Women

Article 6 of the CRPD requires the State to take measures to ensure the full and equal enjoyment by women and girls of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and to take all appropriate measures to ensure the full development, advancement and empowerment of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of the human rights and fundamental freedoms set out in the CRPD.

Laws and Policies

Section 16 of the 2013 Disability Rights Act secures the fundamental rights of all persons with disabilities, including women and girls. Section 36 (1) prohibits any discrimination or discriminatory behavior by any individual, organization, institution or authority to any person with a disability.

The National Women’s Development Policy, 2011 [1] sets out its ‘Special Program for the Disabled Women’ which not only recognizes every women’s right to honour and dignity but also ensures that all disabled women are part of the mainstream society and have equal participation in all areas of life including education. The policy also calls for framework, facilities and services to be accessible to all disabled women so that they fully benefit from the rights and facilities granted under this Policy.

To ensure accessibility of PWDs into financial services, the Bangladesh Bank have issued a circular (See annexed GBCSRD Circular No: 01 dated 20th January 2015) announcing that under the Ministry of Social Welfare’sSocial Security Program’, all PWD’s can now use their National ID to :

  • Open a bank account by providing a token deposit amount of Tk. 10 only and
  • Apply for SME loans for any amount between TK. 10,000 – Tk. 5,00,000 with a minimal interest rate of 10% only and apply for a 100% refinancing of these debts under the ‘Bangladesh Bank fund’ Regulations (especially beneficial for disabled SME women entrepreneurs).

The circular further states the bank will also comply with circular (BRPD Circular No: 14) issued on 28th October 2009 and make available a dedicated bank personnel at every branch to assist PWDs and provide them with banking services.

The Ministry of Social Welfare also runs several benefit schemes for PWDs. PWDs who are poor are now entitled to Tk 350 to Tk 500 a month under this scheme [2].

Laws criminalizing particular forms of violence against women includes Acts such as the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1980 which prohibits and penalizes the giving and taking of dowry in all its forms by a fine of a maximum of five thousand taka, imprisonment of up to one year or both. Also The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 prohibits child marriage and sets out penalties for those responsible.

Gaps in Law and Policies

The Rights and Protection of Persons with Disabilities Act 2013 fails to concentrate on issues specific to women with disabilities. Disabled Women are only addressed in two provisions of the 2013 Act mainly in Schedule 3 and 11 [3].

Non-implementation of the many laws and policies in place ensuring rights women’s rights stems from general lack of awareness about such laws meaning that disabled women are easily excluded from relief/remedy. None of these laws enunciates the word ’disability’ in any of its provisions but is nevertheless applicable to disabled women. For example, the Dowry Prevention Act, 1980 prohibits the giving and taking of dowry and the beneficiaries of this law are women; both disabled and non-disabled. Similarly, there is a lack of awareness of the various benefits and facilities that women are entitled to under the national policies establishing women’s right. Poverty and illiteracy are the two biggest reasons as to why this is the case.

Lack of specific legislations targeting better employment opportunities and economic independance for women and especially for women with disabilities means that they are in a financially disadvantaged situation in the community [4]. The 2013 Disabilities Act is silent on the need to have reserved quotas for disabled women in the public and the private sector.

Non-implementation of The Majority Act, 1875 and The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 leads to disabled girls being married off before they are 18 years of age due to poverty and social insecurity of family members of such disabled girls.

The Domestic Violence Act, 2010 has many good aspects – it recognizes the right of women to live in the marital home and allows courts to provide for temporary maintenance to survivors of domestic violence. However Discriminatory personal laws (marriage, separation, divorce and maintenance) continues to be a problem for women especially for those with disabilities [5]. Each of the separate rules for Muslims, Christians and Hindus do little to recognise the financial entitlement of women. Under these laws, the little financial help provided in the form of maintenance etc are minimal and inadequate. These personal laws also fail to recognize marital property and its equal division following divorce or separation.

The Muslim Family Laws Ordinance of 1961 allows for polygamy but requires a husband to treat all his wives equitably and to seek the permission of a local arbitration council to take multiple wives on the basis of consent from previous wife or wives regarding the marriage. On the other hand, Hindu men are permitted to marry any number of times and there are no procedural restrictions for that. Such personal laws governing marriages only adds to the vulnerability of disabled women.

Survey Findings

Government led projects not adequate for the needs of disabled women and girls: The survey findings showed the following percentage in relation to benefits/services received by respondents from government led projects during 2011-2013.

