DOWRY-RELATED violence is alarmingly on the rise despite rigorous campaign and stricter laws. According to rights group Odhikar, 5,699 women faced dowry-related violence from 2001 to 2017; the same report states that at least 129 women were killed or committed suicide in 2017 over dowry. In recent past, women rights groups have also depicted a similar situation. It is commendable that responding to the situation, the government has rightly moved to reform the previous law and enacted the Dowry Prohibition Act 2017. However, the number of cases filed is still low when compared with the number of reported incidents. According to Ain O Salish Kendra, 188 dowry-related cases were filed in 2017 as against 303 reported incidents of dowry violence. It is, therefore, evident that juridical attention alone cannot fight dowry violence.
Rights activists have named the failure of the legal system to bring the perpetrator of dowry violence to book as a reason for the alarming increase. They also allege that the police are often found reluctant to register such cases labelling them as ‘family matters.’ There is, therefore, a need to address the internalised patriarchal biases that jeopardises justice dispensation to victims of dowry violence. Along the same line, feminist scholars working to unravel the root cause of this persistent practice suggest that it is important to change the way women are valued in a male-dominated society. Many argue that dowry is a clear affirmation of the fact that gender determines women’s economic worth or political significance in society. This patriarchal assumption that women are economically burdensome provides men with ideological ammunition to demand dowry. Without addressing the structural inequality that women face in society — unequal status in inheritance law, wage inequity and political representation — it will, therefore, not be possible to radically change women’s over-all status. Taking into consideration this structure of oppression, it is evident that any superficial approach to prevent this practice will fall flat, which is the case in Bangladesh today.
Successive governments have enjoyed women’s participation in formal economy. According to a study of the International Labour Organisation, women’s employment has increased by 35 per cent in the past decade. However, women’s participation in formal economy did not automatically change their social status. An increasing incidence of sexual harassment of women at work and public places proves this point. To the extent sexual and dowry violence is tolerated in Bangladesh indicates that the claims of the incumbents to women’s empowerment is nothing but empty rhetoric. The government must adopt a multi-pronged approach to prevent dowry-related violence that will work to end gender discrimination in Bangladesh. In doing so, it must ensure that the law enforcement agencies judiciously enforce the newly enacted dowry prevention law. To take the government to task, women’s organisations must also abandon the project-based, short-sighted women’s empowerment model and work to establish women’s equal right to wage, inheritance and political participation.
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