the general secretary and gender specialist at Shishu Aangina.