Jennifer Ashraf Kashmi||
The 1972 Constitution of Bangladesh safeguards women’s rights broadly in terms of equality and participation. Articles 10, 19(1), 27, 28(1) and 28(2) all cumulatively state that women participation in all fields of national life should be present and that everyone should receive equal opportunity irrespective of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. Therefore, men and women will both be treated equally and no discrimination shall exist. However, the reality is miles from what the situation should ideally be. In Bangladesh, although laws exist to protect women’s rights, the mass society as a whole is generally ignorant and un-accepting of the basic women’s rights.
One prime example of this is displayed through the National Women’s Development Policy which, although first passed in 1997, has still not been implemented till 2012 it has been 15 years since. The Policy concentrates and focuses mainly on protecting women from harassment and deprivation. However, the fact remains that in spite of numerous rumors of implementation, nothing concrete has materialized yet. On 8th March 2008, when the Women’s Developments Policy was unveiled after much deliberation, an all-engulfing chaotic situation descended on the streets of Dhaka and a lot of Islamic activists strongly opposed the Policy. The Government relented and allowed for an ulema committee to be formed, which then focused on drastically amending and deleting sections of the Policy. “A woman cannot enjoy rights equal to a man’s because a woman is not equal to a man by birth. Can there be two prime ministersone male and one femalein a country at the same time?” Mufti Mohammad Nuruddin, acting khatib of Baitul Mukarram National Mosque who headed the review committee, quoted to Daily Star on 18th April 2008.
This comment of Nuruddin was countered by Suraiya Ashraf Sisily on 17 June 2011, Morning Tea Magazine, The Daily Sun. As per Sisily, “What’s interesting about this point is that it’s virtually impossible for two Prime Ministers to exist in a country at the same time and the situation will remain unchanged no matter which of the following scenarios apply if both the Prime Ministers are male, if both the Prime Ministers are female or, as Nuruddin so delicately phrases it, if both Prime Ministers are “one male and one female”. It seems that mistaken emphasis was given here to the wrong question the question isn’t whether one country can have two Prime Ministers or not, the question should have been whether both a male candidate and a female candidate are given the equal opportunity to enable them to be elected as a Prime Minister.”
Yet, all is not lost and progress in this sector has been slowly but surely creeping up on us. Wife abuse, dowries for marriage, and bigamy have decreased considerably, even though it is still a long way from being obliterated completely. Previously, village elders known as Mullahs used Salish courts in villages for relentless and unfair persecution of women over insignificant issues. Although these Salish courts have no valid legal standings, they still take it upon themselves to administer ‘justice’ as they see fit, despite no prior legal education, no realistic knowledge of the legal framework, and just through their pre-perceived ideas and notions. As per these Salish courts, widowed mothers were not considered to have any entitlement to land left over by their deceased husband, daughters were not considered as ethical and legal beneficiaries of their father’s property. Women, united in numbers, are also getting the confidence now to stand up to village Mullahs and make their feelings and opinions being taken seriously. In villages and rural areas, the change is slow, but it’s happening one day at a time.
It is a point to be noted that although dowry was considered illegal by say as per the Dowry Prohibition Act 1980, it is only recently that this is seriously being accepted and put into effect in the rural and underdeveloped sectors of our country. The Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 has been specifically designed to hold child marriage as illegal, but this system of ensuring that legal reach the legal age of 18 before marriage has only been recently put into practice, owing to the collective efforts of NGOs and other humanitarian organizations. The new concepts of Talaq which was introduced by MFLO 1961 whereby even the single utterance in any form whatsoever (except third of three) has effect of being single and revocable, and also has procedures of recovery of den-mahr with punishment for non-compliance.
To work together in improvement of women’s rights, law and society will have to come together. One cannot coexist peacefully and successfully without the other and all changes will have to be brought forward through broadening of our ideas, thoughts and perceptions.