Subscribe to Secularism is a Womens Issue

Secularism is a Women’s Issue

Home > fundamentalism / shrinking secular space > Asia / Africa / Americas - Carribean / The Pacific / International > Fascist violence against a women’s policy in Bangladesh

Fascist violence against a women’s policy in Bangladesh

A compilation from the Bangladesh Press

Friday 25 April 2008, by siawi

Bangladesh:
- Fascists turn violent to protest policy on women (news report)
- Women’s policy: What is the fuss about? (Hameeda Hossain)
- Bangladesh retreats on women’s rights after clerics protest
- Gender equality should be upheld (Editorial, New Age)
- Mullah driven review body finds equal rights for women “very objectionable”
- Women’s rights activists knew what was coming, had already protested the formation of review body
- Cancellation of review body demanded by rights organisations


The Daily Star
April 11, 2008

BIGOTS FIGHT FIERCELY WITH COPS TO PROTEST WOMEN POLICY
50 including 10 policemen injured
Staff Correspondent

Activists of Anti-Quran Law Resistance Committee
torch a motorbike of a law enforcement agency
near Baitul Mukarram National Mosque during
clashes with police yesterday. Photo: Anisur
Rahman

The surrounding areas of Baitul Mukarram National
Mosque turned into a battlefield yesterday when
members of an Islamic organisation clashed with
police leaving over 50 injured including 10
policemen and 15 pedestrians.

Witnesses said the hour-long clash started around
2:15pm when police resisted about 500 activists
of Anti-Quran Law Resistance Committee attempting
to march towards the office of the chief adviser
in a procession after holding a rally on the
mosque premises.

Khelafat Majlish and Islami Shashontantra Andolan
recently formed the Anti-Quran Law Resistance
Committee to protest against the National Women
Development Policy approved by the advisers’
council recently.

"As police halted their progress, the agitating
activists started pelting them with brickbats and
broke through the police ring," said pedestrian
Mostofa Kamal who took shelter near the mosque
during the clash.

Fifteen pedestrians including two children Shaon,
12, and Badhon, 9, were injured.

Employees of nearby shop Mithu Carpets said,
"When police locked the gate at the north side,
the activists came through other gates and
attacked police with bamboo sticks and brickbats."

At one stage, police resorted to charging
truncheons and firing teargas canisters to
disperse them. Police used around 10 teargas
shells.

During the clash, the activists set fire to two
motorbikes of law enforcers and damaged over 10
vehicles including two sports utility vehicles of
the Islamic Foundation and the Ministry of
Religious Affairs.

Chases and counter chases took place between the police and the activists.

Other witnesses said all business establishments
were closed for three hours due to repeated
attacks of the activists.

The injured activists and pedestrians received
treatment from Dhaka Medical College Hospital,
Suhrawardy Hospital and different clinics in the
area while the policemen were treated at
Rajarbagh Police Hospital.

Farid Uddin Ahmed, officer-in-charge (OC) of
Paltan Police Station, told The Daily Star, "The
unruly attackers injured several policemen,
including Assistant Commissioner [AC] Pankaj Roy."

He said they would take legal action against
those who were involved in the offence.

Two units of Fire Service and Civil Defence
rushing to the spot to douse the burning
motorbikes could not do their jobs as the
Anti-Quran Law Resistance Committee activists
attacked them and chased them away.

People who went to the mosque for Zohr prayers were stuck inside the mosque.

Vehicular movement in the area came to a halt
during the clash and created gridlocks on nearby
streets which had a knock-on effect on traffic
situation on other parts of the city.

Before the clash, the Anti-Quran Law Resistance
Committee held a rally on the mosque ground where
they demanded resignation of Rasheda K Chowdhury,
adviser to the caretaker government.

Terming the National Women Development Policy an
anti-Islamic law, they threatened the government
of toppling it if it did not amend the policy.

After the clash, the organisation held a press
conference at the office of Khelafat Majlish.
They claimed police prevented them from carrying
out their peaceful activities and injured over
100 activists.

