The accountability system of the country is still very weak even 50 years after independence regardless of the existence of individuals and institutions that should have been playing a role to protect the rights of citizens, a noted rights activist has observed.
A lack of confidence in society, institutions and various organizations prevailed, as social justice had not yet been ensured for all, ActionAid country director Farah Kabir told the FE in an exclusive interview.
Besides, there remained a tendency to accept violence against women which was dragging the country backward, she added.
The trend of rising violence against women amid the pandemic rang the alarm bell relating to their advancement 50 years after independence. Women's responsibility rose many times over the years, but they were being tortured, raped, abused instead of being praised for their work, she rued.
Working women lost their jobs, migrated to villages, child marriages increased as girl children proved a burden on their families, she added.
"People should have confidence in society, organisations and institutions to be getting justice and fair play. But the whole environment is not conducive to systemic accountability.
The country made significant progress in 50 years but there were some areas where problems remained, she said. The progress had not taken place equally for the women, children and indigenous people. The number of girl students increased and many other development indicators were very favourable. But an in-depth analysis would make it clear that on the other side of the coin the happenings were sometimes very disturbing and alarming, she observed.
In particular, the spurt in violence against women and children including rape and murder during the Covid-19 pandemic has been unimaginably shocking. How should we evaluate this one year in the course of the 50 years?," she said.
No country could make progress if their women, girl children were not safe, could not move freely, did not have a healthy lifestyle and could not take any decision on their own, said Ms Farah.
"We ensure an environment for women, children, religious minorities and indigenous people where they will lead a dignified life without the fear of being discriminated against, on grounds of gender, religion or cultural differences so that we can say we have made progress. We must mend our indicators," she said.
Referring to various development indicators where Bangladesh fared admirably well over the period, Ms Farah said violence and discrimination against women were there all the time. But those reached such a level and the reporting on the incidents also increased due to media that there was no way of denying the spike. The shocking thing was the tendency of accepting violence against women and no exemplary and strict measures were taken to uproot the vices.
Ms Farah said there were structural and legal support systems in the country but without enforcement teeth. In 50 years, participation of women public representatives in the union councils had been ensured, lots of committees aere formed at the local government level, laws enacted to prevent repression and violence against women and children. But she asked as to what extent those laws were being enforced.
"The court and police still do not want to take the cases related to women and children repression. Even if the cases are filed, the victims' families are intimidated which makes them run away from home or force them to go for out-of-court settlement. We have failed to create accountability and confidence," she said.
If any specific group was being discriminated against and the protector became the predator, then society could not progress. Even the developed countries that claimed themselves as the protectors of human rights were being exposed in this particular area, she said.
"We cannot make progress by excluding a group. We should firmly believe in the sustainable development goals'. All the laws, policies should be inclusive of women and children. The system should be women-friendly," said Ms Farah.
She, however, said employment opportunities increased for women; the areas of work also expanded and women were becoming entrepreneurs overcoming hurdles, non-cooperation.
But there should be research on whether women were getting equal opportunities by dint of their merits in their families and workplaces. It had been noticed that the female workers and staffs faced negligence just because of their gender. It varied from sector to sector, though.
"We still find women cannot take up leadership positions. As she has many roles to play maintaining the same standard including her reproductive role, the employing authority thinks she cannot perform well," said Ms Farah.
The organisations should think whether they could be women-friendly by allowing maternity leave and other special facilities and opportunities, she said.
Many organisations including media were not allowing their female staffers to go on maternity leave, she said.
"Although women are entering the job market or working or becoming entrepreneurs, there is still a control over them. Women have to take triple burden. Now time has come that man and woman should distribute responsibility of doing household work," she said.
Ms Farah suggested effective education, extensive campaign for awareness and self-esteem. Any development project, policy, and law should be comprehensive, not made or applied on an ad hoc basis. The development measures should be reflected in all phases of a human being and for all, not considering the lifestyle of peri urban people only.
"We have to lay emphasis on education, awareness, respect for every individual as a human being, come out of all sorts of discrimination, and ensure all the rights of a citizen like safety, education, employment and dignity. Above all, justice has to be ensured and no kind of crime should be entertained," said the renowned rights activist.