The United Nations adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) on 18 December 1979.
Bangladesh ratified the convention five years later in 1984 with reservations concerning four articles. In 1997 it withdrew its reservations on two of the articles while the reservations on the other two remain. Despite the ratification, even the other articles are not being implemented fully. Former chairperson of the CEDAW committee Salma Khan speaks to Prothom Alo on the issue.
Prothom Alo: Since the ratification of the CEDAW treaty, how far has Bangladesh succeeded in establishing gender parity and in combating violence and discrimination against women?
Salma Khan: It has been 33 years since Bangladesh ratified the CEDAW. Gender parity has not been established, nor has the struggle against violence and discrimination seen great success. It needs the full implementation of CEDAW to bring about gender parity and success for the struggle against violence against women. All discriminatory laws must be abolished and discrimination must be removed in education, wages, health care and so on.
Prothom Alo: What are the main obstacles to preventing violence against women?
Salma Khan: The main obstacle to preventing violence against women is the mindset. Women are looked upon as inferior. Women have been at the head of the government for two and a half decades and many imagine this is a vast empowerment of women. But that is not so. According to the latest survey of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), 80 per cent of the women in this country are abused by their husbands. Other local surveys indicate violence against women has increased further. Young girls are openly harassed on the streets, technology is used to harass them, objectionable pictures are taken with mobile phones and publicised.
ICDDRB ran a survey on men a few years ago, asking them if they though women were subservient to them. And 97 per cent of the men answered ‘yes’. This is enough to show how women are viewed in our society. This must change.
Prothom Alo: What positive progressive has been made in recent times to end violence against women?
Salma Khan: Among the positive steps to end violence against women, many laws have been enacted. Over 15 laws have been drawn up to protect women. Unfortunately, these laws are not being implemented. At present many NGOs and women’s organisations have movements to prevent violence against women. This is positive.
Prothom Alo: What role can youth play to end violence against women?
Salma Khan: The majority of our population comprises youth. Their thoughts, their spirits and their values are filled with love for the country and with belief in equal rights. However, some youth can be misguided and it is imperative that young terrorists do not destroy these values. The youth must be organised and motivated. They must stand up actively for gender parity and fight for equal rights. Youth have always protested against wrongs and now too they must make their voices heard. They must firmly demand an end to violence against women.
Prothom Alo: What else can be done to tackle this increase in violence against women? And who is to do it?
Salma Khan: There are many things to do. Violence against women is nothing normal. It is a crime. It is a crime in the eyes of law. The government has the biggest responsibility to deal with it. All the laws pertaining to violence against women must be implemented. Campaigning for resistance and rejection of violence against women will bring success.
*The Interview is rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir