Family Laws Reinforce Male Domination in Bangladesh

Married women in Bangladesh are accorded extremely low status, yet most women opt for marriage given that the status of single women is even lower.

Nurjahan, a teenage mother of two, recently married a man that has married 17 times before in an attempt to shelter herself from the violence from other men. She chose marriage despite warnings that her now-husband considers his wives to be disposable and squanders their incomes. “The fact is as I have a husband, no man will dare to take advantage of me. I am at least safe,” Nurjahan said.

Sylhet Sociologist Katherine Rozario said that women in Bangladesh are considered to be nothing more than cheap property. “Most people treat their wives as a pair of shoes, taking a second or a third paid at their sweet will and turning them out of their houses any time they want.”

A 1991 survey counted 1.4 million polygamous marriages in Bangladesh. The country’s family laws discriminate against women, making it extremely difficult for women to challenge divorce rulings or seek custody of their children. Although the Muslim Family Law of 1961 and its amendments gave first wives the opportunity to refuse second wives, women’s social and economic dependence on their husbands often prevents them from exercising that right, given that husbands can then threaten divorce.

Women’s rights activist Sigma Huda said “We have a long way to got for the introduction of a uniform family code and realization of many other rights.”


IPS - May 21, 1998

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