The rate of violence against women and children has increased by 31% compared to the domestic violence data of April 2020
The government should raise awareness of the high cost that perpetrators of gender-based violence must pay if they are caught, in order to discourage others from rape and the abuse of women, speakers at a webinar have said.
Potential criminals will only be discouraged if it is well-established that the harm from legal action they will face for committing gender-based crimes is far greater than what they inflict on their victims, the speakers added.
The webinar was organized on Tuesday by the National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh (NHRC) in association with the international rights organization Article19 to commemorate World Human Rights Day 2020 (December 10) and 25 years of the Beijing Declaration. The virtual discussion was funded by the Asia Foundation.
The Beijing Declaration was made at the World Conference on Women in 1995.
At the webinar on Tuesday, Dr Tania Haque, chairperson of the women and gender studies department of Dhaka University, presented the keynote paper, “Twenty-five years of Beijing platform for action: Women’s advancement and challenges.”
During her presentation, Dr Tania Haque said: “We need to make people understand that it is not just the victims [of gender-based violence] who suffer, and that perpetrators suffer more when going through the legal process.
Covid-19 accelerates domestic violence
In May, during the lockdown to prevent transmission of Covid-19, a total of 13,494 women and children became victims of violence in 53 districts of the country. Among them, 4,180 women and children became victims for the first time, Prof Haque said, citing a UN Women report.
She also said the National Helpline (999) had been receiving approximately 10,000 calls a day, an increase from the average of 6,000 calls a day before the Covid-19 outbreak.
The rate of violence against women and children has increased by 31% compared to the domestic violence data of April 2020. Among girls, 62.5 % were victims of domestic violence and 170 child marriages occurred in May, she said quoting Manusher Jonno Foundation.
The vulnerability of marginalized groups such as transgender people, female sex workers, women and adolescent girls with disabilities, women living with HIV and migrant women (who have returned after losing their jobs) have been heightened under the current Covid-19 crisis, she further said, quoting a report by the Gender in Humanitarian Action Working Group (GIHA WG).
Achievements after the Beijing Declaration
There have been some major achievements in the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women following the Beijing Declaration, especially in education, maternal mortality, employment and entrepreneurship, Dr Tania Haque said.
Women’s participation in parliament is a good indicator of the progress, as it stood at 20.88% in 2019 compared to 12.73% in 1991, the DU professor added.
A tailored context and class specific policy plan is the only way to ensure gender equality, recommended Dr Haque.
“Policy makers should consider the relevant, proper indicators prior to creating a policy plan, and the policies should adopt qualitative indicators of wellbeing, happiness, satisfaction,” she said.
She also suggested engaging men and making them realize their role in stopping violence against women.
“The involvement of men in unpaid care work needs to be encouraged, as men traditionally and socially enjoy more power and privilege in society and family. We also need to encourage parents to stop treating sex as a taboo and instead promote a culture of positive sexuality,” she added.
Furthermore, she recommended the creation of a universal curriculum based on gender equality, including discussions on gender-based violence, age-appropriate sex education, moral education and promotion of gender sensitive languages.
She also suggested the establishment of human rights clubs at educational institutions.
The chief guest on the occasion, Nasima Begum, chairman of the NHRC, said: “Men and women must work together to achieve great things. Bangladesh is blessed since the ratio of men and women in this country is almost the same.”
Jesmin Ara Begum, president of the Committee for Preventing Violence against Women and Children; Shaheen Anam, executive director of Manusher Jonno Foundation; Faruq Faisel, regional director of Article19, also spoke at the program, among others.