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Bangladesh Church seeks to tackle abuse against women

About 70 percent of Bangladeshi women face abuse at the workplace and about 50 percent at home, studies show
Garment workers are busy at work at a factory in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka in this file image. About 72 percent of women face various forms of abuse at the workplace, says a report from Oxfam

Garment workers are busy at work at a factory in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka in this file image. About 72 percent of women face various forms of abuse at the workplace, says a report from Oxfam. (Photo: Stephan Uttom/UCA News)

Published: March 30, 2023 04:11 AM GMT

Catholic Church in Bangladesh is in the process of forming a team to tackle increasing abuses women face in their homes, workstations, and other places, says a church official.

Catholic bishops have verbally agreed to form the team led by the Women Desk of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Bangladesh to tackle abuses against women, says the desk’s convenor and social activist Rita Roselin Costa.

“We are discussing setting up a team to take actions including legal action at the earliest if any women are subjected to any form of abuse,” Costa told UCA News on March 29.

Costa said their team is expected to start this year but did not provide a definite date for the launch.

The team will have representatives in all eight dioceses and cover all Christian denominations, she said.

Costa spoke to UCA News a day after the country office of the international development organization, Oxfam, released a report that said the majority of Bangladeshi women in the workplace are subjected to abuses.  

About 72 percent of women workers face mental violence, with 74 percent verbal abuse, 31 percent physical violence, and six percent face sexual violence, said the study report launched in the capital Dhaka on March 28.

The study found that 81 percent of women workers had poor physiological conditions, and only 1 percent received paid maternity leave. Additionally, 76 percent did not receive social security support at work.

The study covered 1,507 women from different areas of Bangladesh.

Two female Catholic workers told UCA News they have endured abusive treatment in their workplaces. 

Catholic domestic worker Nipa Biswas * from Dhaka said she has been working in the sector for five years. She does not have a permanent job but works eight hours each day and on average in 20 houses per month.

Biswas said she faced verbal and physical abuse in family houses in the city, and some domestic workers told her they have faced worse situations.

Biswas does have a permanent job but works eight hours for different houses almost every day and on about 20 houses every month.

“Most of them say they have been abused, ranging from slapping for small errors to sexual harassment. Since I do not work permanently, I can easily change my work if the family is abusive,” the 29-year-old mother of two told UCA News.

Sabita Das, 35, a Catholic and banker based in southern Khulna city, also alleged workplace abuses.

Das said she received “indecent proposals” from bosses in her current and previous workstations but did not dare to report fearing job loss.

“But I have never had a problem as I can defend myself. I could not take any legal action for fear of losing my job,” Das told UCA News.

Das said women in low-paying jobs like domestic and garment workers face a higher level of physical, mental, and sexual abuse because of their poor social and economic situations.

In Bangladesh’s religiously and socially conservative family system where patriarchy still dominates, women remain vulnerable to abuses, reports say.

In 2021, World Health Organization ranked Bangladesh fourth, jointly with the Solomon Islands, among 61 countries with the highest prevalence of violence by intimate partners.

Based on data between 2000 and 2018, the agency said 50 percent of women in Bangladesh face physical and mental abuse. The top three countries were Kiribati (53), Fiji (52), and Papua New Guinea (51).

Activist Costa says due to male dominance, fear of losing jobs, and a lengthy legal justice system often women do not report and seek redress for abuses at homes and workplaces.

“Women won’t speak up if there is no guarantee that action will be taken against the offender, and they might lose jobs for making a complaint,” she said.

In the case of Christian women, who seek redress for abuse at home or the workplace, the church team will act immediately, Costa added.

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