How does society's view on women impact domestic abuse in marriages in Bangladesh? | Teen Ink

How does society's view on women impact domestic abuse in marriages in Bangladesh?

October 22, 2020
By psengupta BRONZE, Hicksville, New York
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psengupta BRONZE, Hicksville, New York
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Author's note:

Hello, my name is Purnima. Currently, I am a junior at Hicksville High School. I am very passionate about women's rights and education. 

Today, women are living in a patriarchal society with the notion of a subordinate. To go against this, women everywhere are finding new ways of becoming an active participant in our society, such as having an education or joining the workforce. However, the domestic roles of women, such as being a wife or mother have hindered them from many advancing opportunities in society. In Story of an Hour, the story expresses the loss of freedom and oppressive nature a woman feels when she becomes a wife (Chopin). This feeling of loss portrays many women who face domestic violence. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, domestic violence is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in a relationship (“Abuse Defined” 1). This definition suggests that domestic violence is a complex phenomenon that is socially significant around the world. Even though it’s a global issue, domestic violence is more likely to happen in third-world places such as Bangladesh. According to the United Nations Women, about 54% of married Bangladeshi (Bengali) women experience domestic violence by their husbands (“Global Database on Violence against Women” 1). With more than half of the women population, these statistics are disturbing. Bangladesh needs to recognize that violence against women not only causes personal harm but can also lead to the deterioration of Bangladesh's future. Domestic violence in Bangladesh is prevalent maltreatment against women that is often rooted in a lack of social and economic representation

It is important to understand the underlying reasons why Bangladeshi women are victims of domestic violence. Social concepts like the purdah have made it possible for society to constrict women into such strict norms. According to Tazeen Murshid, a professor from the University of North London, said that purdah is a social concept that reduces females' mobility and participation in national life, as in employment and education (Murshid 404). The purdah has led to women being solely dependent on their husbands. Laila Ashrafun and Minna Saavala are professors from the department of social research at the University of Helsinki. They explain that this dependability can lead to wives presenting themselves as "helpless victims'' (Ashrafun and Saavala 194). By being "helpless victims'', women are likely to engage in undervalued work such as cooking, cleaning, and producing children (Murshid 406). By women engaging in this type of work, wives, in this case, start to possess the qualities the purdah achieves. According to Anwarullah Chowdhury, a professor of sociology at the University of Dhaka, stated that the social constraints a woman faces lead to her becoming obedient, patient, and enduring (Chowdhury 38). These types of qualities can eventually lead to many women being victims of domestic violence. Lisa Bates and her team are consultants at the Empowerment of Women Research Program, they said that Bangladeshi women are unlikely to deny domestic violence, because such violence is common and, for the most part, socially accepted (Bates 196). Due to the socially accepted behavior of domestic violence, the purdah is one of the biggest underlying reasons why so many women are taught not to engage herself in society and should be solely dependent on her husband. 

For a woman, the purdah is a restrictive concept that makes her a target for discrimination. In Bangladesh, women are discriminated against before they are even born. Bangladesh is a country that revolves around a culture of having a preference for having a son,  which results in severe discrimination against daughters. According to a fertility survey conducted by the Ministry of Health in Bangladesh, amongst married women, 62% wanted a son and 8% wanted a daughter (“Government of Bangladesh” 1). Although this survey was conducted in 1978, it still shows relevance to the ongoing issue of discrimination against females. A.M Sultana is a social science professor from the University Pendidikan Sultan Idris, she said that society reacts very differently depending on what gender the baby is. When a son is born, he is greeted as the earning member and is expected to take care of his parents when they get old (Sultana 32). On the other hand, Chowdhury supports Sultana’s claim by explaining that a daughter is constantly reminded by society and family that she is a liability (Chowdhury 38). According to a comprehensive study called, Diverging Stories of “Missing Women” in South Asia: Is Son Preference Weakening in Bangladesh, a young female is considered as a liability because it causes a financial strain to her father (Kabeer 142). This type of strain can have consequences for a daughter because that requires her to be married at a young age. Once a daughter is married, the father can leave the responsibility of controlling her to her husband (Chowdhury 39). According to Rifat Akhter and Janet Wilson, sociology professors from the University of Central Arkansas, being young and vulnerable makes a female more likely to be abused by her husband (Akhter and Wilson 28). This shows that even before a child is born, Bangladesh’s society seems to have this preconceived notion on how to dictate a child’s life based on gender. Sadly, this issue can leave a young female defenseless from the cruel treatment of her husband, family, and society.

