Gender issue generates forever in the world and all societies. Patriarchy dominates over the female all over the societies for all the times. Gender discrimination to women is a common discussable thing that means factually it appears on female, but actually it appears male and female equally. Female always suffering by gender discrimination it is not true, male also suffering by it. It is unavoidable that, genders are discriminated by physical or mental fertility.
Gender refers to socially constructed roles of and relations between man and women, while sex means; the biological characteristics which define humans as female or male.
These biological characteristics are not mutually exclusive and there are individuals who possess both (bi-sexual)
Gender Relation & Gender Norms:-
Gender relation are characterized by unequal power, while gender norms assign:
(1)Specific entitlements to men and women &
(2) Specific responsibilities to them.
Example:- Women might be expected to take on earning or domestic duties and remain close to home.
On the other hand, men may be expected to be the main breadwinner, working outside the home, with great freedom to move around on public places.
Gender issue in wider context:-
–Gender issue is not limited to women concern only, rather it should combine and fully engage men as well as women.
–Gender equality implies that the needs, interest and opportunities of both men and women are to be taken into consideration.
–equality to be men and women are seen both as a human rights issue and as pre-condition for suitable people entered development.
So the full and equal participation of women in political; economic, social and cultural-life, at the national regional and international levels and the eradication of all forms of discrimination on the ground of sex are the demand of the time for building a better human environment.
1. HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
Historians who have addressed the early history of Bengal have not included gender in their analyses of events. However, the names of queens and occasionally of royal sisters do find their way into these accounts but always in relation to male power. For example, there is a story that Queen Vallabhadevi, wife of the Pala King dharmapala, was banished to the forest because she had not produced a son. In the forest, according to one legend, she was impregnated by the ocean and conceived a son, devapala. Although the Palas were Buddhists, they extended their patronage to Brahmanism.
After the Senas came to power in the 12th century, Brahman priests were a fixture of the royal court. While the extent to which Brahmanical injunctions were followed during this period is not known, they included pre-puberty marriage of brides with bridegrooms three times their age. Most family celebrations were associated with fertility: the girl’s first menstruation, pregnancy, birth, tonsure, first rice and naming. Some women, undoubtedly from the highest classes, were literate but these women had little autonomy.
Women had no legal or social status other than that derived from their position in the family, could not inherit, except for the widow who was allowed to ‘use’ her husband’s property if there were no male heir, and had few options to support themselves. While women belonging to the royal court were secluded from view, this was not true of women generally, who did not veil. It is believed that widows were regarded as inauspicious, prohibited from attending ceremonies, and encouraged to immolate themselves on their husbands’ funeral pyres. It is not known how sacraments were supposed to be performed and what was considered ideal behavior. Accounts of how people lived their lives are hardly available. Equally unattainable is information about women’s participation in economic production and the impact of changes in crops and commerce on their lives.
During the first three decades of Muslim rule in Bengal the Hindu caste system was defined and inscribed on society. Without a Hindu ruler to enforce social hierarchy, caste councils became arbiters of custom. Greater attention to caste purity undoubtedly had an effect on women’s lives as carriers of the code. Marriage was the key institution for maintaining purity and would have been subject to greater scrutiny, as would issues of paternity.
In the 16th century, considered a ‘golden age’ of Bengali literature, women become visible as literary subjects. The vishnu cult generated narratives, the ramayana and stories of krishna, and devotional songs, with human love as a metaphor, which featured women as heroines and objects and subjects of desire. The other major genre was the mangalkavya, poems that focused on the worship of goddesses and served to connect local goddesses with the wife of shiva and hence to the dominant tradition. Sri chaitanya initiated both men and women and some historians have seen this as a time when the status of women improved. Women from respectable families took part in kirtan performances, some traveled long distances as pilgrims, and a few women initiated disciples. The Mangalkavya was a powerful force for propagating popular goddess cults as they established Kamala, Ganga, shitala, manasa, Sasthi and other goddesses in the popular imagination. A rich source for historians studying this period, the Mangalkavya also tell us something about women’s lives.
By the late 16th century, Bengal was annexed by the Mughal Empire and administered from Delhi. Under Mughal rule, Bengal experienced an economic boom with rice, cotton and silk in demand on the subcontinent and in international markets. Powerful Hindu chiefs were incorporated into the Mughal system with land grants and other inducements. At the same time, the area under cultivation increased significantly and islam gained adherents.
Far less is known about women in this period than one would expect. Hindu women who worshipped Shiva-Shakti became more involved in ceremonies with the introduction of kali puja and durga puja, but it is difficult to analyse the importance and significance of goddess worship for women. There are some who contend that women are empowered through goddess worship because they identify with the power of the goddess; others have pointed out that goddesses mainly benefit male devotees. Moreover, the dangerous and irrational side of goddesses such as Kali and Shitala can be rationalised to extend control over women.
