Bangladeshi women still face deprivation and oppression and the legal and socio-economic system does not do enough to prevent discrimination and violence against women.
Under the Constitution, women’s rights are protected under the broad and universal principles of equality which provides that steps shall be taken to ensure participation of women in all spheres of national life; that the State shall endeavour to ensure equality of opportunity and protection to all citizens; that the State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, or place of birth; and that women shall have equal rights with men in all spheres of the State and of public life. In addition, Bangladesh has specific laws prohibiting certain forms of violence including the Penal Code, 1860, the Anti-Dowry Prohibition Act (1980), the Cruelty to Women Ordinance (1983), the Suppression of Immoral Traffic Act (1993), and the Prevention of Repression against Women and Children Act (2000).
However, despite such legal support, Bangladeshi women are still not receiving equal treatment in practice. Inequalities are common, for example:
Women in the informal sector are often paid at lower grades than men for the same work.
In divorce proceedings, women need to prove the validity of their reason for seeking divorce in order to obtain a court order to enforce their rights. Men on the other hand, do not need such proof and can divorce their wives at any time without proven reason.
Under traditional inheritance laws, a woman is generally given half the share of her male counterpart.
Despite anti-dowry laws by the state (and religious edicts supporting this position) traditions remain widespread and women, whose families do not fulfill requests to pay dowry to their husbands, are sometimes subjected to horrifying violence. As is well known, women who turn down marriage proposals are sometimes in danger of suffering violence from spurned men and there have been many cases of men throwing acid at women.
Law enforcement is also failing to stop Bangladeshi women (including underage girls) being trafficked for the purposes of forced prostitution. Reliable statistics are hard to find, but one report estimates that on average, at least 70-80 women and children are trafficked abroad daily from Bangladesh. Around 5000 are thought to be trafficked annually to Pakistan and Arab countries and 10,000-15,000 are trafficked to India. This situation further exacerbates societal restrictions on the free movement of women and makes women fear for their safety both inside and outside the house.
Early marriage is another obstacle in promoting women’s rights. The Majority Act, 1875 clearly provides that a woman must at least be 18 years of age to be able to get married. Fear of poverty, perceptions of family honour and social insecurity are some of the major reasons behind early marriages. As a result, women’s right to education, a pillar for realising one’s own rights, suffers.
Despite moves to widen access, more Bangladeshi males still get access to education than females. The ratio of female to male students at primary level has improved to over 70% of male levels. But at secondary school level female-enrolment constitutes only 40% of the male total.
As for the constitutional right to livelihood, formal employment of women is still low in both private and public sectors. The government sector is especially weak in encouraging women into posts with decision making responsibility.
Bangladeshi women also face discrimination when applying for bank loans, particularly if they do not own properties, and husbands or male relatives are asked to give consent to bank loan transactions.
Because of such constraints from family, society and the State in general, Bangladeshi women are either sometimes unaware of their rights or are prevented from asserting them.
Proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments is 20% as of 2015.
The situation of Bangladeshi women illustrates the problem of turning legal principles into social, political and economic practice. Discriminatory attitudes towards women, whether rooted in the family, society or at State-level, should cease.