ucanews.com reporters, DhakaUpdated: October 12, 2016 04:45 AM GMT
Monimala Biswas, 44, a Hindu housewife from southwestern Narail district has faced years of domestic violence when she protested against her husband's affair. (ucanews.com photo)
Women activists have identified Bangladesh's patriarchal social system and inadequate legal resources as the key causes of the country's extremely high levels of domestic violence.
"Our male-dominated social system and the mindset among males to subjugate and control women are responsible for high levels of domestic violence in Bangladesh," said Rita Roselin Costa, convener of the Bangladesh Catholic bishops' women's desk.
Costa was reacting to a recent survey report from the state-run Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics that found 80.2 percent of married women have faced abuse and violence at the hands of their husbands and in-laws.
Forms of violence include physical, sexual, psychological and economic abuse and attempts to control a women's behavior, according to the Violence Against Women Survey 2015.
In rural areas, 74.8 percent of married women faced abuse while the rate is 54.4 in urban areas, the report said.
Despite high rates of violence, 72.7 percent of victims never shared their experience with others and only about 2.6 percent sought legal support. About 41.7 percent women who faced physical or sexual violence suffered from injuries, according to the report.
Over 21,000 women were surveyed for the report aged 15 and above; it was funded by United Nations Population Fund and the European Union. The survey found domestic violence had declined seven percent since the previous report in 2011.
"There was a slight decline in domestic violence but in no way is it at a tolerable level," said Costa. "It's because our patriarchal society has yet to consider men and women equally in rights and respect."
In Bangladesh, family finances are controlled by men and women are often deprived of money. Wives are controlled so much that some are not allowed to even visit their parents.
"When men have limited income, they live in tension and attack their wives in order express anger and frustration over their limitations," Costa added.
The male-dominant social structure and social malpractices are indeed behind the epidemic of domestic violence, said Angela Gomes, founder and executive director of Banchte Shekha (learn how to survive), an organization working to empower women.
"Our social system is repressive for girls and women," said Gomes. "It doesn't want to make women educated and help them earn an income, but ironically they are abused and considered useless for not getting an education and earning money."
"Mother-in-laws were abused by their husbands and in-laws when they were young wives, so they think it's alright to abuse their sons' wives. The awful system is so deeply rooted that it]refuses to be broken," she added.
Domestic violence also stems from high rates of child marriage, dowry demands, extramarital affairs and a lack of respect for women, according to Gomes.
Misinterpretation of religious teachings also plays a role. "Islam teaches that beneath the feet of a husband lies the heaven for a wife and Hindus consider girls as half the value of boys," Gomes said.
Besides changing the social system and mindset, women need a right to education and economic empowerment in order to escape abuse, said Gomes.
"Women must have the right to education, employment and leadership, so they are not forced to remain subordinate to men and so men can't abuse them physically or psychologically," she said.
Lack of legal support
Women are forced to tolerate violence because of a lack of legal and financial resources, said Fauzia Karim, a Supreme Court lawyer and president of the Bangladesh National Woman Lawyer's Association.
"Women often don't share experiences of violence fearing that it would bring her a bad name as people would think she has done something wrong," said Karim.
The Domestic Violence Act 2010 and the Prevention of Oppression Against Women and Children Act 2000 were supposed to help women but few take advantage of the law, she said.
"Women are often not aware about these laws and even if they are aware they don't have enough financial resources and time to go through the expensive and lengthy legal justice system," Karim said.
"There must be concerted efforts from the government and women's rights organizations to spread awareness and offer legal assistance to victims," she added.