The Vaisnava cult was equally ambiguous in terms of empowering women. Vishnu cults initiated women, recognising their spiritual equality, but Chaitanya strictly forbade his devotees to look at or talk to women. The emphasis on women’s potential for religious piety seemed, in this case, to be linked to a deep-seated fear and distrust of their sexuality.
The sources agree that Hindus and Muslims followed different customs but also remark on those cases where Muslims observed Hindu customs and Hindus adopted Muslim customs. The Muslim ruling class seldom brought women with them so it seems clear that wives, and certainly female slaves, were acquired from Bengal. Female slaves served in the households but details such as their origins or the roles they played in these families is difficult to ascertain. Tales of abduction and rape of Hindu women abound in historical accounts but are narrated without detail. Violence against women has become, nevertheless, the set explanation for growing rigidity in adherence to customs such as child marriage.
Although there were some Hindu girls who attended pathshalas and literate women known for their erudition, formal education for women was rare. The belief that education for girls contributed to early widowhood seems to have been widespread and, along with the emphasis on early marriage and concern for female chastity, meant females who learned to read did so in the home rather than in schools. The prevalence of child marriage meant that among Hindus there were many child widows and they were required to follow strict rules in terms of dress and diet. It is not known when Hindu women first began practising purda or seclusion, but it was probably in the period between the 16th and 18th century and linked with fear of abduction and greater emphasis on chastity. These customs: child marriage, compulsory widowhood without remarriage, and restrictions on women’s mobility were the hallmark of the Hindu upper castes, and not necessarily followed by the lower castes. The sources say less about Muslim women, but mention customs such as polygamy and seclusion as common. Little is known about education or age of marriage.
British rule brought far-reaching changes in the economic, political, social and religious lives of the people. Early in the 19th century, the ‘woman question’ became central to discussions about Indian civilisation and influential British writers referred to the treatment of women in condemning Indian religions, culture, and society as inferior.
The two major communities, Hindus and Muslims, were differently affected. As Muslims, and many Hindus, withdrew into defensive positions, some members of the Hindu community reacted by examining their own society and proposing reform. From then on, topics such as sati, child marriage, widowhood, polygamy, and prohibitions on education dominated the discussion on women.
Reformers reacted to foreign writers who declared their culture ‘barbaric’, but they were also inspired by Western ideas and concerned with proving Indian traditions were valid and dignified. rammohun roy opposed the custom of sati and argued women’s ‘backwardness’ was a consequence of socialisation. Pundit iswar chandra vidyasagar devoted his life to improving the status of Hindu widows and encouraging remarriage, supporting female education, and opposing polygamy. In 1829, the British outlawed sati and in 1856, the Widow Remarriage Act was passed. However, sati continued, even increased in incidence and the 1856 act had little impact on women’s lives. The British were the foreign overlords and their pronouncements regarding social customs were insufficient to effect far-reaching changes in society.
One of the major topics of discussion among reformers was female education. In his Report on the State of Education in Bengal (1836) William Adam wrote that while Hindus believed education would lead to early widowhood, both Hindus and Muslims were reluctant to educate women because they feared ‘female intrigue’. At the time, female education was largely informal and limited to practical matters. Women from respectable families often studied classical or vernacular literature as ‘a pious recreation’, and girls from propertied families received some education in keeping accounts. It is important to recall that the first autobiography written in Bengali, Amar Jiban (published in 1875), was written by Rashsundari Debi, a housewife who had taught herself to read. Muslim girls were expected to learn the quran and some accounting skills. While the number of women who were literate and capable of handling accounts was undoubtedly higher than the British estimated, it is impossible to arrive at meaningful numbers.
Missionaries began the first girls’ schools in Bengal. The Baptist Mission formed the Female Juvenile Society in 1819 and set up the first girls’ school. In 1821, Miss Mary Anne Cooke came to Calcutta to preside over 30 schools opened by the Church Missionary Society for ‘respectable’ Hindu girls. By 1824 there was a Christian female school in Dhaka but it closed in 1826. Staffed by Brahman pundits, these schools were patronised by Hindu gentlemen but failed to attract girls from the higher castes.
One of the most important schools for girls was the Hindu Balika Vidyalaya opened in 1849 in Calcutta by JE Drinkwater Bethune. Bethune persuaded several prominent families to endorse this experiment and by 1850 the school had 80 pupils. In 1854, the Government declared its intention of supporting female education through grants-in-aid. In that year Bengal had a total of 288 schools for girls. Those who supported female education wanted their daughters to be good companions to their husbands, ‘scientific’ nurturers, and members of civil society.
brahma samaj led the movement for female education and equality between the sexes. Begun early in the 19th century by men who wanted to examine their religious beliefs, by the 1860’s the Samaj sponsored gatherings, religious instruction, and sewing lessons for women. Within a decade Samaj members differed on questions of women’s education and reform. In 1878 it split over questions of ‘female emancipation’ and the progressive branch, the Sadharan Brahma Samaj, established bethune college as an affiliate of Calcutta University. In 1883, kadambini ganguly (1862-1923) and Chandramukhi Basu received their BA’s from Bethune, becoming the first women graduates in the British Empire.
