Saturday, June 27, 2009

Breaking the silence: ensuring justice for women

Photo: Pro-democracy political activist secually harassed by male police officers on the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh
WILLIAM GOMES

VARIOUS ORGANIZATIONS and individuals have been fighting for decades to ensure justice for women and children in Bangladesh. While progress has been nominal, violence continues to be notable.

Innocent souls are crying for justice. From January to March 2009, 73 women and children were the victims of rape or attempted rape; among those, 29 were gang raped and 13 were between ages 7 and 12. In May alone, 33 women and girls were the victims of rape. Among those, 16 were women and 17 were children under the age of 16. Out of the 16 women, five were victims of gang rape and three were killed after being raped. Out of the 17 girls, five were victims of gang rape and two were killed after being raped.

Between January and March 2009, six serious acts of violence against women were instigated by fatwas. When I discussed this issue with the law minister, he denied the necessity of introducing a specific law to ban fatwas. I repeatedly insisted on the necessity of a specific law to fight fatwa, as well as a law to identify the paternity of a child in cases where it is disputed.

Dowry is another social disease in Bangladesh. From January to March 2009, 44 women faced dowry-related violence; among these women, 23 died.

Bangladesh has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world: 440 per 100,000 live births, according to UNICEF, and more than 20,000 women in Bangladesh die annually from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth.

In Bangladesh, women do their best to fulfill their duties and take care of all their men's needs; yet, from January to March 2009 alone, 45 women were abused by their husbands or their husbands’ relatives. Very recently, a woman, Parul Akter, who was seven months pregnant, was killed and her body thrown in a river; her two other children are still missing. This is the reality that many women in Bangladesh face.

We can name thousands of ways that women and children are facing oppression and repression in Bangladesh. Confucius said, “We should feel sorrow, but not sink under its oppression.” I do agree with that. For almost two decades, Bangladesh’s prime ministers have been women. The number of people who oppose and oppress woman and children are larger than the number of people who are oppressed or suppressed.

Women’s empowerment alone will not solve the problem; we need to treat women as human beings first, rather than simply as women. We need to break the silence and stand up against religious and cultural traditions that encourage the repression of women and children. I dream of a day when a woman will be treated as a human being first, when women will really be empowered and lead the nation toward a more humane way, as they are the source of the human race.

The whole system in Bangladesh is male-dominated, inspired by common prophet religions that have a culture of suppressing woman historically. We need to deal with these oppressors first. Many aw and wonderful steps had taken to bring an end to the suppression to woman and children but hopefully none of them succeed.

Sometimes, a police officer who oppresses his wife in the home is used to investigate a case of oppression against a woman. In this case, the police officer should be brought to trial before anything else. Bangladesh even has cases where, after being raped, the woman gets raped again in the police station by police officers.

More than anything, the religion of Islam encourages the majority of people in Bangladesh in the historical cultural traditions of oppressing women. Laws can change, while religion inspires adherents through heaven and hell; in this light, how will jail or capital punishment be able to make any significant change?

The Prophet Mohammed said, “I was standing at the edge of the fire (hell) and the majority of the people going in were women.” When the Quran and the Prophet Mohammed guide the majority of people in Bangladesh, and the Quran (4:34) orders a man to beat his wife if she doesn't obey him, how will the law prevent the beating of women? Laws and conventions contradict the holy sayings of the Prophet and Allah and will surely fail to ensure the rights of women.

I silently cry for justice for women like Parul, Rahima, Rebeka, Shima, who was raped in front of her father, and Mili Rani, a minority girl who was raped and later committed suicide. All this happened inside of the society before you and me.

We need to break the silence and step up a revival for humanity and justice. #

William Gomes is an independent human rights activist, freelance journalist and a political analyst. He can be reached at cda.exe@gmail.com