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Despite massive progress, women’s rights remain a critical issue throughout the world : Dr Begam Zebunnesa

01 April 2022
Despite massive progress, women’s rights remain a critical issue throughout the world : Dr Begam Zebunnesa


Interview :
Question- Have you or someone close to you experienced or witnessed gender bias in your community? In your studies?  In your workplace?
Answer- We all know that the theme for International Women's Day, 8 March, 2022 (IWD 2022) is, "Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow." The theme is recognizing the contribution of women and girls around the world, who are leading the charge on climate change adaptation, mitigation, and response, to build a more sustainable future for all.
Against this backdrop, gender bias is an important issue around the world. Gender bias refers to a person receiving different treatment based on the person's real or perceived gender identity. "Gender bias" is used synonymously with "discrimination on the basis of sex." By way of definition, gender bias is a preference or prejudice towards one gender over another, resulting in unfair differences in the way employees are treated. Gender bias is behavior that shows favoritism towards one gender over another. Most often, gender bias is the act of favouring men and/or boys over women and/or girls. By sex, we mean biological differences assigned to females and males in order to distinguish between the two. Such type of bias is a result of sexism. Sexism means prejudice or discrimination based on sex or gender. In many cultures, sexism has historically meant that men have more power and influence than women and other marginalized genders. Males, however, are not immune from gender bias. For examples, teachers, especially those who teach young-aged children, are often assumed to be women.  
If the gender bias is so, YES, I, and a number of people close to me, have experienced or witnessed gender bias in my community, in my studies and in my workplace. Fortunately, at my family level, I never felt that my brothers are getting more opportunities than me or my younger sister. This is because my father was properly educated. He was an engineer and a pious person. God fear was in his mind.  He was against unequal treatments.
But, I have experienced gender bias in my community in other families, families of relatives and friends. During my study, I faced this unequal treatment in a different way. Previously, I said that males are also not immune from gender bias. Students having specific political background and influence got more opportunities and more attention from teachers. At my own college and university study levels, I experienced horrible gender bias in such a way that beautiful and pretty female students are getting more attention in classes from teachers, though students with brain (may be without much physical beauty) were not properly appreciated. This way, not only female students with less physical beauty, but also male students had to experience gender bias.  
I belong to Bangladesh Judiciary. At my workplace, several times I was rejected from having more responsible posts because I was not any male.
Question - What is, in your opinion, the most frequent or common gender bias?
Answer - Despite massive progress, women's rights remains a critical issue throughout the world, especially in regions like North Africa and the Middle East. Women are confronted with a systematic denial of rights where legal discrimination leaves them inferior to their male counterparts. Consequently, women globally lack a full realization of their fundamental human rights. Learning about this problem reveals that gender equality is central to sustainable progress. These are ten examples of gender inequality existing in the world today.
a) Lack of Mobility - In countries like Egypt and Bahrain, husbands have the right to stop their wives from leaving the country while other countries require written permission from a husband to travel.
b) Freedom of Marriage - According to the U.N., 40 percent of young women in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are married by age 18. Child marriage not only increases the chance of complications of giving birth that often prove fatal, but also contravenes the fundamental human right of choice of partnership. In Pakistan, women are expected to accept arranged marriages and refusal can lead to "honor killings" that typically go uncontested by the government.
c) Discriminatory Divorce Rights - In Middle East, most countries are governed by religious ideals and gender inequality is pervasive. As men are typically viewed as superior, they can divorce their wives relatively easily and even through mere oral renunciation. Women, on the other hand, face many more challenges. In Lebanon, abused women do not even have the right to file for divorce unless an eyewitness is willing to testify.
d) Citizenship - With the exception of Israel, Iran, Tunisia, and parts of Egypt, women in the Middle East do not have the right to pass citizenship on to their children while men have the ability to not only pass it to their children, but also to their non-national wives.
e) Frontline combat - While allowed to participate in the army, women are still not permitted to serve in frontline combat in Turkey and Slovakia. As recently as 2016, this gender inequality persisted in the U.K. as well.
f) Custody Rights - In some countries, the courts automatically grant custody rights to the father, and women are left without any means of financial support. For example, in Bahrain, family laws are not systematized, enabling judges to deny mothers custody of their children.
g) Violence - Unequal legal rights make women increasingly vulnerable to violence. One of the most obvious forms of violence against women in the world today is that of spousal rape. India's recent ruling is that rape laws do not apply to married couples clearly rather illustrates the sexual subjugation and violence to which women remain exposed.
h) Professional Obstacles - Even in developed countries, women are at a disadvantage when it comes to earnings. The highest-paying fields are still dominated by men, and on average, women earn just 77 percent of what men earn for the same amount of work. At this rate, it could take a full 45 years before this gender inequality disappears.
i) Restricted Land Ownership - In some countries, customary or religious law effectively prohibits the ownership of land by females, even if their constitution claims equal rights. In many countries like North Sudan, Tanzania, and Lesotho, land ownership and control tends to go to the male head of the household. In Zambia, women and men are allowed to acquire a registered land title, but customary land tenure is also recognized making it unlikely for a woman to be allocated land without the approval of her husband.
j) Access to Education - Women make up more than two-thirds of the world's illiterate adults, and access to education is especially a problem in Afghanistan where groups that oppose female education attack many schools. Female rights are also compromised due to limited awareness of what they should be entitled to, which could only be remedied through greater access to education.