Maulana Abdur Rob Yusufi, Nayeb-e-Amir of
Khelafat Majlish, spoke at the press conference
among others.

o o o

The Daily Star
April 6, 2008

WOMEN’S POLICY: WHAT IS THE FUSS ABOUT?

by Hameeda Hossain

WHY so much noise about a policy which does no
more than reaffirm commitments of earlier
documents? The protests by a few religious
clerics surrounding the declaration of the policy
by the chief advisor give rise to suspicions of
political machinations. The responses of some
members of the advisory council also suggest, at
the least, a lack of cohesiveness or coordination
in decision making by the Council of Advisors.
These events have diverted us from considering
the content of the policy and its continuity with
previous state commitments, and from formulating
an action plan.

Let us first dissect the protests, which started
a few days before the announcement. How is it
that the ulema were threatening street action,
using the mosque to incite hatred against the
government and against women, even before they
had seen the policy? Their claim was that the
policy provided for equal rights to inheritance,
and thus violated religious norms and codes. The
protests have continued even after the policy has
been published and made available, and after it
is quite clear that it makes no reference to
inheritance laws!

Islam is a religion of peace. And yet the ulema
are deliberately breaking the peace by use of
vituperative language and seditious threats of
“civil war.” An ever-ready madrassah brigade has
been summoned into street action and, what is
even more surprising, the Khatib of Baitul
Mukaram mosque seems to have forgotten his
official responsibilities. We are familiar with
similar forms of destabilisation used in the past.

In 1961, for example, the ulema supported the
right-wing parties in opposing the Muslim Family
Laws Ordinance. The government, at that time,
took a strong stand against the trouble makers,
and the law has remained on our statute books for
four decades and is in daily use throughout the
country, benefiting millions of men, women and
children in the process. The uniformity of
messages emanating from khutbas in certain
mosques, their instigation to political rallies,
and the op-eds in the right-wing media suggest
considerable planning behind the scenes.

So, we need to figure out, is all this really
about a rejection of a national commitment to
gender equality? Is it really about any threat to
religion or religious practice? Or is it
something more calculated, and intended to serve
the interests of certain groups — is it merely a
diversionary tactic from the political movement
for the trial of war criminals, or just another
way of mounting a further challenge to the
present government?

We presume that the caretaker government follows
some official procedures for collective decision
making, and that, when the chief advisor
announced the policy on March 8, it had already
been discussed and approved by the council. Does
this imply that the chief advisor has gone back
on the previous decision taken collectively by
the council. Or have the four advisors acted on
their own initiative to visit the Islamic
Foundation, offer apologies and set up a "review
committee." What is the validity of any decisions
taken by such a committee?

There is nothing new in the policy itself, and,
in fact, these commitments had been made earlier
in the Constitution, in CEDAW, in the Beijing
Plan of Action, the MDG and NSRP. Let us examine
what the policy says.

Section 1 of the policy reviews official
decisions and commitments to women’s equality.

Section 2 lists the purpose and aims of the
policy to ensure equality, security, empowerment,
human rights, to address poverty of women,
recognise their economic and social
contributions, facilitate participation in public
decision making and access to education, health
and skill development, and protection for
vulnerable women. These aims have never been in
dispute, and different ministries have been
mandated since the early seventies to implement
programs in accordance with them.

Section 3 reiterates implementation of CEDAW
through review and reform of laws, prevention of
misuse of laws or misinterpretation of religion
contrary to women’s interests, creation of
awareness of rights, identification of children
by both parents, including in voter identity
cards. (It is unfortunate that the Election
Commission has failed to observe this government
rule, and women voters have been identified by
their spouses.)

Sections 4 and 5 refer to legal and policy
deterrents to violence against women.

Sections 7, 8, 12 and 13 refer to expanding
access to education, health and shelter or
housing, to creating opportunities for
participation in sports and culture.

Section 9 recognises women’s economic
contribution, the need for expanding
opportunities, and eliminating gender
discrimination; it also refers to the need for
safety nets and other facilities for working
women. Political participation is to be
facilitated through directly held elections to
reserved seats in Parliament, and lateral entry
of women in public services, diplomatic services,
maintaining quotas in public employment. In
acknowledging the government’s responsibility for
implementing the policy, section 17 reiterates
provisions for monitoring mechanisms, which have
already been in place.