It was late in the 19th century before the Muslim community tackled issues of female education and social reform. The first men who initiated this reform were members of the ashraf who formed the intelligentsia. They were joined by members of the great landed families, inspired by the work of Sayyid Ahmed Khan at Aligarh, and by members of a new middle-class who acquired wealth and position through business and administrative service. Drawing on Urdu literature from North India, Bengali Muslims instructed their daughters to read manuals about ideal female behavior. One of the best known of these was Ashraf Ali Thanawi’s Behesti Zewar published in Urdu in 1905 and in a Bangla translation in 1925. This book was designed to guide the ‘new Muslim woman’ who understood the changing world, assiduously defended and preserved traditions, and willingly accepted dependency and her housebound status.
These manuals for women, written by men, advocated education designed to add honor and dignity to the woman’s family.The Muslim community was also concerned with other issues that were salient among Hindu reformers. One of these was child marriage, a topic commented on by Muslim reformers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But they also focused on issues unique to the community: mahr, the marriage contract, inheritance, polygamy, and female seclusion. Increasingly, the Muslim middle class who espoused these reforms developed a life style not unlike that of reformist Hindus.
nawab faizunnessa choudhurani, the daughter of a prosperous landowner, set up the first girls’ school in Comilla in 1873 but it was not until the 20th century that Muslim girls studied at such schools. In the 1880s the Musalman Suhrd Sammilani, an association of Muslim men who had graduated from dhaka college, advocated systematic home education for women and developed a syllabus, provided textbooks and arranged for examinations to advance this movement. It was roquiah sakhawat hossain (1880-1932) who began the movement to set up schools for the education of Muslim girls. Born into a landed family, Rokeya was educated in secret with her brother’s help. Her husband continued her education, encouraged her to mix with ‘new women’ from other communities, and provided her the money necessary to open a school for girls. The Sakhawat Memorial Girls’ School, established in Calcutta in 1911, was the first for Muslim females in Bengal.
Rokeya was also convinced of the harmful affects of purdah and wrote about it in her essays and the terrifying and funny, Abarodhbasini, published in serial form in 1929. However much she disliked the excesses of veiling, Rokeya observed its rules in her school.
By the beginning of the 20th century, Bengali women were forming their own organisations to promote social reform. saraladevi chaudhurani (1872-1945), a member of the Tagore family, called for a permanent association of Indian women. Her organisation, the Bharat Stri Mahamandal, had its first meeting in Allahabad in l9l0, but soon developed branches in Bankura, Hazaribagh, Medinipur, and Calcutta, as well as other cities in India. One of the organisation’s main concerns was female education and it sponsored teachers who taught reading, writing, music, sewing, and embroidery to women in their homes. In 1916, Rokeya began the Anjuman-i-Khawateen-i-Islam to work among disadvantaged Muslim women. At the same time Saroj Nalini Dutt (1887-1925), founder of the women’s institute movement in Bengal, organised mahila samitis in district towns.
The 1920s and 30s witnessed the beginning of all-India women’s organisations that were joined by Bengali women. The National Council of Women in India and the All-India Women’s Conference both had branches in Bengal and Bengali women served on their national councils and committees
Bengali women’s involvement in nationalist politics began in late 19th century. In 1890, five years after the indian national congress was founded, Swarnakumari Ghosal (1856-1932), a novelist, and Kadambini Basu Ganguly, one of the India’s first female medical doctors, attended as delegates.
In 1905, the British partitioned Bengal Presidency and women joined men in protesting this division by boycotting foreign goods and buying only Swadeshi products. Other women took a vow to devote themselves to the motherland and observed it by every day setting aside a handful of rice for the cause. Still other women gave their support to revolutionary organisations.
When Secretary of State for India Edwin Montagu announced in 1917 the British government’s intention of including more Indians in the governing process, Sarala Devi Choudhurani applied for an appointment for members of Bharat Stri Mahamandal to discuss women’s educational needs. Members of the newly formed Women’s Indian Association in Madras also requested an audience. Officials informed both groups that only deputation on political subjects would be heard. In December, Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949) from Hyderabad led an all-India delegation of prominent women, including Sarala Devi, to meet with Montagu and Chelmsford and request the vote for women. It was Sarojini Naidu and Sarala Devi Choudhurani who secured the support of Congress for women’s franchise. In England, Sarojini Naidu spoke to the Joint Select Committee and said that all Indian women, including orthodox Hindu and Muslim women, wanted the vote. In the end, the House of Commons allowed provincial legislative councils to add women to the list of registered voters. Women’s organisations worked for the removal of sex disqualification and in 1926 propertied women in Bengal won the right to vote. They composed 3.0 % of the total electorate.
