Khandaker Farzana Rahman is a Lecturer at the Department of Criminology, University of Dhaka. Her research interest includes terrorism and counter terrorism, gender empowerment, crime and criminal justice. She is one of the trainer consultants in ALDI (a leading global discount supermarket chain) Factory Advancement Project. Law & Our Rights talks to her on the following issues concerning women's rights and gender equality.
Law Desk (LD): In Bangladesh, a large number of women is facing sexual harassment and domestic violence. What are the reasons behind such violence and harassment?
Khandaker Farzana Rahman (KFR): From a working woman's perspective, this crisis is all about the conflict over exercising power between a woman and her husband or in-laws. Power structure or power hierarchy basically works as an overall system of influence within a particular group. Now if you could just substitute 'the group' with 'a family', marital crisis is bound to arise because of any instance of conflict or divergence within it.
Think about a working woman who goes to her respective place of work and interacts with different people. She becomes economically solvent; or let me use the word 'empowered'. Eventually, she tries to participate in the decision-making of her family. She considers this as one of her rights. That's the starting point for the conflict within the system to arise. A husband and a woman's in-laws believe that making decisions doesn't come within the ambit of a woman's responsibilities. Traditionally the area of that ambit has been determined by the society. A husband's decisions are always thought to prevail over that of his female counterpart. A little change in the well-established structure gives birth to frustration in men and hence the violence.
LD: Talking about the domestic violence, what about those who are in an inferior position in terms of education and financial solvency?
KFR: When it comes to the rural families, women are more likely to be tortured because they are not always educated or economically empowered. And when they are not as such, they don't have the ability or don't even feel the urge to raise their voices against domestic violence or harassment. Somehow, the helplessness of these women feed the ghosts of patriarchy.
LD: Speaking of patriarchy, critiques are arguing that the preoccupied mindset of patriarchy has been reflected in our primary text books. What do you think about it?
KFR: Before the textbook issue, let's just take one step backward. In our country, almost all the parents buy their sons wheeled toys, guitars and toy guns. For girls, they prefer buying dolls, kitchen utensils or apparels. Apparently this doesn't seem to be an example of gender stereotyping. But in fact, it truly is one. The children, thus, from the very beginning of their lives, learn to search for an identity based on their sexes. Now coming back to the text book issue, it has become a politically controversial one. Textbooks in which the patriarchal mindset of the society gets reflected does the same thing to a child that gender bias toys do to them. The text can seriously hamper a child's psychological growth. As a result, a child grows up with a gender-specific identity and not with that of a 'human being'.
LD: Recently we observed that women are getting engaged in terrorist activities. Do you find any nexus between the vulnerability of women and their engagement in terrorist activities?
KFR: When we study the role of women in terrorism, we get to learn things which are simultaneously interesting and terrifying. Terrorists are basically puppets in the hands of a handful of people. The people, who are behind the show, consider women to be extremely beneficial to successful terrorist operations. An incident gets utmost media attention when a woman is involved therein. Thus a female terrorist can be the most powerful catalyst for disseminating terror. Once the men in the family get brainwashed, they successfully try to get the vulnerable and uneducated women within the vicious orb as well.
LD: In the wave of emerging terrorism, how would you define the role of women to combat terrorism?
KFR: Mothers are strategically the first to deal with their children's fear, frustration and anger. I think a mother can understand the potential threats and address this issue through de-radicalisation techniques within the family. However, this is not possible only by herself. Other social institutions need to stand strong with her. Unfortunately, in developing innumerable popular misconceptions too, a mother plays a role, a vital one. Ignorance, together with carelessness of the mothers, encourages terrorism.
LD: The theme of this year's International Women's Day is 'Be Bold For Change'. What would be your suggestion to materialise this theme in the context of Bangladesh?
KFR: This is high time a change came. And it's not the time to wait for a miracle to happen. Rather the women, themselves need to be the changemakers. The development index, among other factors, helps us get our hopes up. Sectors for the working women are increasing day by day.
Society, because of its inherent patriarchy, surprisingly still tries to make us think that certain jobs are not for the women to participate in. A woman is thought to be best suited for the job of a teacher or a doctor. More surprisingly, a doctor is considered more likely to be a gynecologist. The women and none else can break these stereotypes. Only they can prove these established norms to be wrong and futile. Let them be bold and let them make the decisions. A change is bound to come.
LD: Thank you very much.
KFR: You're welcome.
LAWS TOUCHING THE LIVES OF WOMEN
Marriage and Family, and Violence against Women
- The Child Marriage Restraint Act 2017
- The Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act 1939
- The Muslim Family Laws Ordinance 1961
- The Muslim Marriages and Divorces (Registration) Act 1974
- The Domestic Violence (Prevention and Safety) Act 2010
- The Dowry Prohibition Act 1980
- The Hindu Marriage Registration Act 2012
- The Hindu Women's Re-marriage Act 1856
- The Hindu Married Women's Right to Separate Residence and Maintenance Act 1946
- The Christian Marriage Act 1872
- The Divorce Act 1869
- The Special Marriage Act 1872
- The Maintenance to Parents Act 2013
- The Acid Control Act 2002
- The Acid Violence Prevention Act 2002
- The Suppression of Oppression against Women and Children Act 2000
- The Evidence Act 1872
- The Code of Criminal Procedure 1898
Preventing Commercialisation of Women
- The Human Trafficking (Prevention and Protection) Act 2012
- The Pornography Control Act 2012
- The Overseas Employment and Migrants Act 2013
- The Labour Act 2006
Women's Right to Property
- The Married Women's Property Act 1874
- The Hindu Women's Rights to Property Act 1937