SAMPLES from Patriarchy: The Prime Enemy of Democracy
Things are going on over there!
Altruism is over-rated. Itâ€™s a hard and mean world where money counts and lack of it plunges you into the pits. Go ahead, become sick when you are down and out of money, and see what happens. Worse still, go to one of those jazzy health centres where the lighted boards are sagging with names of specialists of all kinds, enter one of them and find out that a test which has been recommended as a â€˜mustâ€™ costs the earth and moon put together and you cannot simply afford it, even in your wildest dreams. See how that makes you feel. Worse still, if the test happens to be for your sick child, see what it does to your self-esteem, and you have just plummeted into a widening abyss comprising millions of distressed, disempowered and mentally stressed parents. â€˜I am poor and cannot afford what is essential for my childâ€™ is what most parents in Bangladesh come to perceive as stark reality.
In 1996, Sheema Chowdhury was raped and murdered in police custody. Sheema had gone to Chittagong with her boyfriend where she was picked up by the police officials of the Raozan Police Station. She was placed under â€˜safe custodyâ€™. On September 9, Sheema was gang raped while in custody. The teenager was later murdered in Chittagong jail on February 7, 1997, it has been reported. On the basis of these allegations, her brother, Shahjal Kanti Chowdhury filed a case against Uttam Kumar, Constable Sadek Ali, Abul Bashar and Goura Chandra Karmakar. The case, like plenty of others like it, is still pending, waiting for a verdict. It has been ten years.
Womenâ€™s organizations have long raised concerns about the extent of domestic violence in Bangladesh and the need for intervention in this arena. Finally, a few months ago, the Law Commission presented a draft bill designed to combat domestic violence.
- In this backdrop, this article offers a reading of domestic violence in contemporary Bangladesh, and assesses the possibilities and limits of addressing the problem through legislation.
- Historically, violence against women has constituted a major locus of feminist activism. Violent acts against individual women â€“ Nurjahan, Shima, Yasmin, Simi Banu, Badhon and others â€“ perpetrated in a multiplicity of contexts, galvanized women of differing political and ideological persuasions to unite in demands for legal remedies and intervention. Until recently, however, there has been relatively less focus on the home as a site of violence. In part, this gap can be attributed to the â€˜rawâ€™ nature of public violence: acid attacks, fatwa related â€˜discipliningâ€™ of women, and overt sexual harassment are all dramatic and immediate in their effect on the individual. They demand urgent action. They also mobilize public support because such acts fall outside the accepted order of things, and as such, generate outrage â€˜without ambivalenceâ€™ in the public imagination.
- When it comes to domestic violence, however, feminists face an uphill battle. Dominant ideological constructions of the family as a sacred site, outside the orbit of public scrutiny, contribute to the social silence around violence in the home. Equally important, everyday forms of domestic violence â€“ unless they result in grievous injury or death â€“ are usually tolerated or even expected by society. Such violence is an acceptable feature of the normative order of social relations, of the taken for granted reality of social life. Cultural norms view women as property over which men have entitlements, including the entitlement or even duty to â€˜disciplineâ€™ women when necessary. However, patriarchy does not operate in a vacuum. Patriarchal norms that naturalize domestic violence are not free-standing;
A couple of months back a few of us (all girls) were doing research on womenâ€™s bodily integrity (as a pathway to womenâ€™s empowerment), and as a part of our research we were digging into all possible sources and materials and were talking to people to hear their ideas and opinions. That is when the songs by Hyder Husyn came into our lives and helped us in many ways to understand the perception of â€˜womanâ€™s bodyâ€™ and the severity of the matter. The above-mentioned song not only â€˜objectifiesâ€™ the female body, but also claims â€˜ownershipâ€™ of it, and at the same time expresses suspicion about female sexuality. It embodies all the concepts that we were dealing with in that research: social perceptions of womanâ€™s bodies in terms of beauty, dress, behaviour, modesty, shame, honour, sexuality, control, etc in the context of Bangladesh. Thank you, Hyder Husyn, for composing a song that can be used as a perfect example of how female bodies are stereotypically perceived by the males of this land.
In Bangladesh, patriarchal gender relations that place men in economically and socially higher positions generate and perpetuate further gender inequalities, and are ascribed within the social, cultural, historical, economic and religious context of society. This has seen the absence of women and their interests within institutions and contexts that shape their well-being and future. Of these, political institutions at national, regional and local levels are one of the most important, as they have long been areas where womenâ€™s participation and utilization of power is weak, or merely cosmetic. The last three decades have recorded the slow, but definite increase in womenâ€™s overall participation in public life, and more specifically in the political sphere. Traditional gender roles have changed in light of urban womenâ€™s involvement in the globalised capital economy; the opening up of rural womenâ€™s activity spaces and the vocalization of a womenâ€™s movement within the political and developmental sphere.
When I arrived in Bangladesh three months ago my first introduction to political life in this country was to witness first-hand a garment workersâ€™ uprising. I watched workers from a garment factory in Mirpur pour out into the street to protest their poor working conditions, low wages, unstable employment, harassment, and lack of benefits, to name just a few of their grievances. And over the last three months the workers have continued to air their grievances by protesting in the streets, setting garment factories on fire, and destroying merchandise. To state the obvious: most of the garment workers are women. Who is to blame for their working conditions and poor treatment? Certainly local factory owners and managers play a role. But I think it is very important to place the relatively local politics of the exploitation of garment workers in the larger context of global capitalism if we want to fully explain who is to blame.
One cannot find â€˜womenâ€™ as a singular category in any country or community. Women belong to different classes, races, skin colours, castes, religions, geographical locations, tribes, etc. In the context of â€˜workâ€™ it is even harder to find any particular uniform group of â€˜working womenâ€™. This is mainly because over the years, due to womenâ€™s movements, womenâ€™s development interventions and the so-called â€˜globalisationâ€™, the entire nature of and discourse on â€˜workâ€™ have been transformed. Now it is time to look critically at both â€˜womenâ€™ as well as â€˜workâ€™. Whether we realise it or not, the new womenâ€™s movement will be primarily on the issues of working women, as the task of womenâ€™s movement to reclaim the positive transformative legacies of all toiling and marginal classes and communities. To remain focussed on our task we may be taking the risk of being simplistic for the sake of brevity, saying that what in the name of empowering â€˜womenâ€™ has been emphasised both in the dominant mainstream womenâ€™s discourse and the feminism of the white elite bourgeois women of imperial countries is actually disempowering women of the working class. Nevertheless, despite historical and class limitations, feminism of elite women has also influenced the women of peripheral societies such as Bangladesh.
While writing his â€˜Subjection of Womenâ€™, one of the most famous treatises ever written advocating democracy for women, John Stuart Mill observed happily in 1869 that the â€˜actual treatmentâ€™ of women by men was better than the â€˜legal positionâ€™ of the women in the English society of the day. â€˜â€¦because men in general do not inflict, nor women suffer, all the misery which could be inflicted and suffered if the full power of tyranny with which man is legally invested were acted onâ€¦â€™.