Gandhi played a seminal role in bringing women, in Bengal and throughout India, into agitational politics. During the non-cooperation movement, Basanti Devi, Urmila Devi, and Suniti Devi, all members of Congress leader CR Das’ household, took to the streets to support the boycott against British goods and were arrested. Their detention grabbed public attention and Gandhi urged women all over India to follow the example of these brave Bengali women.
The Mahila Rastriya Sangha, begun in 1928 by Latika Ghosh (b 1902), was the first formal organisation to mobilise women in Bengal for political work. That year subhas chandra bose also asked Latika to recruit a company of women volunteers to march with men in the procession to inaugurate the annual Congress meetings in Calcutta. She enlisted 300 women: students from Bethune College and Victoria Institution, and teachers employed by calcutta corporation. The following year Calcutta women formed the Nari Satyagraha Samiti in 1929 in response to the Congress call for women to be ready to serve the nation. During the civil disobedience movement women made and sold salt, picketed cloth and liquor shops, preached the value of khaddar, and joined processions.
Muslims were generally suspicious of Congress at this time. However, on the eve of the Civil Disobedience movement, Hindus and Muslim in Calcutta joined to support the Carters’ strike. On the first day of the strike seven cart-pullers were killed and the next day, Hindus and Muslims mourned together, while women showed their support by throwing flowers from their houses. But solidarity was the exception rather than the rule and riots, generally targeting shops and markets, broke out in a number of cities.
At this time revolutionary organisations were recruiting women, mostly students, to their ranks. There are four revolutionary women whose deeds have been valourised by nationalist historians. Shanti Ghosh (1916-1989) and Suniti Chowdhury (1917-1988), two schoolgirls from Comilla, shot Magistrate Stevens to death on 14 December 1931. In February of the next year, Bina Das (1911-1986) attempted to shoot the Governor of Bengal at the Calcutta University Convocation ceremonies. And, in September, pritilata waddedar (1911-1932), took part in a raid on the Chittagong Club.
In district towns and villages women joined processions, wore khaddar, and hid fleeing revolutionaries. Women from Medinipur, 24-Parganas, Khulna, Bakerganj, Noakhali, and Chittagong broke the salt laws and bravely endured police violence against them. It was in this tumultuous environment that Sarala Devi Choudhurani tried to organise a separate Women’s Congress. Women from all over Bengal met in May 1931 to discuss this issue, but in the end stayed with the Indian National Congress.
By 1932 opposition to the government had decreased in the cities but increased in rural areas and among women. Muslim weavers and individuals trained in Deobandi Madrasas joined the movement at this time. The Communal Award and Poona Pact changed the nature of the debate since it was now clear there would be separate electorates for Muslims and reserved seats for the depressed castes. The Hindu Mahasabha, worried about the electoral future of Hindus, protested this decision and fomented propaganda about Muslim assaults on Hindu women.
It is only in the 20th century that detailed records of women’s work are found. On the one hand, the growth of factories opened the door of employment for women, but on the other, mechanisation replaced avenues women had for earning money. In the jute mills of Bengal women were about 20% of the total workforce, but many of them were not Bengalis. Hindu and Muslim Bengali women were hindered by purdah restrictions and accounted for only 10% of the female jute workers. The decline of female employment in the jute mills, related to increased mechanisation and the imposition of labour legislation, was discernible from 1930. Although their numbers were small, women played a significant role in strikes and labour disturbances, as strike breakers, and as labour leaders.
Other women found work in the unorganised sector where they earned a living as maidservants, coolies, and prostitutes. These unregulated occupations flourished and continued to flourish in the modernising urban sectors. Beginning in the late 19th century, educated women were trained in the new professions open to them: teaching and medicine. In 1884 Kadambini Ganguly became the first woman admitted to CalcuttaMedicalCollege but Bidhumukhi Bose and Virginia Mary Mitter were the first Indian women to graduate, completing their degrees in 1889. CampbellMedicalSchool, offering a vernacular medical degree, opened its doors to women in 1888. Musammat Idennessa, the first Muslim woman to study medicine in Bengal, entered the programme in 1891. She graduated in 1894 and went on to serve as a medical doctor in Mymensingh.
Women were prominent in the quit india movement that began in 1942. When the movement spread to the countryside, large number of peasant women joined men in protesting taxes, land tenure, and landholder’s rights. At the end of September 1942, peasants attacked police stations and destroyed telegraph lines in four sub-divisions of Medinipur district. When people of Tamluk sub-division marched on the town, matangini hazra, a 73-year old widow, stepped forward, lifted the Congress flag, and gave her first public speech. She was shot first in the hand holding the flag and then in the head.
