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Stopping violence against women begins at home

Church, state must work harder to end abuse of women

Stopping violence against women begins at home
Rosaline Costa, Dhaka

November 25, 2011

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Women who conceive a baby, nurture it for months and make it grow by breastfeeding are undoubtedly strong in body, heart and soul, but their strength is in vain when men forcibly put them through torture and pain. Furthermore, to be honest to my years of experience in the field of human rights, it is rather a regrettable fact that 80 percent of violence against women takes place at home. A survey from January-October this year found that 665 women have either been killed or committed suicide in the country, and most of the fateful incidents occurred as a result of domestic violence. We need to work harder to stop violence against women at home first. Christian women are no different than non-Christian. Christians who have unmarried daughters at home share the same anxiety with others over the alarming increase in what has been called “Eve teasing” and the use of communications technology including mobile phone and internet to disrespect women. Eve teasing is a phrase adopted largely in South Asia to denote the public sexual harassment of women, generally among young people, that covers a range of abuses, from sexually suggestive text messages to physical assault. Even parents of married women face anxiety. A bride is often tortured by her in-laws physically and mentally if her parents did not offer a large enough dowry. I have even heard of brides’ parents being asked to arrange overseas travel costs for the groom as a marriage precondition. What a shame for Christians. Physical torture of women is a social vice. About 35 percent of husband physically assault their wives when they have a dispute. This kind of abuse is often sanctioned by in-laws and when the victim goes to a priest, the cleric often has no solution for her. Sometimes mothers-in-law tell victims to “digest” what comes in saying, “I too was beaten many times but still I’ve kept my family.” The Church needs to take proper measures and train clergy, Religious and lay people to eliminate domestic violence against women. Immoral sexuality and large age differences between married men and women also contribute to violence against women. Once a 36-year-old non-resident Christian married a 17-year-old girl and the lustful man started sexual torture on the girl day and night. She went to the local parish priest and the priest referred the victim to me. Later I found that the man had a wife back in Italy and simply spoiled another woman’s life for amusement. I’ve dealt with at least 10 similar cases and helped victims take proper decisions for their future life. Often highly educated Christian girls cannot find a properly educated boy and as a result their married life gets ruined. Women are becoming aware of their rights but things that they cannot change often bring tremendous troubles to them. Comparing the scenario two decades ago, the rate of violence against women has declined. In the past, the number of early marriages and physical abuse of women were very high. The scenario is changing because women are more aware and employed today. If they face violence they have learned to go to local leaders, law enforcement or rights groups for a solution. However, still many things need to be done to eradicate violence against women and concerted efforts are a must. Good people in civil society can offer greater assistance to safeguard women’s rights, and the media can also play a greater role. The Church also has an opportunity to play a greater role by promoting women to leadership positions and helping them participate as equals with men. When Church-based organizations arrange programs for women, I would prefer to see women as guests and resource persons, not just men. They can even consult a number of reputed national-level rights organizations who work for women rights. Women need to have their voices heard and be better represented in every aspect of life including leadership, inheritance rights to property and marriage. There is no alternative for the Church, society and state to start working now to uproot violence against women from the family and from society. If every family can ensure women’s rights equally with men, we will have a better society. Parents and children in the family should realize it was because of women’s pain and sacrifice we were able to see the light of the world. Any disgrace to women is nothing short of demeaning ourselves. Rosaline Costa is coordinator for Hotline Human Rights Bangladesh and the recipient in 1999 of South Korea's Tji Haek-soon Justice Peace Award
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