Benefits/Services Percentage
Does not get any facilities 24.61
Stipend 44.92
Disabled allowance 50.39
Education equipment/help 3.91
Interest free loan 9.77
School admission 1.17
Disabled friendly equipment 1.95
Quarterly stipend/allowance 0.39
100 day program 0.78
VGF 5.47
VGD 4.30
Old age allowance 3.91
Maternity allowance 0.78
Widow allowance 0.78
Medical facilities 0.78
Government Vocational Training for Women 1.95
Legal aid 0.78
Quota facilities in health, employment, education sectors 19.92
Free medicine 0.39
Sanitation facilities 0.39
Children’s allowance 0.78
Fig 1: The benefits/services that surveyed respondents received from government led projects/initiatives in the past two years

Discrimination: Women with disabilities face discrimination at the family, state, institutional and social level. (See Figure 10). They enjoy fewer opportunities in both public and private spheres of life and the few government grants/aids that they receive are nominal. They are regularly denied rights to property inheritance and personal assets [6] and in small cases have a guardian appointed for the daily management of their property [7] and the discrimination extends to marriage, divorce, separation, maintenance, custody and guardianship and inheritance. Women with disabilities are not given a choice in marriage, and to sexual and reproductive choices.

Violence against women happens in the form of acid attacks, abduction and kidnapping, rape, trafficking, child marriage, forced marriage, dowry violence, ‘fatwa’ violence, sexual harassment, and the most widespread of all, domestic violence [8].

Fig1_WomenFig 2: Are women with disabilities disadvantaged due to discrimination on the basis of their gender and disability in the family, or society or by the state?
Fig2_WomenFig 3: Do PWDs enjoy transport facilities at the same level as non-disabled people?

Financial barriers: Government and non-governmental organizations/institutions such as banks reportedly often refuse to provide services including loans to women with disabilities. Although this will improve as a result of the recently issued circular, the financial barrier shall continue to be a problem unless awareness is raised about it in the community level.

Lack of awareness of rights due to illiteracy: Women and girls with disabilities are discouraged by their family members to spend time outdoors and rarely provide them with educational opportunities. The literacy of women in general currently stands at 55.71% [9]. Illiteracy leads to disabled women to lack knowledge of their rights or the laws that are in place to ensure their protection.

Violence against women: Women with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to violence and injustice, due to lack of knowledge of their rights, negative societal attitudes. The percentage of adolescent marriage was recorded to be 48% in 2000 [10]. A rape survivor with disabilities is reportedly often prevented from approaching the police/court and forced to settle the matter through mediation between her family members and those of the accused. The incidence of rape of women with hearing, speech and intellectual disabilities is assumed to be much higher than the statistics of rape for the general female population [11]. The prevalence of abuses of the girls and women with disabilities was found to be at 92%. Cases of emotional abuses (78% for girls and 75% for women) was also found to be higher. The scenario also appeared to be the same in the cases of physical abuse (82% for both girls and women) and sexual abuse (32% for girls and 37% for women) [12]. The marriage of a disabled woman in exchange for a huge dowry is reportedly quite common. In some cases, a husband reportedly marries a second wife, a non-disabled woman, without the permission of his first wife.

Lack of knowledge on Reproductive Health: Illiteracy coupled with social neglect of women with disabilities also means that they lack considerable knowledge about their sexual and reproductive health [13].

Police officers usually refuse cases or complaints brought to them by a disabled person especially those bought by women and children. Their unhelpful and insensitive attitude discourages people with disabilities from approaching them as a first point of contact.

Fig3_WomenFig 4: Have any disabled women or child (who have faced violence) in your area filed FIRs or filed a complaints at the Magistrates Court in the last two years?

Also, the Victim Support Centre (VSC) does not cater to the needs of women with disabilities. Most districts do not have a VSC and victims with disabilities must travel long distances to seek support, for example a disabled victim from Bogra district having to travel all the way to Rajshahi district to attend a VSC. The difficulties of travel coupled with the lack of suitable travel and security arrangements acts as another barrier to access to justice for disabled persons.

Recommendations

The main challenge to securing disability rights in this area is with regard to implementation of the law and changing social attitudes to women and girls with disabilities.

