Despite an alarming number of cases of violence against women that have been reported over the years, Bangladesh has yet to develop a permanent, government-funded support system for the victims, speakers said on Sunday.
“There is no system in place which could help victims move forward in life, especially those who survive rape and child marriage,” said Deputy Commissioner Farida Yesmin of Dhaka Metropolitan Police's Women Support and Investigation Division, at a round-table discussion titled “Gender-Based Violence and Its Impact on Bangladesh's Development.”
The discussion was held at The Daily Star Centre in Dhaka.
Speaking at the event, representatives of the government, law enforcement and rights groups agreed that the country lacked proper infrastructure to support and rehabilitate the survivors of violence, especially sexual harassment and rape.
Addressing the issue further, Farida said in her experience, most survivors of violence suffer from psychological trauma, which is difficult to overcome without proper support.
“It gets even worse when victims lose their ability to bear a child after going through unsafe abortion when they become pregnant from rape, or suffering miscarriage due to torture,” she added.
Most of the time the victims are shunned by their families and relatives and have nowhere to go, Farida said.
Finance Minister AMA Muhith, who was present at the discussion, referred to a UNFPA report that says two out of three women who are victims of sexual harassment and abuse are subjected to it in their own home.
“That is a matter of shame for us. We have to do everything to resolve it,” he said.
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Country Representative Argentina Matavel Piccin said a change in Bangladeshi social norms is necessary in order to curb violence against women at a significant level.
"Law enforcement agencies must ensure no perpetrator go unpunished," she added.
Advocate Wahida Idris, director of Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers' Association (BNWLA), pointed out that there is no allocation in the national budget for providing support to victims of violence.
“In the majority of the cases, it is the rights organisations who provide shelter to these women,” she added.
Najrana Imaan, project leader of Shokhi, a project under Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), said there was also a lack of awareness among women about how to seek help when subjected to sexual harassment.
She also criticised the existing legal procedures, saying that going through the legal process of getting justice is often a harrowing experience for the victims, which only adds to their trauma.
“Many women feels discouraged to report sexual harassment when they see rapists getting away with their crimes,” said Muntaka Khan, member of UN Youth Advisory Panel in Bangladesh.
Actor Jeetu Ahsan, who was also present at the discussion, said those who commit such violence must be given exemplary punishment.
“In addition, girls and women who are raising their voices against harassment and violence must be protected and supported by law enforcers, rights activists and society,” he added.