Battling violence against women in the chars: stories from the field (part 2)
Organised by UN Women, the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence, continues until the 10th December (Human Rights Day). Last week we told the story of Nabeera who had been subject to beatings from her parents-in-law. The village development committee (VDC), formed and trained by CLP, had encouragingly stepped in to protect Nabeera and her daughter.
Early on in life, Aklima* (not her real name) was a victim of a particularly pervasive manifestation of violence against women (VAW) and girls in Bangladesh: child marriage. She was married to Rahim* (not his real name) when she was only 14 and her parents had to pay 7,000 Taka (about 60 GBP) as dowry.
Research has shown that girls who marry early are more likely to experience violence from their partner or partner’s family than females who marry later. In Bangladesh, this violence manifests itself most frequently as psychological violence. Shockingly, in a 2011 VAW survey conducted nationwide, 81.6% of female respondents reported having been subjected to psychological violence by their current husband, while 64.6% reported they had been subjected to physical violence, 53.2% to economic violence and 36.5% to sexual violence. Economic violence was defined in the survey as a husband’s refusal to give enough money for household expenses or pocket money, taking a dowry (money/property) as a condition of the marriage, or pressuring to get money from the wife’s parents after marriage. Demanding/taking of dowry was probably under-reported in this survey due to it being officially illegal (but still largely practiced).
Aklima was a victim of psychological, economic and physical abuse. She only became aware of her husband’s dark character shortly after marrying him. Rahim was not interested in working for a living to support his family; he instead preferred to gamble. Whilst Rahim became more and more indebted, the family circumstances changed: Aklima gave birth to a boy. Faced with more debt, Rahim began to physically abuse Aklima because he wasn’t receiving sufficient dowry from her parents.
Aklima by this time had taken it upon herself to work on other people’s land in order to support the family. She was however unable to hide the money she earned. Rahim frequently took the money for his gambling habit.
Aklima suffered physical abuse for many years and began having suicidal thoughts. She had however given birth to another two children and realised that they would have no one to care for them if she killed herself.
Aklima said she began to feel more hopeful about her situation when she was selected as a CLP core participant. Soon after however, Rahim, in a rage, threw Aklima and the children out of the house. He sold the heifer that Aklima had bought with the asset transfer grant.
When Aklima heard that Rahim had sold the heifer she decided to bring the matter before her VDC. VDCs, as we learned in last week’s news article , were formed by CLP to address social issues such as open defecation, early marriage and VAW.
The VDC took Aklima’s situation very seriously and arranged for a village Salish (conflict resolution meeting). During this Salish, the VDC lectured the community on the negative effects of domestic violence. They explained that those found guilty of VAW would be punished according to national laws. They also sought to educate Rahim on the importance and long-term benefits of having an income-generating asset such as the heifer he had sold. Rahim admitted his guilt at the Salish and agreed to follow conditions set out by the VDC. It was agreed Rahim would not gamble, would not physically abuse his wife, and would not sell any assets without Aklima’s consent. It was also agreed that Aklima would notify the VDC if there were any further problems.
The VDC was able to recover the full amount that the heifer was sold for from Rahim. A few days later Aklima and Rahim travelled to the market to buy another cattle.
A VDC member recently commented that they “…followed up with Aklima and her family and found they are doing really well. Rahim is now working in a brick field and earns an income for the family. He has managed to stop gambling and there have been no incidents of abuse since the Salish…Proper counselling by the VDC helped him understand his faults.”