First News
Volume:7, Number:48
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Nation In The News

Confronting the Challenges

| Navid Ahmed |

The conflict between traditional laws and formal rules is the main reason behind the six challenges faced by indigenous women of Bangladesh

About one million women are living in the three hill districts of Rangamati, Bandarban, and Khagrachhari – with six challenges. These are discriminatory behavior, inheritance of property, divorce, child custody, support, and torture. Organizations working on women's rights are concerned, as day by day, these challenges are becoming more difficult. They are holding regular programs in the hill districts regarding these matters.

The conflict between traditional laws and formal rules is the main reason behind these challenges, according to sources. Though Muslim, Hindu, Christian, and other women rightfully gain the inheritance of a father or husband's property, with a marriage certificate and other social rights, tribal women are deprived of their rights according to the same sources. Though these people live in Bangladesh, instead of following the constitution of Bangladesh, they follow their traditional customs and systemic traditions. Human rights activist in the hill regions, advocate Sushmita Chakma said, "We are really concerned about discrimination against tribal girls in the three Hill Districts. Here, women are greatly neglected. They cannot be property owners in succession. The boys become the owners of the property when their father dies. If someone has no son, a brother's sons get the property.” She also added that there are headman systems in the hill districts. They judge like a family court. In most of these cases, women are not getting justice. In all, the social status of tribal women is being blown up in many ways. Suprabha Chakma, general secretary of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Women's Association, said, ‘’Tribal women have been campaigning for succession and against violence for a long time. There are various rituals here. There are conventional laws as well.’’

Meanwhile, from December 2011 to July 2015, a total of 220 women and children have availed victim services according to the Victim Support Center, located in the Rangamati Hill District. Of these, 44 were victims of rape, and 71 people were victims of domestic violence, where all 71 acknowledged they were the victims of traditional customs in tribal communities. Currently the number of victims suffering from family violence has nearly doubled. For this reason, tribal-based women's organizations have become active on behalf of victims of deprivation and oppression in cases of discrimination against women. Meanwhile, concerned people working on the rights and deprivation of tribal women say that according to the customs of most tribal communities, there is no way to inherit the property of a parent or husband. That is why tribal women are being denied the right to property.

The constitution of Bangladesh acknowledges equality for all, irrespective of gender, religion, caste or class, as a fundamental right. Bangladesh has signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and all types of abolition of discrimination against women charters (CDO). In the meantime, the government has taken a number of policies and steps for the equal rights of men and women, protection of women, and women's development. In addition to the ongoing protection of women, the Dowry Prohibition Act 1980, Women and Child Repression Prevention Act 2000, Acid Suppression Act 2010, and Child Marriage Prevention Act 2013 have also been enacted. The number of female members in local government has increased in other areas due to the various initiatives taken by the government of Bangladesh, but tribal women have not been able to play an active role in deciding the gender paradigm, due to their customs and traditions. Therefore, women in the hill region are completely deprived, subject to discrimination and abuse in a number of areas and are deprived of their land rights as well. Even though there is no institutional survey on family violence, the level of torture is nonetheless rampant.

Tribal women are likely to be deprived and neglected in their rights of enjoyment and possession of land in the hill areas due to the separation of women's land in the amendment of the Hill Land Commission Act. Traditional institutions of the Chittagong Hill Tracts - circle chief, headman, carbari, on whom depends the social justice of tribal people living in the mountainous areas, and the land and natural resources management of Mouza Circle, included in the responsibility of collecting rent, are all institutions of a patriarchal power structure. Meanwhile, various political, social, and cultural organizations, and women and human rights organizations, in the Chittagong Hill Tracts are undertaking programs to prevent violence against women. Women Resource Network, Kapeng Foundation, Malayya Foundation, Hill Women Federation, KMKS, Unique Woman Welfare Association, Ballipara Woman Welfare Association, Jabarang Kalyan Samity, Progressive, Bangladesh Tribal (Indigenous) Women Network, Khagrapur Mahila Samity, Garjantali Nari Koylan Samity and numerous other organizations, including Kalyan Samity, are continuing various programs since the past few years to prevent violence against women and to get them their rights.

Various communities of different ethnic groups celebrate different religions. For example, Chakma- Buddhist religion, Marma-Buddhist religion, Tripura-traditional religion, caste-Christian religion, Santaltraditional religion, and Mro-Buddhist religion. Though the tribal communities follow the laws of their respective religions, in the case of women’s rights and assessment, they do not follow the laws of their respective religions. They follow the customs of their respective communities. By their respective religions, tribal women have been given due importance and status in their personal, social, and marital lives as well as in the inheritance of their father or husband's property, but these rights are greatly undermined and diminished by tribal and communal practices.

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