Two Bengali women, Aruna Ganguli Asaf Ali (1909-1996) and Sucheta Mazumdar Kripalani (1908-1974), both domiciled in other parts of the country, became all-India leaders in this movement. In 1942 Aruna Asaf Ali went underground to organise the resistance and hinder the war effort. Sucheta Kripalani also went into hiding in 1942, but she worked to co-ordinate non-violent activity to bring the government to a standstill.
The Bengal Famine of 1943-1944 caused the death of at least 3.5 million people and the impoverishment and dislocation of millions more. Women who previously earned a living by husking paddy or trading in the local market were deprived of their incomes. In addition to food shortages, women faced sexual harassment when they sought employment or help from relief centres. During the famine years, women were visible both as victims and activists. Starving women begged for food in public places, while middle-class women worked to provide relief.
India was at war against Germany and its allies, but had not consented to this war. Subhas Chandra Bose escaped from Calcutta in January 1941 and by 1943 was in Singapore organising the Indian National Army. In addition to building a conventional army, he wanted to organise a unit of women to be called the Rani of Jhansi brigade. Before long he had 1,000 women recruits and among them were a number of Bengali women, ready to fight to death to liberate the motherland.
The tebhaga movement of 1946 fully involved women. Among the young Communists who went to the countryside to organise the peasants were Rani Mitra Dasgupta, Manikuntala Sen, and Renu Chakravartty (1917-1994). Rural women readily joined the movement, at first in subsidiary roles, and then as leaders and fighters. One of the best known of these women was Bimala Maji, a widow from Medinipur district, who became a successful organiser of women.
August 1946 catapulted sectarian politics into a new phase. Hindus and Muslims who had lived side by side now turned on each other with vicious intent. The Calcutta riots were followed by riots in Noakhali, Comilla, and Tipperah
In the period following 1947, an account of Bengali women must be told as two stories as new national identities shaped what they could do as women. [Geraldine Forbes]
Women have some rights recognised by the Bangladesh constitution. Article 15(d), under the heading of Fundamental Principles of State Policy, states that where the state accepts a fundamental responsibility towards raising the standard of living of the people, it specifically undertakes responsibility for providing social security to inter alia, widows. Article 17(a) provided for equal access of boys and girls to free and compulsory education up to the level to be decided by law. Article 18 (2) provides that the state shall take effective measures to prevent prostitution. Equal opportunity for all citizens was ensured by Article 19(1). Sub-section 2 of the same Article required the state to take effective measures to remove socio-economic discrimination.
The Third section of the Bangladesh Constitution contained provisions for fundamental rights. Rights and opportunities for women (or rights relevant to them) are the following:
Article 27: equality of all citizens before law and equal protection under law.
Article 28(1): no discrimination on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.
Article 28(2): equal opportunity for men and women in all spheres of state and public live.
Article 28(3): no discrimination on grounds only of religion race, caste, sex or place of birth in providing access to any place of public entertainment or resort, or admission to any educational institution.
Article 2(91): equal opportunity for all citizens in respect of employment or office in the service of the Republic.
Article 65(3): Women are free to contest election from any constituency. But originally 15 seats were reserved for women; the number has been raised to 30.
These provisions in the constitution are believed to have provided adequate guarantee for women’s rights in Bangladesh. In reality, however, despite the constitutional provisions, women’s rights have little practical application. The government did not take any positive step to rescind the old laws antagonistic to women’s rights.
The Constitution of Bangladesh made provision for reserved seats for women in the context of women’s backwardness and disadvantageous situation. Originally 15 for ten years as per the constitution of 1972, an amendment in 1978 increased this number of women’s reserved seats to 30, and extended the period of reservation to fifteen years. The system was however, interrupted in December 1987. Consequently, there was no provision for reserved women’s seats in the 1988 parliamentary election. But, pressed by the strident demands of some women’s organisations, the system was reinstated through the tenth Amendment in 1990 reserving 30 seats for 10 years from the date of the first meeting of the next parliament. This limit has expired in 2000.
2. GENDER BIAS DEFINED
When examining gender bias, it is important to define and understand the term. Gender is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as “classification of sex.” According to this same source, bias is defined as “preference or inclination that inhibits impartiality; prejudice” (American Heritage Dictionary, 1983). Thus gender bias is separation of gender in a way which prefers one sex over the other.
3. GENDER EQUALITY IN BANGLADESH
Bangladesh is a highly patriarchal society and gender discrimination is present at all community levels. Women are dependent on men throughout their lives, from father through husbands to sons. While there are constitutional affirmations of gender equality, state legislation and institutions frequently overlook the rights of women. For example, women and young girls are more disadvantaged than men in their access to education, health care and financial assets. Traditionally, women were often discouraged from participating in public life and mainly recognised only for their reproductive role. However, due to increased poverty and an increased demand for labour, female employment has risen since the mid 1980’s. Most of the information below concerns the Muslim population, which makes up over 80 percent of the total population. Where information is available for Bangladesh’s Hindu and Christian populations, this is mentioned as well.