Briefly, the following are the most frequent or common gender bias issues:-
Gender bias in education.
The gender pay gap.
Gender disparities in agriculture.
Poor access to healthcare.
The high price of collecting water.
Child marriage and other forms of gender-based violence.
Lack of representation for women and girls at the policy levels.
Question - What do you perceive to be the most damaging impact of gender bias?
Answer - I cannot say that only one impact is the most damaging impact of gender bias. In giving answer to this question, I would like to express several damaging impacts of gender bias. First of all, I must say that gender bias can be conscious, and something someone is aware that they have. Gender bias can also be unconscious, or something a person is not aware of. This is known as implicit bias.
Gender bias or discrimination harms society a lot. Girls and women suffer most of the negative impacts of rigid gender norms and roles. They are more likely to experience restrictions of their freedom and mobility; they experience epidemic levels of violence and harassment across the globe and have fewer opportunities to choose how to live their lives.
Gender bias creates learning inequality in the classroom and sets limits on future potentials. Students who are socialized into a stereotypical gender role tend to behave in ways that limit their holistic development and often develop learning, behavior and emotional problems.  Often women and girls are confined to fulfilling roles as mothers, wives and caretakers. Gender norms position girls as caretakers, which leads to gender inequality in how roles are distributed at the household level. This also results in a lack of education due to the restriction of outside opportunities. For girls, damaging effects of gender bias include child marriage, pregnancy, leaving school early, sexually transmitted infections and exposure to violence. Boys suffer too from increased risk of substance abuse, suicide and shorter life expectancy than women - especially if they try to challenge masculine norms.
Questions No 4 - Do you experience gender bias differently in different areas of your life?
Answer-We usually say that gender bias is the act of favoring men and/or boys over women and/or girls. However, males/boys are not immune from gender bias. As I have previously said, it was my direct experience at the university study level. Physically beautiful and attractive female students were given much attention in classroom, they were given higher marks in examinations (though most of them were not entitled to) than male students and other female students who were not so-called beautiful and attractive.
In giving employment as a receptionist, nurse, teacher of young-aged students, caretakers of home, females are given more priority.
Question No 5 Where in your community are issues of  gender-based bias most present? (childbearing/adolescence/marriage/education)
Answer -In a brief, several issues of gender-based  bias are as follows:-
Female child marriage and child pregnancy.
Lower rates of schooling and employment for females.
Less pay for females for similar work.
Higher levels of stress for females as well as for males in some cases.
Higher rates of unpaid work, such as caring for sick relatives, for females.
Exposure to higher rates of sexual assault, intimate partner abuse and gender-based violence for females.
A lack of representation of females in government.
Question - Do you think there are systematic inequalities that prevent women from progressing in their career?
Answer-I am judicial officer having the rank of District and Sessions Judge. During my career life, at my workplace, several times I was rejected from having more responsible posts because I was not any male. I had to listen to their words that may be I had strong academic/professional background, but I would not be able to deal with several responsibilities which a male judge can do. But now as a District Judge, having the critical responsibilities on the overall judicial administration of Feni district, I am doing such type of activities/responsible actions, which I had been denied to do just because I was a female. BUT, generally, gender bias is not very much frequent in Bangladesh judiciary. But, handling the critical responsibilities on the overall judicial administration of a district, a female District Judge has to face more hurdles than a male District Judge. Sometimes, the subordinate male judicial officers, male staffs, male officers and staffs of different sectors of a district are not willing to see the female District Judge in charge of judicial administration of a district. THIS IS A VERY VERY BIG CHALLENGE FOR FEMALE DISTRICT JUDGES IN BANGLADESH IN CHARGE OF JUDICIAL ADMINISTRATION OF A DISTRICT.
Question - How does gender bias impact your relationship with your users of the justice system and the services you support? (Do you think they have different expectations from you as a woman)?
Answer-Sometimes, common people (both male and female) are not used to willing to accept a female judge who would settle their disputes in the legal justice system. This mind set-up is being intensified by the male lawyers of Bangladesh. This problem occurs even in developed countries. Still the people are not accustomed to see any female judge sitting on the seat of the judge who would settle their critical legal problems. A number of male lawyers are also not feeling it easy to accept the judicial decisions rendered by a female judge. Common people including the litigants and lawyers think that a female judge is not efficient in doing hard judicial job. The situation is more critical when a female District and Sessions Judge holds the responsibility of managing the judicial administration of a district. Subordinate male judges, male staffs, male lawyers, male police super/deputy commissioner of a district are not prepared yet to accept the leadership of a female District Judge.