The rightist frenzy is apparently over the right
to property, which is referred to in section 9.13
as providing for "equal rights to and control
over all moveable and immoveable property
acquired through the market." This is a statement
of the law as it stands in Bangladesh, and is not
a re-statement of it or any advance! At least,
that is true in theory. In practice, many women
are deprived of their legal share in family
property, and have little access to commercial
loans, etc.

It is difficult to see the rationale for the
objection to this section. And it is even more
difficult to understand what drove the four
advisors to go to the ulema if they had already
read the policy and were aware of its provisions.
Consultations on policy matters are a good
precedent, but only when they are held in a
rational atmosphere, and with constituencies that
are to be directly affected by such policies. The
National Policy for Women’s Development is an
outcome of a national consensus on the need to
eliminate gender inequality and to ensure women’s
advancement so that they can contribute more
effectively to economic and social development.

The government’s energy should now be directed to
work out time-lined action plans, and allocate
budgetary support. Ministries need to be mandated
with specific goals and targets, which can be
monitored effectively. It is time that
governments stand by their words and make sure
that equality and non-discrimination are
maintained as guidelines for laws, policies and
programs of action. Bangladesh needs to move
forward into thefuture. Let us not forget that
women’s labour today sustains the Bangladesh
economy, women’s social capital maintains family
well being. Recognising their rights will be a
step in furthering their effective contribution
to society.

Hameeda Hossain is a freelance contributor to The Daily Star.

o o o

BANGLADESH RETREATS ON WOMEN’S RIGHTS AFTER CLERICS PROTEST

Mar 12, 2008

DHAKA (AFP) - Bangladesh’s military-backed
government has backed down from a policy to
ensure equal property rights to women amid angry
protests by Muslim clerics that the move would
override Islamic law.

The country’s law minister Hasan Arif said the
government "does not have any plan to enact any
laws that goes against the Koran and the
traditions of Prophet Mohammad," a government
statement said.

Arif gave the assurance to top Islamic clerics
and scholars late on Tuesday, after Islamic
groups warned of nationwide protests, saying they
would not tolerate any law that went against
sharia, the Islamic law code.

Sharia is based on the teachings of the Koran,
prescribing both religious and secular duties,
from prayer to alms-giving, as well as penalties
for law-breaking. There are many interpretations
of the sharia.

The clerics’ complaints followed a new government
policy announced last week which stated women
should have equal property rights.

Bangladesh, whose population is 90 percent
Muslim, has a secular legal system but in matters
related to inheritance and marriage Muslims
follow sharia law.

Sharia practised in Bangladesh’s inheritance law
generally stipulates that a girl would inherit
half of what her brother gets. Women groups have
long protested against the disparity and demanded
equal rights.

The minister’s comments came after Islamist
parties and top clerics called protests across
the country this Friday against what they called
“laws against Islam.”

The leader of the group Mufti Fazlul Haq Amini
said that despite the government’s assurances
they would go ahead with protests until the
“anti-sharia” provisions were officially dropped.

"The new government policy has mentioned there
would be equal property rights for women which is
directly against Islam and the holy Koran. We
will not tolerate anything that goes against the
sharia," he told AFP on Wednesday.

The government had shown “scant regard” for the country’s Muslims, he said.

But Shirin Akhter, head of one of the largest
women’s groups in the country, said she hoped the
government would ignore the criticism.

"The policy spells out clearly that women should
have equal rights to property, which includes
inheritance. Our hope is that the government does
not get distracted by any so-called religious
group," Akhter, president of Working Women, said.

o o o

New Age
March 9, 2008

Editorial
GENDER EQUALITY SHOULD BE UPHELD

Our failure as a nation to ensure equal rights
for women as for men in all spheres and at all
levels is, we believe, a cause for great
disappointment and collective shame. While there
is no doubt that we have taken some measures
towards gender equity since our national
independence, there still remains much left to be
done. Even to this day, our country does not have
uniform inheritance laws for all Bangladeshis
that give women equal entitlement as men and nor
can a Bangladeshi woman pass down her nationality
to her children. In our view, unless such
discrepancies in our laws are addressed to put an
end to manifest discrimination against women, we
will never be and cannot claim to be a modern,
civilised and democratic state. In this regard,
we appreciate the policy decision of the
incumbents to revisit the issue of inheritance
and to bring about uniform laws which will apply
to all Bangladeshis irrespective of their
religious affiliation or beliefs and ensure that
women have equal entitlement to property as men.
We hope that the government will its policy to
reality by way of getting the relevant laws
amended and enforcing them properly.