Social norms aren’t the only factors that make a woman vulnerable to domestic violence. A woman's economic status plays a significant role in determining how likely she is to become a victim of domestic violence. When a woman who has an education and stable income becomes less vulnerable to domestic violence, emphasizing that an income gives a Bengali woman more liberty and power to voice her opinion in the family’s household(Bates 195). Although true in some cases, recent research led by Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist from the Center for Health and Well-Being at Princeton University, he thinks otherwise. He stated that even if people have a stable income, they don’t necessarily become happy (Kahneman and Deaton 16489). Moreover, Fiona Samuels and her team, social development programmers at the Overseas Development Institute, agree with Kahnem’s statement. They state that women who participate in the workforce can be seen as undermining her husband’s authority, which can lead to serious consequences (Samuels 111). Furthermore, Akhter and Wilson discuss these consequences by explaining that the husband may feel the need to display his superiority by abusing his wife (Akhter and Wilson 29). This shows the complex situation of how a woman's economic status in Bangladesh can either save her from abuse or be abused by her partner.

 It is significant to find out why Bengali women are victims of domestic violence, but it is also important to find out why their husbands perpetuate such horrendous acts of abuse to their wives. Bengali men often use violence to enforce their dominance due to conservative gender norms such as the purdah. Men see that women who gain more freedom are showing social deterioration and a deviation from established concepts like the purdah (Chowdhury 38). According to Sidney Schuler and her team, a social and behavioral health scientist from FHI 360, they state that Bengali men blame TV dramas and phones as the reason why women are being defiant against them and purdah (Schuler 120). To further explain the distress these men feel, Schuler and her team have interviewed a few men about the issue of women empowerment. One man from the interview said this about the purdah, “Women now consider themselves like men... Their transformation has turned things worse. Women from every home, even my aunt and sister, go to the market leaving men behind at home. Men do not have the honor they had in the past (Schuler et. al 120).” This personal account is one of the many reasons why Bengali men use violence against their wives. Even when gender norms are changing in this world, men like the one from the interview still get away with being abusive with his wife in Bangladesh because violence against women in the family isn’t considered as a violation of women’s dignity (Sultana 31). To this day, many Bengali men are still stuck with the notion of following the purdah as a way of life that can do much more harm than good for their wives and society. 

There is no single solution that can help combat domestic violence in Bangladesh. One of the most common solutions in the US would be filing for a divorce. In the US, along with other first-world countries divorce would have been one of the easiest ways to avoid domestic violence, but in Bangladesh and other third-world countries, it is one of the hardest solutions to consider for a woman. Some of the difficulties they face in getting access to legal services without being accompanied by a male. Also, to process the divorce where domestic violence is present, the decision is based on the leaders of the husband’s village. Due to the biased vote, the husband always wins and the divorce is rejected (Samuels 113). These difficulties that Bangladesh's laws put women in create an unfair situation which makes divorce a poor solution. 

Another possible solution would be taking legal action against the husband such as a restraining order, and files for arrest. The benefits of taking legal action would have been able to bring justice to the wife who had to deal with such abuse in the US, but not in Bangladesh. Under Bangladesh’s law, domestic violence is not considered a criminal offense and they are considered as “family quarrels” (Murshid 405). When taken to the family court, women are treated unfairly since the court mostly practices shariah law (Murshid 406). This implies that Bengali men would not be held against the law if he has abused his wife. 

Divorce and legal action may be one of the fastest ways to avoid domestic violence, but it does not benefit the women in Bangladesh's society. Bangladesh has a high dropout rate among young women going to school. According to UN Women, about 46% of young women drop out of school before entering secondary school (“Education for Adolescents”). This percentage is extremely shocking to see because these limitations can set many women to grow up in a very oppressed society. By implementing the importance of women’s education in Bangladesh will not only help women gain empowerment, but also improve Bangladesh's future as a third-world country. Women’s education gives them more empowerment, which can lead to a more economic contribution to the household and gives them more power to make decisions on their behalf (Samuels 110). With this newfound empowerment, Bengali women wouldn’t have to depend on their husbands so much and can be an active participant in Bangladesh's society. Educating Bengali women may be the best solution, but there are some limitations to consider. This solution is not a quick process, it will take time for men and women to accept this change from the usual patriarchal norms. Also, educated women would be often seen as a threat to the traditional male authority (Sultana 35). Sadly, it can lead to more excuses for the husband to beat up his wife. Even with these limitations involved, I believe that educating and empowering Bengali women is the right path toward a safer world for women and a benefit for the country of Bangladesh as a whole.

All around the world, domestic violence is a phenomenon that mostly targets women. However, it is important to bring up certain countries like Bangladesh when it comes to domestic violence against women. Bangladesh is a prime example of how countries set up women to a life filled with oppression, discrimination, and abuse. Moreover, popular societal norms like the purdah are still deeply rooted in Bangladesh’s society, which makes it much harder for women to ever gain standing in society. Bangladesh must learn to educate their women and society, to remove this social stigma against women. If this social stigma continues to persist, countries like Bangladesh will continually disappoint their women and women throughout the world. 

The author's comments:




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