But, there is also a different picture. I am delivering justice in Feni district as a District Judge for last two years. I am trying hard to dispose of old murder cases, which my previous male colleagues set the case files aside for unknown reasons. I am trying hard to give legal justice in a rapid manner especially to those who are poor, female and weak. In this way, parents especially mothers, wife and children of murder victims in Feni district are expecting from me more and more that I would dispose of old murder cases so that they can get justice. So, I think removing or minimizing gender bias is also a challenging responsibility of females themselves by doing more and more work and showing their efficiencies.
Question- At what educational level do you think gender bias play a bigger role?
Answer -Part III of the Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh (Articles 12 to 35) deals with fundamental rights. These are Right to Equality, Equality before Law, Prohibition of Discrimination on Grounds of Religion, Race, Caste, Sex of Place of Birth and Equality of Opportunity in Matters of Employment. The  Constitution is the supreme law of our country. Our supreme law is vividly against gender bias.
Again,Fundamental Principles of State Policy are enshrined in Articles 8 to 11 and 13 to 25 of Part II of the Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh. Article 8  says that the principles set out in Part II shall be fundamental to the governance of Bangladesh, shall be applied by the state in the making of laws, shall be a guide to the interpretation of the Constitution and of the other laws of Bangladesh, and shall form the basis of work of the state and of its citizens. Article 17 asks the state to take effective measures to provide free and compulsory education to all children, and remove illiteracy as fast as possible.
So, the State has constitutional responsibilities for removing gender bias including the responsibility of taking effective measures to provide free and compulsory education to all children of Bangladesh.  
In my opinion, gender bias related education should be started from primary level of education. In this level, gender bias related educated would play the biggest role as the mind set up of a human being starts to develop from the stage of a child.
Question - Do you think gendered expectations influenced your educational choices or your career path?
Answer- In my case, the answer is NO. Gendered expectations never influenced my educational choices or career path. The reason is that my parents were mostly against gender bias.
Question - What have your colleagues/supervisor (men and women) done or what can they do to help you/women overcome bias?
Answer-In my case, my PhD supervisor (a female professor of law of a public university) had given me more moral strength to overcome gender bias. This is also my positive experience that some female and male colleagues also have done a lot during my judicial career to overcome gender bias related problems. Actually, parents, relatives, teachers, supervisors and colleagues can help a person, both male and female, facing gender bias related problems in different phases of life.  
Question - What do you think is one of the most important things that should be done within the educational sphere to overcome gender bias?
Answer-The education regarding constitutional and other related legal provisions (on equality of all citizens) should be started from primary level. The moral education as well as religious education is also a must from primary level.
In Bangladesh, most of the people believe in the religion Islam. The Quran, the holy book of Islam, indicates that both men and women are spiritually equal. The Quran 4:124 states:
"If any do deeds of righteousness be they male or female and have faith, they will enter Heaven, and not the least injustice will be done to them."   
If any Muslim really believes this notion of equality, she/he can never support gender bias. At the same way, every religion prevailing in the world, is telling people to be a good human being in order to do good and righteous deeds. A righteous person can never do any deed which will lead to any form of unequal treatment to any segment of population.
Question - What advice would you give to yourself as a young woman or to young men and women about breaking gender bias?
Answer-This question has two parts. I will try to answer both parts one after another.
First of all, I am not a young woman. I am a middle aged woman. As a middle aged woman, YES, I would advise myself something about breaking gender bias. The first advice to me is - "BE A GOOD HUMAN BEING." A good human being must have good inner qualities including courage. A courageous good human being can never indulge herself/himself in any type of activities showing bias including gender bias. At the same way, a courageous good human being will obviously do something to stop gender bias at family, at workplace, at society and as a whole in the world, whenever she/he will experience any type of gender bias.
The second advice to myself is - "Take some meaningful ways to eliminate gender bias in the family, society and in the workplace." I can ---
educate my family members, family workers, officers and staffs of the workplace on gender bias,
I can stand up and tell others to stand up to gender bias when it happens,
I can establish monitoring programs against gender bias at workplace,
I can support women into more senior roles, of course, bearing in mind, their efficiencies,
I can provide training at workplace on gender bias including unconscious bias.
I can formulate clear policy on gender discrimination.
I can urge to the proper authority to formulate and implement gender neutral recruitment processes.
Lastly, I need to stand beside the victim facing gender inequality.
Secondly, I also have the same advice to the young men and women as a middle aged woman about breaking gender bias.I should repeat - "BE A GOOD HUMAN BEING." A courageous good human being can never indulge herself/himself in any type of showing bias including gender bias.I am giving advice to the young men and women of this world -take some measures at your family, workplace, society, etc. which would prevent or at least minimize gender inequalities and gender bias.
ChimamandaNgoziAdichie, from Nigeria, is a writer and story teller, best known for her themes of politics, culture, race and gender. Once she said: "Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture."
Ban Ki-moon is a South Korean politician and diplomat who served as the eighth Secretary-General of the United Nations from January 2007 to December 2016. Once he said : "Achieving gender equality requires the engagement of women and men, girls and boys. It is everyone's responsibility."

(Dr Begam Zebunnesa, District and Sessions Judge, Feni)

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