  • Official Statistics showing the rate of literacy and the percentage of disabled women being raped or facing other forms of violence (both sexual, emotional and physical) must be extracted as without these figures, it is impossible to gauge the extent of work that will need to be done to improve the lives of these women.
  • Better treatment of disabled victims should be achieved through the implementation of Schedule 12 of the 2013 Act and the Domestic Violence Act, 2010 to enable better treatment of women and girls with disabilities in the justice system (especially victims of domestic violence) in the Victim Support Centers/Police Stations/ Courtrooms, and to provide remedies for discrimination.
  • Access to Legal Services must be ensured through enactment of laws or by adopting rules to prevent imposition of extra-legal penalties on disabled women through shalish (traditional dispute resolution). Implementation of the Legal Aid Services Act 2000 is also required as to all disabled women are entitled to free legal services.
  • Discrimination faced by disabled women in every sphere of their public, private economic lives etc must be tackled through by the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs as opposed to the Ministry of Social Welfare as doing so would bring women with disabilities under the mainstream development processes.
  • Knowledge related to reproductive and sexual health of disabled women can be resolved by educating and encouraging community members to take steps to raise that awareness among disabled women living in their communities. The National Health Policies under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare can address these concerns and include disabled women in the State led mainstream health development projects.
  • Problems surrounding marriage, dowry etc could be resolved through the implementation of the Dowry Prevention Act, 1980 by which it prevents the taking of dowry in marriages and the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance, 1961 prohibits a second marriage without taking permission from the first wife. Also an implementation of the Majority Act, 1857 and The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 is required to prevent child marriages. Steps must also be taken to bring about a legal reform in existing personal laws and the discriminatory provisions contained therein especially the ones related to financial entitlements.
  • Economic independence can be ensured by increasing opportunities of having equal access to credit including micro-credit, and to technical and vocational training/education. The benefits and facilities provided under the National Policy must be monitored so that it reaches to disabled women in the community level and the State must consider increasing the budget for the benefit it provides under the Ministry of Social Welfare’s Benefit Scheme which currently only pays out a minimal monthly amount to persons with disabilities.

 

[1] Section 39, National Women’s Development Policy, 2011
[2] Msw.gov.bd,. ‘Ministry of Social Welfare – Home’. N.p., 2009. Web. 13 Feb. 2015.
[3] http://bdlaws.minlaw.gov.bd/pdf/1126___Schedule.pdf
[4] ‘A Review Of Discrimination In Employment And Workplace’. ASA University Review 4.2 (2010): http://www.asaub.edu.bd/data/asaubreview/v4n2sl13.pdf [Accessed 13 February 2015]
[5] Hrw.org,. ‘“Will I Get My Dues … Before I Die?” | Human Rights Watch’. N.p., 2012. Web. 13 Feb. 2015.
[6] Hrw.org,. ‘“Will I Get My Dues … Before I Die?” | Human Rights Watch’. N.p., 2012. Web. 13 Feb. 2015.
[7] See the paragraph on ‘Survey Findings’ in the Access to Justice section
[8] Hossain, Sara. TOWARDS ANTI-DISCRIMINATION LAWS FOR MARGINALISED COMMUNITIES IN BANGLADESH. 2013. Print. Paper for Manusher Jonno Foundation.
[9] The Financial Express,. ‘Country’s Literacy Rate 59.82 Pc’. 2014. Web. 14 Feb. 2013 : http://www.thefinancialexpress-bd.com/old/index.php?ref=MjBfMDJfMDZfMTNfMV84OF8xNTkzMTc
[10] The Feminine Dimension of Disability: A Study on the Situation of Adolescent Girls and Women in Bangladesh, September 2002: http://www.disabilityrightsfund.org/files/adoloscent_girls_and_women_with_disabilities_in_bangladesh.pdf
[11] Buncombe, Andrew. No More Silence For Bangladesh’s Disabled Rape Victims. 2008: http://southasia.oneworld.net/news/no-more-silence-for-bangladeshs-disabled-rape-victims#.VN7Y7fmUeAU
[12] The Feminine Dimension of Disability: A Study on the Situation of Adolescent Girls and Women in Bangladesh, September 2002: http://www.disabilityrightsfund.org/files/adoloscent_girls_and_women_with_disabilities_in_bangladesh.pdf
[13] The Feminine Dimension of Disability: A Study on the Situation of Adolescent Girls and Women in Bangladesh, September 2002: http://www.disabilityrightsfund.org/files/adoloscent_girls_and_women_with_disabilities_in_bangladesh.pdf

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