The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a double blow to women in Bangladesh and many other nations, as it makes them even more vulnerable to domestic violence.
Nearly one in three women have been abused in their lifetime globally. In times of crises, the numbers rise, as seen during the COVID-19 pandemic and recent humanitarian crises, conflicts, and climate disasters, said the UN and Bangladeshi rights activists on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Nov. 25.
According to the Dhaka city corporation’s data, the incidents of domestic violence and divorce rose during the pandemic by 29.78% in 2020. The data shows that in the last seven years, the divorce applications rate has increased by a massive 34%.
Furthermore, about 70% of divorce applications come from women, mostly educated and employed. Gender-based violence is among the major causes behind the rising divorce incidents.
- Long history of torture against women
Tania Haque, a Dhaka University professor in the Department of Women and Gender Studies, told Anadolu Agency that there is a long history of torture against women in Bangladesh.
“In academic explanation, women become more vulnerable and victims in comparison to men in any pandemic, war or any other disasters. We have also found quite a similar situation when we look into the incidents of domestic violence during the pandemic period.”
However, there wasn’t a better situation for women before the pandemic anyway, she said, adding the country’s informal sector remained dangerous for women despite the fact that more and more women are joining the labor market.
“To say women are in the forefront appealing for divorce is another motive to stigmatize divorced women and tag their decision or choice negatively. Divorce in many cases has become the women's agency to protest and disagree.
“But, in general, divorce has a negative impact on children and we should not overlook it. Therefore, we have to concentrate on an academic study to understand the divorce scenario better, certainly in cities, including capital Dhaka,” she underlined.
- Economic condition and domestic violence
Md. Nur Khan, Secretary-General of Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), a legal aid and rights organization in Bangladesh, told Anadolu Agency that job losses and poor business conditions are the leading causes behind domestic violence.
“We have seen people in hundreds leaving the capital Dhaka during the COVID-19 pandemic. And the sudden economic hurdles caused disorder among families which directly affected the female members.”
The International Labor Organization this month predicted 5.0 million job losses in Bangladesh due to the pandemic and a significant number of them are women.
Meanwhile, one-third of young women got unemployed during the pandemic in January 2021, according to the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD).
“The number of divorce applications from women is growing because women are now more vocal against violence due to empowerment and education,” Khan continued.
“The rising divorce rate is not a good sign for a society but we also have to accept it and don’t treat it as a taboo as law, and religion give women the right to disagree, divorce,” he added.
- Experts for prompt legal proceedings
Legal experts and academics underlined the need for immediate implementation of legal proceedings and prompt punishment in cases of violence.
More than 3.5 million cases are pending in Bangladesh, and 10% of them have been in progress for more than 10 years, says BRAC, a non-governmental organization.
The data BRAC Human Rights and Legal Aid Services shared with Anadolu Agency read that some 30,842 incidents of violence against women were reported to BRAC’s legal aid clinics from January to September in 2019.
Even with restricted mobility caused by the lockdown, limited operating hours and services, 25,607 cases of violence against women were filed at BRAC’s legal aid clinics from January to September this year.
- Gov’t. claims providing prompt support
Bangladesh has the Prevention of Oppression against Women and Children Act 2000 as well as the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act of 2010 with provisions against domestic violence and ensuring legal support to women.
A.K.M Shameem Akhter, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, said: “Family violence and violence against women have increased during the pandemic across the globe. But the data and observations of different organizations do not represent the whole country's situation as they assess limited data.”
“The government has a prompt response mechanism. We have 13 one-stop centers across the country, and a hotline number (109) attached with police. We provide support to 400-500 women on a daily basis on violence-related issues.
“We have 67 crisis centers across the country to provide immediate support. We also provide mental healthcare support to women. Furthermore, the government amended the DNA test relevant law to support victims,” the official mentioned.
“But mass awareness is an effective tool to eliminate violence against women,” he added.