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Improving women's status within the family

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Dr. Forqan Uddin Ahmed :
Subordination of women is the precursor of women's crisis and is a continuing matter in the courses of history all over the global since the inception of patriarchy under which rank and role are defined by gender. Violence against women has been a fundamental feature of patriarchy (Prigoff, 1994). The same author also quotes archeological studies of the Neolithic period that focused on the appropriation by men of women' sexual and reproductive capacity. According to these explorations, the archaic states were organized in the form of patriarchy.
Prigoff further opines that the reproduction of human life is a miracle which no male figure can accomplish; the body of a women is the only instrument that can accomplish the task. Throughout human history, men have wanted to possess and control that power. In recognition of women's subordinate position in all ages, presents or gifts were given by bride's parents during matrimony.
The practice was reported to be prevalent in ancient Rome, Greece, India, in medieval Europe and is still in vogue in many countries of the world. In India, Nepal, Sri Lanka during the non-Aryan period matriarchal form of society existed when the practice of gift-giving in matrimony was the other way round. The groom's family used to provide marriage gifts.
But matriarchal form was replaced by patriarchy during the Aryan periods. It appears that the practice of Kulinism (the high cast Brahmins practising polygamy by taking dowry) gave rise to groom price which is now known as joutuk.
In recent times in Bangladesh the family as an institution is beset with many problems and uncertainties of which marital cirsis stand out as very prominent. It is now posing a great threat to life, security and affectional ties of the married women and their children.
In other words, married women experience a transition in role relationships, addition of one or more individuals in their new social milieu and loss or threatened loss of meaningful relationship.
Such crisis-ridden women are not only troubled with enormous stresses within the network of their new relationship in the husband's families but also subjected to hazardous situations in the parental home when they are forced to discontinue marital relationship.
We assume that the ever-increasing socioeconomic changes in the Bangladesh society have been affecting the major institutions including family and the latter, in turn are interacting with other social-cultural norms to produce an unfavourable situation where women's problems within families are turning out to be critical.
In other words, women's traditional subordinate position in terms of gender inequality, low social and economic status, payment of groom price during marriage, maltreatment in the hands of husband and or in-laws have been observed in recent years to be increasing into crisis situation for women in marriage in the context of our current socioeconomic and cultural changes. These crisis situations are now quite visible in the increasing rates of violence by husbands, divorce, separation, desertion, killing and suicide of female spouses.
A former inspector general of police in a recent newspaper article records 133 incidents of cruelty to women in the four metropolitan cities of the country for the year 1993.
He also records 639 cases of cruelty to women in the five divisions during the same year. Newspapers in our country are publishing such atrocities almost daily in a bid to create greater awareness among the conscientious public as to the gross violation of women's human rights.
Problems of married women have now-a-days attracted public attention. Marital discord often results not only in separation, divorce and violence but also deprives women of their inherent rights in many ways. Along with the victims, their children are also subjected to negligence and deprivation. The nature and extent of women's crisis can be estimated from the number of cases filed with the family courts in Bangladesh.
Until June 1994, as many as 92 thousand of such cases were filed with the family courts (The daily Sangbad dated June 23, 1994).
Some cases are also dealt with by other legal and quasi-legal bodies such as Grameen Adalat, Arbitration Council, District Nari Nirjaton Committee, etc. The enormity of these crisis point to the urgency of conducting an enquiry into the crisis situations of married women.
The problems of the married women will continue as long as they are socially and economically subordinated and discriminated. In order to lift them from this morass some planned steps need to be undertaken. Legal aid need to be made available to the deserving women free of cost.
The minimum amount of dower should be fixed and its prompt payment should be ensured in the event of non-maintenance of wife consequent upon separation and divorce, if not paid earlier.
Crisis shelters should be established at the district level and be attached to either Women and Children Affairs Department or Social Service Department to provide immediate help and shelter to the needy women. To create social awareness among the people regarding the evils of dowry and oppression of women efforts should be made through media services and other feasible means.
To empower cirsis-ridden women and to make them economically independent, special schemes related to job training, provision of credit and creation of employment and other income generating facilities should be drown and implemented.
The women with marital crisis should be treated as a special population with specific and varied problems. So effective services and programs to meet their special needs and problems should be undertaken by the government.

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