However, it is extremely disappointing, though
not at all surprising, that at a time when the
government is apparently considering steps to
reduce discrimination against women in our laws
and customs, some obscurantist organisations have
come together under the banner of ’Islami
Uttaradhikar Ain Shanrakkhan Andolan’ to protest
and resist the government’s attempts to promote
gender equality. A few hundred obscurantists on
Friday staged demonstrations in front of the
Baitul Mukarram National Mosque to condemn what
it termed the ’western idea of gender equality.’
The organisations that joined the protest rally
include the Islami Shashantantra Andolan, Hizbut
Tahrir Bangladesh, Islami Chatra Andolan and
Khelafat Majlish. The activists have also warned
the government of ’dire consequences’, if it
proceeds with its plans.

We believe that there is nothing ’western’
about the idea of ensuring equal rights for all
human beings, irrespective of gender or other
characteristics and differences. Rather, it is
not only unjust but inhumane to promote or
protect the marginalisation of certain groups on
the basis of such things as gender, ethnicity,
religion and ability - physical or financial.
Bigotry should find no space in our society.
Hence, we urge the current regime to pay no heed
to the demands of the obscurantists. Instead, it
should stick to its plans and prove its
commitment to equity and social justice by
bringing necessary changes to laws that are
inherently discriminatory towards women.

___

The Daily Star
April 18, 2008

National Women Development Policy
REVIEW BODY OPPOSES EQUAL RIGHTS FOR WOMEN
Recommends deletion of 6 provisions, change in 15
Star Report

The ulema committee formed to review the National
Women Development Policy has strongly opposed
equal rights to women, recommending deletion of
six sections of the policy and amending 15 others
as they said these sections “clash” with the
provisions of the Quran and Sunnah.

There are several sections in the policy which
are “very objectionable”, said Mufti Mohammad
Nuruddin, acting khatib of Baitul Mukarram
National Mosque who headed the review committee.

"A woman cannot enjoy rights equal to a man’s
because a woman is not equal to a man by birth.
Can there be two prime ministers—one male and
one female—in a country at the same time?"
Nuruddin told The Daily Star after submitting the
seven-page report to Law and Religious Affairs
Adviser AF Hassan Ariff yesterday.

The 20-member committee asked the government to
clarify the phrase "women’s equal rights to
earned movable and immovable properties" and
follow Islamic provisions on inheritance if the
earned properties include inherited properties.

Suggesting inclusion of guidelines "in the light
of the Quran and Sunnah" while taking any
decision regarding women’s rights, the ulema
recommended abolishing the section that suggests
steps to implement the UN Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
against Women (CEDAW).

Asking the government to withdraw Bangladesh from
the convention, they said many sections in it go
against the belief, spirits and culture of the
Muslim ummah.

The ulema committee also opposed and asked the
government to eliminate the provision for keeping
reserved seats for women in parliament and local
government bodies and direct elections to those.

"This policy has strongly hurt the pious Muslims
of the country since many sections of it clash
with the Quran and Sunnah...It does not go with
Bangladesh’s constitution, religious traditions
and culture," the report concludes.

Adviser Hassan Ariff expressed hopes that the
recommendations will remove the "language or
interpretation gap" created surrounding the Women
Development Policy.

The committee members did not support the
attempts by a section of opportunists to create
chaos by taking advantage of the situation, he
told reporters.

THE RECOMMENDATIONS
The committee said 15 sections of the National
Women Development Policy are against Islam and
should be revised or corrected while six sections
should be eliminated.

The Islamic scholars said not only is it
impossible to establish equal rights for men and
women in the country, but in some cases, giving
women equality would deprive them of their rights
in many sectors.