Half of all girls between 15 and 19 years of age are currently married, divorced or widowed in Bangladesh (UN, 2004). This is the highest rate of early marriage in Asia and among the highest worldwide. By marrying their daughters young, parents decrease the economic burden on the household. A more encouraging trend, however, is that of increased contraceptive use and declining fertility rates.
Polygamy in Bangladesh has decreased over the past 50 years, particularly in the cities, but still there are over 10 percent of married men in a polygamous union. The practice, however legal, is considered by many to be outdated. This was reflected in a law passed in 2006 in Bangladesh’s fourth-largest city, Rajshahi, which introduced a so-called polygamy tax; any man taking a second wife will be asked to pay a one-time amount of 10 000 takas (142 US dollars). The tax rises to 30 000 takas for a third wife and 40 000 takas for a fourth wife (Islamic Republic News Agency, 2007).
The issue of parental authority is treated differently depending on religion. Women are not regarded as legal guardians under Islamic law, something that may lead to children being taken away by in-laws in the case of a father’s death (in the case of divorce, women can retain custody of sons until age seven and daughters until puberty). Similarly, under Hindu law, fathers are viewed as the natural, legal guardians of children.
Inheritance practices, too, differ between religions. According to Islamic law, daughters inherit half as much as sons and, in the absence of a son, daughters can inherit only as a residuary (i.e. only after all debts and other obligations are settled). A wife is in principle entitled to half of the assets when her husband dies. Under Hindu law, a widow, or all widows in a polygamous marriage, inherits the same share as a son. For Christians, the Succession Act of 1925 provides equal inheritance between sons and daughters.
Female genital mutilation is not practiced in Bangladesh.
Early marriage and dowry customs are major factors in the continuation of domestic violence against women. Laws that have been passed against these practices have proven difficult to enforce, especially in rural areas where traditions and family laws tend to govern social life. A report released by the U.N. Population Fund in 2000, asserted that 47 percent of adult women had reported physical abuse by their male partner. The government, the media, and women’s rights organisations have fostered a growing awareness of the problem of violence against women.
Gender-based violence outside the home includes sexual harassment in the workplace, assaults, rapes and acid attacks. Revenge by a rejected suitor and land disputes are common causes for acid attacks against women. Insufficient shelters for victims of abuse have led the government to hold women who file complaints in safe custody, usually in prison. This custody frequently results in further abuses, hence discouraging the filing of complaints by other women.
The occurrence of missing women (including female infants and children) is widespread in most South Asian countries and Bangladesh is no exception. In fact, Bangladesh is one of the very few countries in the world where males outnumber females. Census data show that over 2.7 million Bangladeshi women were missing in 2001 (Hudson et al, 2005). This is primarily the result of son preference and female sex-selective abortions, or through relative neglect compared to boys in early childhood (including abandonment).
Women can move relatively freely in the vicinity of their home and local neighbourhood. To various degrees – much depending on the traditions of individual families – the Islamic system of purdah may impose some restrictions on women’s participation in activities outside the home, such as education, employment and social activities. To engage in any such activities, a woman generally needs her husband’s permission.
With regards to women’s freedom of dress, it is customary for most Bangladeshi women to cover at least their hair.
Despite women’s growing role in agriculture, there is evidence that social and customary practices virtually exclude women from any hope of direct access to land.
It is often the demographic composition of a woman’s household that determines her qualification for and access to bank loans and other forms of credit. A woman’s lack of mobility, particularly in rural areas, forces her to depend on male relatives for any entrepreneurial activities. While Bangladesh’s NGO’s provide micro-credit to a large number of women, there is a growing concern to whether or not these women actually retain control over their loans.
According to the national law, men and women have equal rights to property, but in practice women have only very limited access to property. Their situation is further impaired by discriminating inheritance laws and Bangladeshi women are not likely to even claim their share of the family property unless it is given to them.
4. GENDER IN LEGAL VIEWPOINT IN SOME RSPECTIVE WITH RECOMMENDATIONS
Laws are many cases gender biased. There is a good amount of legislations in our country concerning women. Crisis of laws and drawbacks also available in law for the women. Our social thinking and concept also discourageous and negative. Some cases women are given more rights than male.
Legal status of women indicates to what extent women enjoy equality in the socio-economic and political spheres of the country. Laws protecting women’s rights provide the essential framework for formal equality to be transformed into reality. They also provide legal protection to women’s rights by critically intervening in health, education and employment sectors to.
The constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh is the ultimate source of the fundamental rights enjoyed by men and women. However, the day to day life of the people is governed by two sets of laws: civil and personal. The civil laws cover the rights of women under the constitution; the personal laws cover the family life.
