Women living in the slums in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital of 15 million people, face a higher risk of domestic violence than women in other parts of the country, say researchers.
Nationwide, recordkeeping and data collection on the extent and types of violence against women are still scarce, according to an expert panel in 2011 monitoring the country’s progress on eliminating violence against women. But the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Rashida Manjoo, found ample evidence in a recent visit to Bangladesh that “discrimination and violence against women continues in law and practice”.
The situation is even worse in the capital’s sprawling slums, Ruchira Tabassum Naved, a researcher with the Centre for Equity and Health Systems at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b), told IRIN.
In a 2012 survey of almost 4,500 women and some 1,600 men living in 19 of the capital’s slums, conducted by icddr,b and the international NGO Population Council, 85 percent of the women reported their husbands restricted their access to healthcare, while 21 percent reported being physically abused by their husbands during pregnancy. Nearly one out of four women reported suffering injuries from spouse-inflicted violence in the year before the survey was conducted.
“Our studies suggest that education, household wealth, attitudes regarding gender and violence against women are important factors associated with this violence. Unfortunately, the slum population has lower education and wealth and higher violence, [as well as]… traditional [attitudes] about gender [that condone violence],” Naved, a co-researcher for the report, told IRIN.
Researchers estimate 3.4 million people live in Dhaka’s 5,000 slum areas. Nationally, an estimated seven million people live in informal settlements, according to the Centre for Urban Studies, a local research group.
Economics of violence
Shamsun Nahar, 20, thought when she married Abdus Salam, 25, a rickshaw puller, her suffering would end.
Coming from one of the country’s poorest districts, Bhola District in the southwest, she had long struggled with poverty. She stopped going school after grade eight when the family could no longer support her and her sisters’ expenses.
But in her husband’s house, in a slum in a sub-district of Dhaka, Mirpur, some 100km north of her childhood home, she faced something worse than just poverty: Her husband beat her almost daily, mostly over how she carried out housework.
In 2012, with the help of a local NGO, she left him and moved to a neighbouring slum. She now works in a garment factory where she earns US$55 monthly on average. Though she knows the notorious reputation of Bangladesh’s garment industry, including the long hours and building safety concerns, she said this risk feels safer than her previous life.
“I thought I would never escape the torture. I could not go to my parents’ house as they were not able to bear my expenses and I could no [longer] endure,” she said.
Ishrat Shamim, president of the local research NGO Centre for Women and Children Studies, said poverty increases a woman’s vulnerability to violence.
“I am not saying that domestic violence does not take place among the high income group. But when a woman has a source of income, she can protest undue treatment from her husband… In many cases a wife does not complain as she fears she will lose her shelter,” Ishrat said.
Legislation reformed, but few changes
Though adopted in 2010, the “Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act” remains unenforced, mainly due to lack of awareness and women’s fear of reporting, said Ishrat.
“There should be adequate shelter facilities so that women get shelter after complaining about their husbands,” she added.
State Minister for Women and Children’s Affairs Meher Afroz Chumki, speaking earlier this week at a workshop on preventing child marriage, said the government is working to end gender violence and to implement laws related to women’s protection.
The country adopted in 1997 a national policy for the advancement of women, aimed at eradicating gender disparities. The country’s “Vision 2021” programme aims to “revive” the 1997 policy. In 2009, the government established the National Council for Women and Child Development, headed by the prime minister, and “gender-responsive budgeting” for 2009-2011 in 10 of the country’s 40 ministries.
In addition to the 2010 law on domestic violence, sections of the following laws mention women’s protection: the Bangladesh Labour Act (2006); the Representation of People’s (Amendment) Ordinance (2008); the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (2009); the Right to Information Act (2009); and the National Human Rights Act (2009).
But these legislative reforms are still largely unhelpful for women, noted UN Special Rapporteur Manjoo, reflecting on her recent visit: “The absence of effective implementation of existing laws was the rule rather than the exception in cases of violence against women.”
Manjoo has called on Dhaka to take more steps to comply with the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which the country ratified in 1984.