Thanapara Swallows Development Society (TSDS) has been working in border with India West Bengal and in this area of Bangladesh people have high divorce rate. If there is any conflict in a family, the husband very normally divorces his wife and move to India to work and stay there. Many times also the husband tries to get married to another woman.
According to Bangladesh law, if husband divorces his wife, he has to pay food and stay with her for a period of time. He also has to pay her an amount of money. But as most of them are from poor family, the wife does not go to court to fight and as the husband moves to another country it is very difficult to do anything.
The other critical social problem in our society is domestic violence. The most common form of domestic violence in Bangladesh continues to be from the husband. According to a Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics survey conducted in 2015, more than 80.2% of married women have suffered some form of violence from their husbands whether it is physical, sexual, economic or emotional abuse.
To solve these problems, in year 2000 we started working in a sub district called Charghat where 183,000 people live. This sub district is divided into 6 ‘unions’ (small administrative areas) and we work in 4 such areas across a radius of 15km.
Weekly, on Saturday, we organize mediation where the husband, the wife, and family members are present, and we try to solve the problem. The mediation is managed by 4 staff members, one co-ordinator/ project officer and one lawyer.
In 80% of cases, dialogue and mediation lead to a resolution of the situation. When further action is required, we take the case to court. With the majority of women we find an amicable solution after a meeting with the people concerned and their families - out of 115 cases in 2016 only 8 were not resolved through mediation and eventually went to court.
In cases of divorce, the wife is supposed to get some money from her husband, but she does not get it. Then she can ask support from us. Our responsibility : we arrange a meeting and we put pressure on the husband to give the money to his divorced wife. In the Muslim law, there is a rule that when a man is getting married he has to declare a certain amount of money and if he get divorced he has to pay a certain amount to the wife. But in Bangladesh, nobody follows this rule. They promise to pay, but they don’t pay anything. In our meeting we try to put pressure : “if you don’t solve, we’ll take it to court, and you’ll have to pay this money anyway”.
We work with women who have been victims of domestic violence, offering them advise, organising support groups, providing legal assistance, community support and temporary accommodation.
We define domestic violence as any physical, psychological or sexual abuse amongst adult members of the same family. Unfortunately many victims do not report cases of domestic violence and keep the secret to themselves for many complex reasons: as they fear their attacker, as they are in denial about the seriousness of the situation, for economic reasons, due to a lack of knowledge about the alternatives that they can access thanks to social services, etc. In addition the victims often don't ask for help from their friends and families due to social stigmatisation, cultural taboos, feelings of shame and/or a general lack of understanding about the cyclical nature of domestic violence.
Battered wives have no place to go when they are thrown out of their house. They come and see us, we call the family members to arrange a meeting and we try to convince them it is not the right thing to do. After 2 or 3 meetings, they get convinced and the woman can go back to her husband’s house.
During the 6 months following the mediation, we monitor what happens, sending someone to the house to see how it works. In most cases, we find out the problem is solved.
We keep a bedroom available to host people on training programmes and we also use this room for emergency welcome. If, for example, a woman comes to us and she has had problems with her family or her husband and she can't return home then she can stay in this bedroom for a few nights. In such situations our staff will contact the family or husband in question in order to arrange a meeting with them, with the association's lawyer present, to try and understand the problem and find a solution. Most of the time we are able to talk things over and the women can go home.
Staff members and a lawyer.
We get money from a partner organization called Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers’ Association (BNWLA) and they get money from Foreign Donators DFID (UK Department for International Development) and SDC (Swiss agency for Development and Cooperation).
During the first 2 years, we did campaign program informing that we are working to prevent domestic violence, and that any woman having problem should inform us and we would take care.
After 2 years, we started organizing monthly meetings with 1,500 group members, informing about our activity and they could inform other villagers.
We have three actions to inform women about our program;
1. The loud speakers who go from village to village to spread the information;
2. Small meetings that we organize in villages: our staff go and meet women and tell them about our program;
3. Cultural events (singing, dancing, making drama) that we arrange, from village to village. We inform that the drama will show about husband beating wife. We say that if it happens, if women have this problem, they can communicate with us, and we will help. We give our address and a mobile number.
We would like to build four double bedrooms equipped with a shower and a toilet to welcome women that have been victims of domestic violence. The women could stay for up to 6 days, giving them time to organise the meeting with their husband and/or family and to find a solution to their problems. During their stay the women would also receive three meals per day and in exchange they would help our craft production team or help preparing the meals.
Before 2010, there was no law saying that women could go to the police and file a case that her husband had beaten her. Since 2010, there is a law and now they can go and get support from the police and from the government.
The enactment of the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act of 2010 was the successful outcome of prolonged lobbying by different non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and entities, along with support from the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs.
Bangladesh National Woman Lawyer’s Association organized meetings with other NGO’s insisting that we had to take initiative and have advocacy and lobby with political leaders to pass that law, so that battered women could get support from the government. Lobbying went on for 2 to 3 years with all parliament members, and justice, and networks etc.
At our local level, thanks to our active involvement also, violence has reduced in our area. Two model villages totally stopped domestic violence.