An analysis of the relevant text of the constitution shows that the guarantees of equal rights between men and women do not extend to the private sector (i.e., the inheritance of parental property and matters concerning the family). In ratifying the UNCEDAW, the government had reservation regarding the provisions related to equal rights within the family. This is a sharp departure from the commitment made by the government to establish gender equality. The civil laws are supposed to maintain non-discrimination between men and women. But some of these laws are openly discriminatory against women. The Citizenship Act of 1951 is an example of such discrimination. This act encroaches upon a woman’s right to enjoy the same legal status as that of a man.
The criminal laws are not based on religious laws. Still these laws fail to maintain non-discrimination between men and women in some cases. Under the existing criminal laws, rape is defined as an act of sexual violence, but proving charges of rape has been made very difficult for a woman as the rules of evidence require that the victim has to medically prove the act as well as her lack of consent. The victim and the accused have been put on the same footing as the law requires that the victim’s testimony must be corroborated.
The constitution guarantees non-discrimination and full application of the existing labor laws in the industrial sector. Women workers hardly get any protection from these laws. Widespread disregard of the existing labour legislation is a rule rather than an exception. Existing practices in industrial workplaces enable the management to bypass its statutory obligations. Preferential recruitment of unmarried women and extending the period of probation of workers beyond the statutory period deprives many female workers of their legitimate/legal rights.
Despite a rapid increase in the number of women workers in the informal sector, their rights are not protected by law.
A wide gap exists between the rights and status of women guaranteed by the Constitution and those imposed on her by social norms and practices reflected in personal laws. The family laws are based on personal laws of the respective religious community into which a person is born. Thus, civil laws and personal laws co-exist perpetuating male-female disparities with regard to marriage, divorce, guardianship, custody of children and inheritance.
Under the Muslim law, marriage is a contract between two individuals and to make it valid the consent of both partners in the presence of two witnesses is essential. With regard to child marriage, the law states that should a girl be married off by her parents during infancy, the marriage must be endorsed or dissolved by the girl on her attaining puberty. In a bid to restraint child marriage, the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 (amended in 1984) raised the minimum age of marriage for both women and men. The 1984 amendment fixed the minimum age at 18 for women and 21 years for men. But widespread contravention’s of this law proves that its enforcement is very weak, and there is hardly any prosecution for any breach of this law. Although, the law provides for punishment in cases of contravention, the act has no provision to make such marriages invalid. Limited polygamy is permitted in Islam where by a man is allowed to marry upto four wives at a time on condition that: (a) the husband has the means to maintain the wives according to their status; and (b) all the wives be given equal share of his love and affection and be treated by him with complete equality. But in the absence of any mechanism to enforce these directives, the senior wives generally become victims of the husband’s cruelty and neglect.
In an attempt to provide protection to these wives, the Family Ordinance 1961 forbids a man to contract a marriage during the subsistence of an existing marriage without the prior permission in writing of the Arbitration Council and the wife/wives. The punishment consists in the immediate payment of the entire dower or mahr (a fixed sum of money agreed to be paid by the husband to the wife). Prompt dower is immediately payable on demand to the wife and deferred dower is payable on dissolution of marriage. The punishment also includes imprisonment upto one year or a fine of Tk 5000.00 or both. However, the ordinance has no provision to make the subsequent marriage illegal. Under the Muslim law, divorce can be attained in any of the following ways: (a) mutual consent of the husband and the wife without court intervention; (b) a judicial decree on request of the wife on one or more grounds specified in the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act 1939 and the Muslim Family Law’s Ordinance 1961; and (c) divorce by the husband at will without assigning any reason.
However, the right of talak (divorce), where a marriage is irrevocably and immediately dissolved by simply pronouncing the intention in front of witnesses, has been modified by the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance, 1961. Under the procedure to be followed, talak does not become effective immediately. A period of 90 days would have to intervene between the date of serving the notice to the Union Parishad chairman (the lowest tier of the local government system in Bangladesh) and the date when the divorce becomes effective.
The right to divorce at will is not enjoyed by a Muslim wife unless her husband confers this right on her in the marriage deed (kabin) registered by the Muslim Marriage Registrar. However, she can obtain a divorce through a court decree, which is an uncertain, lengthy and costly process involving complicated procedure. Despite the legal reforms, gender discrimination still persists in the sphere of marriage and divorce.
Under the Muslim law, the wife inherits a fixed share of one-eighth of the deceased husband’s estate if he leaves behind agnatic descendants. If he does not leave behind any agnatic descendants, then the wife inherits a quarter of the husband’s estate.
A daughter, who is an only child, inherits half the estate of her late father or mother. If there is more than one daughter and no son, then the daughters jointly inherit two-thirds of the estate. However, if there is a son (or sons), then the daughter’s or each of the daughters share will be equal to half of the son’s or half of each of the son’s share. In all cases within the family men inherits more than the women do. Thus, in the area of inheritance also, personal laws continue to remain grossly gender discriminatory.
