Equality still elusive for women

Mohiuddin Alamgir
Ayesha Khanam, Farida Akhtar, Salma Ali, Meher Afroze

Ayesha Khanam, Farida Akhtar, Salma Ali, Meher Afroze

Equality for women in all aspects of life including politics, administration, home and workplace, pay and perks, is elusive, as they are still behind in economic and political participation and opportunities, 44 years after independence of the country.
The Constitution of Bangladesh guarantees equal rights for both men and women in all spheres of state and public life. The country observes International Women’s Day on Sunday
Women remain under-represented in politics, although the two main political parties are headed by women in our country, as they constitute less than five per cent of the central leaders of mainstream political parties.
There are 69 out of 350 women parliamentarians, of whom 50 are from reserved seats, less than five per cent women are employed in policy making positions in civil service and judiciary, meager numbers in economic bodies, police and army, women rights activists said.
Although the empowerment of women and their participation in education, socio-economic activity and trade has made some stride in the last two decades, they are still not safe at home and offices, where they often face sexual harassment and violence, alleged women rights activists.
Women make up half of the nation’s population and the existing patriarchal system and its strong reservations regarding women in leadership and management positions in economic and political organisations, is huge obstacle in ensuring equality for women, said Farida Akhtar, executive director at Nari Grantha Prabartana and Salma Ali executive director Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association.
‘In some cases many existing laws continue to treat women and girls as second class citizens with regard to their marital rights, divorce, parental rights, inheritance and property rights, said Bangladesh Mahila Parishad president Ayesha Khanam.
State minister for women and children affairs, Meher Afroze Chumki, said elimination of disparity and discrimination against women was long process. ‘We achieved some significant improvement in education, health and business sector, but there is still a long way to go for elimination of discrimination towards women,’ she said.
Farida, Salma and Ayesha all said that the levels of reported violence against women was horrifying, and unreported were probably worse.
Bangladesh Mahila Parishad said that from 2008 to 2014, a total of 34,062 incidents of violence against women were reported in 14 national newspapers. It said 1,742 women were killed for dowry, 705 were killed after rape, 152 died in acid attacks.
‘Women are not safe in any place, not even at home,’ said Ayesha.
About 87 per cent husbands abuse their wives in Bangladesh, according to a nationwide survey of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics released in December 2013. It also said that 29 per cent women complain of sexual harassment at workplace, 43 per cent while travelling, nine per cent at markets.
Salma and Farida said sexual harassment at workplace still continues unabated although there is provision of setting up complaint centres at all workplaces and educational institutes to curb such incidents. ‘Almost all complain centres are ineffective,’ said Salma.
Farida said that female workers in the formal and informal sector do not get equal pay like their male counterparts. ‘Women, particularly those in non government agencies and garments, do not even get maternity leave,’ she said.
Women rights activists said the male-dominated political parties were not interested to pave the way for engaging more women in policymaking positions. ‘Money and muscle employed by political keep women away from politics, although they have interest in joining politics,’ Ayesha said.
‘Women in Bangladesh have been demanding direct election to seats in the parliament since 1987. This is yet to happen due to lack of political will of the two female heads of the two large parties, who have been in power since 1991,’ Farida said.
Salma and Ayesha said the government did not take much initiative to implement the women development policy.
Meher Afroze Chumki said that government had taken elaborate programmes to implement the development policy. ‘Mindsets will not change overnight; it will take some time,’ she said.
‘Violence had decreased a lot. Newspapers hardly carry news related violence nowadays,’ she said.    ‘As education among women has increased, it will soon be reflected in others sectors, including administration and business,’ she added.

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