Violence in Bangladesh over new equality law

April 4, 2011 § 2 Comments

Photo EPA: Protests in Bangladesh

Riots have broken out today in Bangladesh over a new law  which would give women equal property rights as men. The country, although it has a secular legal system most the time, bows to Sharia law in issues relating to inheritance, and therefore a woman only inherits half as much as her brother.

Under the National Women Development Policy, she would inherit equally.

More than 100 protestors have been taken into custody today according to police, but there is worryingly a high level of support for challenging a law like this. The Islamic Law Implementation Committee for example (not surprisingly, I suppose) saying that the protests had the support of the “people” and that they go against the Koran. In a country where 90% of the population are Muslim, a claim like that carries great power.

Women in Bangladesh are an important part of the workforce, with many working as they do in export trades such as making garments. But, women are still part of an overwhelmingly patriarchal society, being judged by their family life, and their opportunities in the country tend to be markedly fewer. For example, there is a higher dropout rate from school for girls than boys, and younger children face a higher mortality rate if they are girls. Trafficking is a huge problem in Bangladesh, including kidnapping into Burma, as is domestic violence which can often pass under the averted eyes of the community.

The return of prime minister Sheik Hasina Wazed to the government in 2008 has been another positive role model for women in the country, and as a member of the Council of World Women leaders she has put rights for women high on the priority list. Nonetheless she has been locked in conflict with extremists in the country throughout her political career, and has withstood assassination attempts on her own life and the murder of many of her colleagues.

It goes without saying that this blog supports these new laws and wishes safety to those pushing them through. Until women can secure economic independence they will always be viewed as second class citizens in a country. This is another step towards independence for women in Bangladesh. I hope the government holds fast in its commitment to give women greater rights in education, employment and inheritance.

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We’ve all heard about one Burmese woman. But what about the rest?

November 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

Aung San Suu Kyi

 

The most famous woman in Burma is, of course, Aung San Suu Kyi. In this crucial time of Burmese “elections”  (beearing in mind the elections have been widely condemned as neither free nor fair), she is once again in the headlines as the spotlight turns to the troubled country.

The record of what she has achieved remains incredible. In Burma, women are denied places of importance by the junta. In the government and civil service, the state favours men – specifically those with military experience – and fewer women get the opportunity to gain qualifications, thus pushing these roles even further away from them.

The exiled Women’s League of Burma – an umbrella organization bringing together 12 women’s groups –  and the Nobel Women’s Initiatives brought court initiatives in New York against the state in March this year. The government was consequently found guilty of grave crimes against humanity. As ever, the military government has gone it’s own way and ignored all international condemnation.

An increasing number of women are starting to take action. There are nearly 190 female activists among the estimated 2,200 political prisoners in Burmese jails.

In a nation with a strong tradition of family, with limited resources due to the country’s flailing economy, sons are increasingly favoured over daughters in terms of expensive food, forced to clsoe, fewer young women are qualified to apply for higher career roles – and those with jobs are unlikely to make any complaint against harassment or problems at work due to fear of losing much needed employment. Often raped by soldiers, women (frequently widowed after years of civil war) can be forced to work for free for the junta as porters or labourers.

Very few women in Burma have access to sex education concerning and an increasing number of women and girls are entering Thailand in search of work in order to support their families. Many end up in brothels under conditions that put them at high risk of contracting HIV – some estimates place as many as 40,000 Burmese women in brothels in Thailand.

It’s only right that so much attention is focusing on Ms Suu Kyi. But it would be incorrect for the world to labour under a misapprehension that because one woman has successfully climbed so high up the ladder in the country’s politics, that there is a great deal of opportunity for other women. Aside from the obvious that the whole country is under the control of a military junta with flagrant disregard for it’s people, woman suffer more than many others. According to a report from Images Asia, “with the abrogation of most human rights under the preceding military regime, which had shown little respect for the human dignity of the Burmese people, it is highly likely that women’s human rights abuses continue to occur.”

As we give time to think of Aung Sun Suu Kai in these crucial days, let’s make sure we stop and think about the other, nameless women suffering in that country too.

Burmese women transplanting rice

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