Under the Muslim law, the mother is never entitled to guardianship of her children. It lies with the father and after him, with his father and brothers. However, the mother is entitled to the care and custody of her sons until they are seven years old and of her daughters till puberty.
The laws, as modified by the Guardian and Wards Act of 1890, states that the welfare of the children is more important than the rights of the parents. A mother may also have her children beyond the specified ages if the court is satisfied that they would not be well looked after by the father. The mother may also apply to the court for guardianship of the children. But it involves expensive and time-consuming litigation over a long period. The father may dispose of the child’s property under certain circumstances, but the mother cannot do so without the prior permission of the court even if she is the appointed guardian of the child. A Muslim mother is entitled to maintenance from her son if he is solvent financially (The Muslim Family Laws Ordinance, 1961).
The existing law requires that every Muslim marriage solemnised must be registered. There has also been an enactment titled ‘Marriage and Divorce Registration Act, 1974. But even a casual observation in the rural areas reveals that a vast majority of the marriages are not registered.
Again, despite the existence of a law to restrain child marriage, the girls are being married off well below the minimum age of 18 years. However, it is difficult to enforce this law due to the absence of the birth registration practice in Bangladesh, particularly in the rural areas. Although, religion has made provisions for dower (an amount payable to the wife), the payment is rarely made. The society has made provisions for dowry (money, jewelry, and luxury items presented by the bride’s guardians at marriage), and it has become a tradition. Non-payment of dowry, more often than not, brings disaster to the lives of many women.
In response to the demands voiced by women’s organisations to amend existing laws or/and enacting new ones to improve women’s legal status, the government from time to time amended existing laws and enacted new ones. These include: (1) The Muslim Personal Law (Shariah) Application Act 1937; (2) The Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act 1939; (3) The Muslim Family Laws Ordinance 1961 (Amended in 1986); (4) The MuslimFamily Laws Rules 1961; (5) The Muslim Marriages and Divorces Registration Act 1974; (6) The Muslim Marriages and Divorces Registration Rules 1975; (7) The Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act 1939; (8) The Family Courts Ordinance 1985; (9) The Family Courts Rules 1985; (10) The Bangladesh Penal Code 1860; (11) The Evidence Act 1872; (12) The Civil Procedure Code 1903; (13) The Criminal Law Amendment Act 1938; (14) The Suppression of Immoral Act 1933; (15) The Dowry Prohibition Act 1980; (16) The Cruelty to Women (Deterrent Punishment) Act 1983; (17) The Woman and Child Oppression (Special Provision) Act 1995; and (18) Maternity Benefits Act 1939.
While the civil laws are applicable to the Hindu community, marriage, divorce, inheritance and guardianship, which relate to the private sphere, are governed by the Hindu Personal Laws. These laws have remained unchanged since 1947 (the year of partition of the subcontinent).
In the Hindu religion, marriage is a sacrament, not a contract. The foremost duty of a Hindu father is to marry her daughters off. The girl’s consent in marriage is not required; nor is divorce possible; and unrestricted polygamy is allowed. The father is always the preferred guardian of his children, while the mother can be the guardian; her rights are inferior to those of the father. Not all daughters of a man are equally eligible to inherit. In order of priority, unmarried daughters and married daughters with sons can inherit. Married daughters beyond child bearing age and widows without sons cannot inherit. The Hindu laws permit adoption, but only of boys.
The laws for the Christian communities in many cases gender biased and controversial to the constitution, and human rights. Right to divorce, right to alimony, Rights to maintenance are largely gender discriminatory. It should be overcome by new legislations and make these effective. There is no personal law for the tribal, Buddhist and some other religious communities’ people in our country. There is a wide demand in this purpose.
To protect women’s rights, to make effective laws relating to women in our country, authority of the state should find out the drawbacks of the legislations and amend them if necessary or new legislations shall enact for the specific issues. Being the member of the society we have to change our traditional negative concept and practice and encourage the women to protect their rights to make successful the laws of women, as well as men to remit gender discrimination.
5. GENDER ISSUE IN SOCIAL CONTEXT
Our human society is male or patriarchy dominated society. Society ruled by the male. Much legislation created to protect women’s rights but these may not successful in all cases because of social effect. Male always get privileges from the society or in religious beliefs or in custom. Basically our society is gender biased. Male also in adverse position in many cases. Our social thinking and practice is gender biased, and it is adverse to the female, they are deprived in many cases, and discouraged. We should change this social norms and patterns.
If one hand in weak of a human body, it becomes weak and less performed body, similarly, If we think total human society is a body and women are half of that body and half part is weak it means total society is weak and if that half part is strong total human society it strong and more active. Development by this society becomes easy and it will be sustainable development. Gender bias and discrimination should avoid. Women are subjected to gender discrimination in both legal and social aspects. In many cases men also subjected to different humiliation by this gender discrimination. We have to establish gender equality and equity in all aspects for the betterment for our society, proper initiative should be taken for this concern.