They proposed replacing the phrase "equality,
equal rights and affirmative action“with”just
rights".

The committee also said the ambition of
eradicating "existing disparities between women
and men" is unclear and should be replaced by the
phrase "existing disparities between women and
men in light of the Quran and the Sunnah".

On the section that asks for giving women equal
human and fundamental rights such as political,
economic, social and cultural, they said "just
rights" should be ensured for men and women in
light of the Quran and Sunnah.

They said the government must ensure
participation of ulema and muftis alongside
women’s law experts while drawing up or
eliminating or amending any "existing
discriminatory" law.

They proposed inclusion of religion experts in a
committee to resolve any inconsistency regarding
women’s interest arising from misinterpretations
of provisions of those religions.

They also opposed the provision of a child’s
being identified by both the mother and father,
saying it “encourages sexual abuse” and
pre-marital cohabitation. They recommended
identifying a child by “legally married” parents.

The committee observed that the policy’s proposed
penalty for child marriages is not in line with
Islamic policy as the legal marriage age of 18
should not apply here because Islam states that a
girl can be married as soon as she has "come of
age".

It recommended replacing the phrase "child
marriage“of the section concerned with”discourage underage marriage".

The committee opposed inclusion of women in
peacekeeping missions, saying it would make women
insecure and it could tarnish Bangladesh’s image.
The ulema proposed cancelling the provision.

They also opposed the provision that women "must
be given equal opportunities and participation in
wealth, employment, market and business", saying
it clashes with the Quran’s teachings. They
proposed giving women equal opportunities and
participation in these sectors in light of
religious dictums.

The committee specifically said one’s inheritance
rights should be determined by their own
religions.

The ulema asked the government to cancel the
initiative to reserve one-third parliamentary
seats for women to increase women’s participation
in parliament and its application in local
elections.

A few Islamist parties started staging
demonstrations immediately after the chief
adviser announced the National Women Development
Policy 2008 on March 8.

On March 11, the law adviser told the ulema that
the caretaker government had not passed any law
regarding inheritance and there is nothing that
contradicts the Quran and Sunnah.

The next day, Women and Children Affairs Adviser
Rasheda K Choudhury asked people to refrain from
unnecessary criticism of a progressive document
like the policy without going through it.

On March 27, the government formed the 20-member
committee to identify inconsistencies in the
policy as per Islamic rules and suggest steps.

o o o

The Daily Star
March 30, 2008

Women Policy
FORMATION OF REVIEW BODY QUESTIONED
Staff Correspondent

The formation of a high-powered committee to
review the Women Development Policy 2008 by
keeping the women and children affairs ministry
in the dark has surprised many quarters,
including the government officials.

Law and Religious Affairs Adviser AF Hassan
Ariff, Home Adviser MA Matin, Communications
Adviser Ghulam Quader and LGRD Adviser Md Anwarul
Iqbal at a meeting on Thursday formed the
committee, tasking it with identifying anything
in the policy that may go against Islamic rules.

Rights organisations have questioned the
quartet’s right to form such a committee once the
head of the government formally announced the
policy on behalf of the advisory council on March
8.

They plan to hand in a memorandum to the chief
adviser in a couple of days, protesting the
formation of the review committee and demanding a
clarification of the government position on the
long-awaited policy.

"After the policy was announced and we were
waiting for the start of its implementation, some
advisers have literally bowed to pressure from
individuals who have been opposing women and
social development over the last 50 years," said
Sultana Kamal, executive director of Ain O Salish
Kendra.

Rights organisations and women leaders said
forming such a committee goes against the
government’s stated stand on national
development, equal rights and the establishment
of a corruption-free society.

Key features of the women policy include setting
aside one-third of the parliamentary seats for
women and arranging direct election to the
reserved seats as well as enacting new laws to
ensure opportunity for women and their control on
earned movable and immovable property.

Earlier, several advisers, including the law
adviser himself and Women and Children Affairs
Adviser Rasheda K Choudhury, made it clear on
several occasions that the new policy contains
nothing that goes against the rule and spirit of
Islam, but a section of the religious leaders
took to the streets to protest the policy,
clearly violating the emergency rules.

