I’m Thaso from Sri Lanka and am currently in my final year majoring in Politics, Philosophy and Economics. I’m really excited to attend the summer leadership institute and to learn more ideas and pathways to tackle the societal problems. I’m also looking forward work with development organization in Sri Lanka to improve the quality of life and level of education in the central part of Sri Lanka!
Violence against Women is a profound problem for women across the globe suffering from rape, domestic violence, murder, sexual abuse, and much more. In this part of the world, violence against women is often perpetrated by her husband or other family members and it is also usually supported by cultural customs, thus making it difficult for the victims to protest against it. On 6th August 2012, in the morning session at the summer leadership institute at Asian University for Women, Dr. Rangita has discussed many forms of domestic violence against women across Asia such as dowry deaths, child marriage, polygamy, forced marriage, honor killings, harmful practices during menstruation, human trafficking, and other sexual abuses. She emphasized that the state is now accountable for addressing domestic violence in their countries, as well as highlighted how in certain countries extreme domestic violence cases have influenced them to adopt international laws that provide prosecution of the offender as the national laws are absent and ineffective. She also shared the greatest success story from India, Cambodia and Bangladesh in the law making process. In South Asia and South East Asia, people generally view traditional customs and practices as part of societal norms and when the law has been enacted to combat crimes and violence against women, people opposed to it say that it is their personal life. Dr. Rangita presented the example from Cambodia and stated that “what is personal is political that is reality and then reality has to be in law making process” which made the students create a connection between personal life and laws that could prevent women from any form of violation. Moreover, she pointed out the indirect forms of violence against women through means of power such as economic and physiological violence. She mentioned that violence is not a born behavior but a learned behavior from elders and watching other individuals in the society.
This discussion has given an opportunity for students to understand various existing laws and express their views and to match with real life examples. Students also willingly shared their experiences and observations from their village and sought advice to prevail over the problem in their society. Following the discussion, representatives from Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association (BNWLA), one of the leading human rights organization which works for the emancipation of women in Bangladesh, Tawhida Khondker, director of BNWLA and a lawyer and Jamila Akhter, project coordinator of BNWLA have bestowed the information about the organization’s mission as well as enlightened the students regarding the women rights and formulation process of domestic violence (Prevention and Protection) Act in Bangladesh. Ms. Tawhida highlighted that “equal opportunities and rights of women in Bangladesh are not our demand but it is the rights that have been guaranteed by the constitution”. She explained the BNWLA strategies of providing legal service among the women in Bangladesh and steps that are being taken to bring awareness at the community level. Following her presentation, there was a mock trial by BNWLA members that showed domestic violence against women that take place very often in Bangladesh. BNWLA is also rehabilitating the victims in shelter across the country providing necessary legal counseling and required basic needs. Inspired young student leaders from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka have raised many questions to BNWLA legislative body, such as the tools that the organization uses to integrate women from all over the district and the challenges that they face in this process. Along with that, students also discussed the law for prostitutes and transgender people in terms of domestic violence and the contribution of BNWLA in making sure that the rights of this group of people are being approved.
After lunch, Ms. Jamila instructed the students about law making process of human trafficking in Bangladesh and clarified knowledge about the existing anti trafficking laws. She affirmed that the “definition of trafficking is not comprehensive” which makes the process much more difficult to tackle the problem. After her, Ms. Tawhida discussed about drafting the law and the types of steps that are being followed in this process. She mentioned that when an offence cannot take any legal support or action on particular crime and violence, the High Court can give directives which can be implemented as law. Further, she also discussed the sexual harassment at work place where the male supervisor demands sexual favors from female workers using his power and control over the job.
While wrapping up the session Dr. Rangita has pointed that any form of disrespect that diminishes women’s status at work place is considered to be sexual harassment and the consequences that organization faces when they do not compile with the existing law. She mentioned when companies do not follow proper legal system and safely environment for the female workers in terms of sexual harassment, they are asked to foreclose the company and denied from getting tax benefits and government contracts. She also explained the Vishaka case in India, to show that how one case have transnational impact in law-making process in Asia and other countries. After all these discussions, students groups were requested to role play for scenarios based on emerging challenges in domestic violence and creating opportunities to address those challenges in countries. Overall, the day was full of a discussion which included domestic violence and human trafficking laws which undoubtedly enlightened students with much information. We, students also became aware of the existing laws in terms of domestic violence and the legal steps to protect women’s human rights in our own society.