Cultural Attitudes Towards Women Criminology Essay

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Despite the fact that gender equality is guaranteed in the Bangladeshi constitution and further supported in legislation, women are everyday targets of discrimination, exploitation, and violence in Bangladesh. [1] NGO reports indicate that Bangladesh has one of the highest global rates of violence against women. One reason for this is that the status of women in Bangladesh is dismally inferior to the status of men. This is due to the entrenched patriarchal values that thrive within the community. Such values continue to legitimize unequal rights, discriminatory treatment and violence against women in Bangladesh. [2] As Jahan succinctly states: 'gender inequality, leading to gender violence, is deeply embedded in the Bangladeshi social structure; all Bangladeshi social institutions permit, even encourage the demonstration of unequal power relations between the sexes.' [3] Men hold the power over women, property and resources. Women, on the other hand, are left vulnerable to male domination and exploitation. Ultimately, the basic cause of violence against women in Bangladesh is their subordination compared to men. Violence is a means of reinforcing such subordination. This has led to the belief that men have the right to beat women when they behave "unacceptably." As a result, violence against women, especially at the domestic level, is often ignored ultimately leading to limited intervention or redress when it occurs.

Steps that have been taken to reduce/eradicate VAW

However, initiatives have been taken to promote women's rights in Bangladesh. This includes the adoption of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (DEVAW) and the Convention of the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Article 1 of the DEVAW defines violence against women as 'any act of gender based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether in public or private life.' [4] However, the DEVAW has no binding legal authority and with no means for enforcement, the definition of violence against women is simply a guideline.

Perhaps more important for Bangladesh is the CEDAW. The CEDAW aims to eliminate gender based discrimination. Article 1 defines discrimination against women as 'any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality with men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedom, in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.' [5] 'The definition of discrimination includes gender-based violence.' [6] 

By ratifying the Convention, the Bangladesh Government binds itself to implementing its provisions. However, Bangladesh ratified the convention with reservations on Articles 2, 13.1[a], 16.1[c] and [f] (although it has since withdrawn reservations on Articles 13.1[a] and 16.1[f]). Its reservation reads: "The Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh does not consider as binding upon itself [these] provisions…as they conflict with Shari'a Law based on the Holy Qur'an and Sunna" [7] although why this is so is never specified. It is obvious, therefore, that certain rights are restricted due to Islamic conservatism. Unfortunately, the endurance of violence against women in Bangladesh is one consequence of this. This is especially so since Article 2 is critical to the convention's fulfilment. Article 2 commits states to 'agree to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating discrimination against women.' [8] This includes abolishing customs and laws that are discriminatory. Scholars argue that a reservation on Article 2 is simply a way for Bangladesh to get out of having to introduce or change domestic law that aims eliminate discrimination against women. [9] 

However, it would appear that the government has attempted to introduce new laws that reflect provisions of the Penal Code that protect women from violence. These laws include the following:

The Dowry Prohibition Act 1980 makes dowry practice an offence punishable by fine and imprisonment.

The Prevention of Women and Child Repression Act 2000 deals with various cases of violence against women.

The Family Court Ordinance 1985 deals with marriage, dowry and custody of children.

The Cruelty to Women (Deterrent Punishment) Ordinance 1983 provides the penalty of life imprisonment for kidnapping, abduction, trafficking in women, cruelty because of dowry, and rape.

The Trafficking in Women and Children Act 1993 provides a maximum penalty of three years for forced prostitution.

The Acid Crime Control Act restricts the import and sale of acid in the open market. It also makes the punishment for acid attack offences the death penalty.

To promote the laws, six One Stop Crisis Centres have been established so victims of violence can receive medical, police, and legal assistance.

Bangladesh has also endorsed the Platform for Action (PFA) of the Fourth World Conference of Women held in Beijing without any reservations. Accordingly a National Action Plan (NAP) was drafted which resulted in a National Policy on Women. The policy suggested the following specific actions for the elimination of oppression against women:

• Eradication of all physical, mental and sexual harassment, rape, prostitution of women, dowry, and violence against women;

• Amendment of the existing laws which are repressive to women;

• Stop trafficking of women;

• Ensure participation of women at all levels of police force; and

• Make judicial procedures easy.

Further Steps Needed

The Committee on the Elimination of Violence Against Women has urged that Bangladesh should 'ensure that all forms of violence against women and girls, including domestic violence and all forms of sexual abuse are criminalized, that perpetrators are prosecuted and punished….' [10] Unfortunately, despite the introduction of laws against violence against women (as consistent with the CEDAW), current legislation can be largely ineffectual and barely enforced. This is mainly because violence against women often occurs within the domestic sphere where traditional values prevail (as stated in the introduction). This leaves state institutions reluctant to intervene. [11] To make matters worse, it is well known among the general public that law enforcement often accepts bribes, releases criminals and ignores serious complaints. For example, despite the existence of the Dowry Prohibition Act 1980, demand for dowry has become prevalent in Bangladesh. It has also been observed that in most cases punishments for taking dowry are not executed. The man is rarely even arrested. Begum (1994) found that in ten years, 542 incidents of dowry violence were published in newspapers. 361 of these cases were filed and only in 160 cases was punishment awarded. "Lack of accountability and responsibility of the Police Department can make the whole process of trial useless." [12] What I believe is required is training and awareness programmes for law enforcement personnel on violence against women and human rights as a whole in order to ensure that they understand the consequences of violence against women and can provide adequate gender sensitive support. Furthermore, a female officer should be present during every stage of the investigation and the number of female magistrates, judges, and prosecutors should be increased.

Another concern is the medical system in relation to violence against women. Firstly, the limited number of shelters and One Stop crisis-centres are inadequate. Secondly, there is no mandate or policy on violence in the health service system - the system does not even recognise violence as a health issue. In hospitals, doctors do not determine whether the injury is due to rape as there are no special facilities to provide treatment to rape victims. I believe there is a need to establish a sufficient number of shelters for victims of violence so that they have access to redress, rehabilitation and protection.

Lastly, I also believe that a database needs to be established that provides and collects data on the implementation of the laws and policies in place to deal with violence against women and the impact of such measures.

Conclusion

"Traditional attitudes by which women are regarded as subordinate to men or as having stereotyped roles perpetuate widespread practices involving violence or coercion…such prejudices and practices may justify gender-based violence…." [13] This leads to "[v]iolence against women [being] a deeply entrenched problem in most societies." [14] If Bangladesh ever hopes to diminish violence against women it is necessary to remove any obstacle faced by women in gaining justice.

Firstly, the withdrawal of its reservations to Article 2 and Article 16.1[c] of CEDAW will allow the full implementation of the convention and for the promotion of women`s rights. The Bangladeshi government must also commit to ensuring that offenders are accountable for their actions by fighting against traditional values that promote violence against women, establishing more centres that offer help to victims, and providing training for police and medical personnel.

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