By Anna Beebe, Intern
Counterpart promotes the protection of human rights worldwide. In protecting and promoting human rights, interventions at the intersection of gender and social justice are crucial. Examining gender as a cross cutting topic in protecting human rights allows practitioners to not only address power imbalances rooted in gender norms, but also how development issues, such as access to clean water, impact marginalized populations differently.
Counterpart’s USAID-funded Promoting Advocacy and Rights (PAR) program in Bangladesh supports civil society to address four citizen-identified, priority advocacy issues: gender-based violence, drug abuse, unplanned urbanization, and environmental pollution. While these issues impact all genders, women and girls are disproportionately affected. To help expand the capacity of our partner CSOs to advocate for solutions to these issues, there must be strong and growing discourse centered around gender and human rights.
Often, gender norms in Bangladesh limit women’s freedom to escape dangerous situations, such as domestic violence. Traditional Bangladeshi social institutions place family responsibility on women, which often influences women to stay home and take care of domestic responsibilities, such as cooking, cleaning, and caring for children. As of 2019, women make up approximately 36% of the total workforce, even though they make up 49% of the total population. Because of this, women are often dependent on their male partners for an income, which means leaving their household in times of danger is often not feasible.
Gender-based Violence (GBV)
Globally, women are disproportionately affected by violence. Not only are they more likely to suffer physical and sexual abuse, but they are often shamed for it. This social stigma creates an unsafe atmosphere for women to report assault cases or pursue charges. PAR consortium member, Rupantar, is working to combat gender-based violence by identifying policy gaps and forming civil society-based programs to address them.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the rate of reported instances of violence against women has risen 70%. As people are staying home due to public restrictions, women are more likely to be trapped with an abusive partner or family member in the home. And because men hold the positions of power and authority in Bangladesh, they have a better chance of getting away with acts of violence, making it difficult to receive justice for victims. According to Human Rights Watch, of the 16,000 reported cases of violence against women in 2016, a mere 3% ended in a conviction.
From their 2020 baseline survey, Rupantar found the lack of enforcement by the Bangladesh government. While policies such as the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act of 2010 ensure women and girls are protected from violence by legal means, more than half of surveyed community members expressed that the national government was enforcing at a limited scale. Additionally, respondents expressed that civil society efforts to address GBV were commonly overlooked by the government, which trivializes many women’s experience with violence.
Drug abuse is a human rights issue as drug users are often criminalized rather than supported in seeking treatment. Often, law enforcement imprisons drug users to lessen the demand for drugs in the community, but this method does not address the issue at hand. Drugs are disproportionately used in low-income communities, and rehabilitation resources are less available in these areas. Approximately 43% of the unemployed sector of Bangladesh abuses drugs; 80% of all drug abusers in the county are youth.
Men are more likely to suffer from illicit drug use and addiction, while women experience drug abuse much differently. PAR grantee, Light House Consortium, works on the ground to support civil society-based advocacy efforts to combat drug abuse.
Drug use by women is stigmatized much more than male drug use; when women need help with a drug abuse problem, they are more likely to be shunned from society. They find themselves without access to necessary resources. Light House Consortium found that there are limited technological resources in poor communities to circulate crucial information about the dangers of drug use. The United Nations Office and Drugs and Crime noted that women drug-users in Bangladesh report that resources were not available to them because of location, inability to pay, family responsibilities, and lack of education about needing treatment. The gap between the need for education and the capacity of the government to educate at-risk communities is wide.
Light House Consortium works to address these issues through peer education training for youth to bring awareness of the risks of drug use to schools and colleges. Not only does this educate students, but it allows girls to act as leaders within their community. In addition, Light House launched anti-drug campaigns, which made resources available to all.
The Bangladesh economy is growing; in 2021, the gross domestic product is expected to increase 8.50%. While this growth is beneficial, it is does present challenges. PAR will support a local consortium that will work to increase education and citizen-led advocacy efforts that address urbanization and the harmful effects it has on the Bangladesh population, such as environmental pollution.
As Bangladesh develops, the government must prioritize the needs of its entire population, especially women, within the response to rapid urbanization.
Due to rapid urbanization, many people without sufficient housing. As of 2018, 47.2% of the Bangladesh population was living in slums. Poverty affects women, and woman-led households disproportionately. As of 2019 36.3% of all women were participating in the work force, compared to 81.4% of men. As development continues to increase, not only are women more vulnerable to poverty, they are also more likely to end up living in urban settings. Those who reside in slums are more vulnerable to issues such as poor waste management, environmental pollution, and drug use.
Environmental pollution can lead to health implications that worsen a community’s quality of life. Urbanization leads to industrialization, which in turn leads to air pollution. Development also increases population size, which puts more pressure on the government to provide better waste management services and systems. When the government neglects this responsibility, water for drinking, bathing, watering animals, and irrigating lands are polluted with toxic contaminants.
PAR promotes projects that address poor waste management and water pollution. In Dhaka, households produce a total of 3000 tons of waste altogether, and the city collects less than half of it. As women are more likely to live in slum environments than men, they are more susceptible to contaminated water sources. Death due to water-borne diseases is widespread in Bangladesh, particularly among children.
PAR helps consortium members identify and develop grants that aid projects in reducing environmental pollution and its effects on Bangladesh. Multiple co-creation workshops have been held that allow grantees to collaborate with members of the PAR team to identify gaps in areas such as policy, implementation, and government capacity. In addition, grantees have been increasing the participating of women and girls in these projects. The more women are exposed to educational resources regarding pollution, the better they can protect their health when faced with contaminated air and water sources.
Even as policy is passed to promote gender equality, women cannot fully practice their freedoms without enforcement of law. In PAR’s Gender-Based Violence Baseline Survey from December 2020, 69% of respondents expressed that the government is not actively implementing policy that is in place to protect women. Because of this, PAR consortium members must include women and girls in programming and advocacy efforts. When there is stronger female representation in activism efforts that address women’s issues, it will not only support women to advocate for their rights but also gives them a platform to address issues at the government level.
In addition to enforcement, there also needs to be a shift in discourse that no longer stigmatizes women’s experiences with drug abuse and domestic violence. This stigma often creates tension between family members, which can lead to women being shunned or isolated from their loved ones, and even the rest of the community. PAR grantees must provide workshops that support participants with methods to dismantle harmful gender norms so that women are free to enjoy the rights that Bangladesh written policy claims to protect. As long as society continues to trivialize the experiences of women, equality will never be reached.