The law adviser on March 11 told Islamic scholars
at the Islamic Foundation that the interim
government would not pass any law on inheritance.

The next day Adviser Rasheda urged people not to
criticise a “progressive” document like the women
development policy before going through it.

But Islamist organisations paid no heed to her
call. They accused the government of trying to
implement an anti-Shariah policy in the name of
women’s development.

Mufti Mohammad Nuruddin, acting khatib of Baitul
Mokarram National Mosque, was made convenor of
the review committee. It will submit its report
within 21 days identifying the "inconsistencies
in the policy from the perspective of the Islamic
rules".

No official from the women and children affairs
ministry was present at the meeting that formed
the committee, said sources.

"We were not informed before the meeting and not
even after the committee was formed," a top
official of the ministry told The Daily Star on
condition of anonymity.

"Since the ministry played the key role in
formulating the policy and will have to implement
it, it is surprising that neither the ministry’s
adviser nor any official was asked to attend the
meeting," he said.

When asked about this, staffers of the four
advisers’ offices said the meeting was arranged
hurriedly.

"It seems to be a two-pronged policy. We need to
know whether forming the review committee is the
decision of the four advisers or the government
as we know the advisory council approved the
policy," said Ayesha Khanam, president of
Bangladesh Mahila Parishad.

Saying that all the deliberations over the past
few years on formulating the policy appear to
have been absolutely meaningless after the
government’s bowing to the pressure of "those who
are talking against the constitution", Sultana
Kamal added, "I can’t help asking who is running
the government?"

When contacted last night, Law Adviser Hassan
Ariff declined to comment on the issue over the
phone.

o o o

The Daily Star, April 17, 2008

Women Policy
Cancellation of review body demanded
Staff Correspondent

A number of socio-cultural organisations,
political parties and non-government
organisations (NGO) have demanded cancellation of
the committee formed to review the Women
Development Policy 2008 and immediate
implementation of the policy.

Samajik Protirodh Committee at a protest meeting
yesterday urged the chief adviser to implement
the Women Development Policy after cancelling the
review committee, ban political activities in
religious institutions, and clarify the stance of
the government on the matter. Dr Hamida Hossain
presided over the meeting held at the Central
Shaheed Minar.

Karmojibi Nari has also demanded cancellation of
the review committee and implementation of the
policy.

It also urged the government to initiate trial of
war criminals after forming a special tribunal.

Organisation President Shirin Akhter and General
Secretary Sharmin Kabir in a joint statement
yesterday said, "The Women Development Policy is
a significant step by the current government for
establishing equal rights and respect for women.
But the fundamentalists and war criminals in the
country are opposing the policy terming it an
anti-Islam policy."

Workers’ Party of Bangladesh has condemned the
review committee’s recommendations for omitting
six sections and amending 15 others of the Women
Development Policy.

It also called upon the government to implement
the policy for establishing the rights of women.

"When the entire nation is vocal about trial of
war criminals, a certain quarter is trying to
create anarchy in the country in the name of
religion," the party politburo said in a
statement.

The Workers’ Party urged the government to take
actions against those responsible for instigating
violence near the Baitul Mukarram Mosque.

Samajtantrik Mohila Forum has condemned the move
for amending 15 sections and bringing changes in
the Women Development Policy.

Those who oppose the idea of establishing equal
rights for men and women are against the
democratic rights, it said in a statement.

Another NGO Steps Towards Development in a
statement signed by its Executive Director Ranjan
Karmakar said those who are opposing the Women
Development Policy are actually opposing the
constitution.

"The quarter that does not recognise the
country’s constitution is opposing the Women
Development Policy," it said adding that the
review committee must be cancelled.

Gender and Development Alliance, an NGO working
for promoting gender equality, human rights and
good governance, said any opposition to the Women
Development Policy is similar to taking stance
against the constitution.

Urging the government to implement the policy
immediately, Bangladesh Trade Union Centre in a
statement said a certain quarter has challenged
the constitution by opposing the policy. The
organisation leaders called upon the caretaker
government to take actions against them.


Source: SACW, 10-11 April 2008; SACW, April 18-19, 2008 (via sacw.net)