|Submitted to the “Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women”
CEDAW and Bangladesh
Bangladesh ratified CEDAW in 1984 with reservation to the Article 2 and the Article 16(1)(c),stating the following, “The Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh does not consider as binding upon itself the provisions of article 2, [… and …] 16 (1) (c) as they conflict with Sharia law based on Holy Quran and Sunna”. Subsequently, Bangladesh also ratified the Optional Protocol to CEDAW in 2000 with reservations on the Articles 8 and 9.
|Alternative Report of the Civil Society on the CEDAW
This report issubmitted to the “UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women” by a coalition of 4 International Land Coalition-ILC members, all well-known civil society organizations in Bangladesh on the issue of land rights, agrarian reforms, rights of the indigenous peoples and gender justice;
(1) Association for Land Reforms and Development (ALRD),
(2) Association for the Realization of Basic Needs (ARBAN),
(3) Community Development Association (CDA) and
(4) Kapaeeng Foundation (KF).
ALRD represents 220 CSOs across Bangladesh. The 3 other sponsor organizations are equally well-known civil society organizations in Bangladesh.
The report only covers select articles of CEDAW; Articles 3, Article 5, Article 7, Article 13, Article 14 and Article 15. This particular focus on select articles is made in view of the organizational focus and mandates of ILC, the lead organization ALRD and the 3 other ILC members in Bangladesh.
Observations on Bangladesh’s Ratification:
In many ways, the two articles of CEDAW that Bangladesh is yet to ratify contain the core message CEDAW. Both articles stipulate for equality between men and women before law and as regards family and civil matters, equality in marriage and its dissolution, and in inheritance, etc. The article 2 also asks for conforming the national constitutions and laws to the provisions of CEDAW in the case of difference between the two.
Bangladesh abstained from ratification of these 2 articles under the pretext of religious traditions. But is it a tenable and justifiable pretext?Undoubtedly, the religious orthodoxy, in particular Islamic religious orthodoxy, remains strong in Bangladesh. But the arguments made by Bangladesh may be open to further debate as to what exactly amounts to “conflict with Sharia law based on Holy Quran and Sunna”. The issue seems all the more relevant given the recent recommendation of the Law Commission to the Government to ratify both the articles. A similar case also can be made for the ratification of the articles 8 and 9 of the Optional Protocol to CEDAW.
Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world with apopulation of 160 million in a territory comprising 155,000 kilometers. The population is overwhelmingly homogenouswith a tiny minority who claim to be recognized as ‘indigenous peoples’. Itis an overwhelmingly agrarian economy. Women in recent years, however, are assuming increased responsibility for the households and in agriculture. This is, although, putting them into a more a vulnerable situation as theyoften are denied of ownershiptitle deeds of land in their name.
The Constitution of Bangladesh stipulates equality before law of its citizens and bans all discriminations based on gender, caste and creed (Article 28). Other articles recognizes equality of all citizens before law, guarantees to all citizens have the freedom of thought, conscience and speech and to undertake measures to remove inequality betweenwomen and men. However, the family laws in Bangladesh that principally deal with the issue of the rights of the women in Bangladesh is very much discriminatory to the women. This cuts across religions and ethnicity; Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and indigenous peoples. Similarly, the plethora of policies on socio-economic development are largely indifferent to the issue of the rights of the women. Some policies such as the National Khas Land Management andSettlement Policy in 1997include clause stating that only women with able bodied son will receive khas land from the government!
The recommendations below are thus made in order for Bangladesh to fulfill wholly its commitment to CEDAW and its constitutional obligations;
1.Bangladesh should make immediate steps for the ratification of the remaining two articles of CEDAW. Along with, it should equally take similar steps for the ratification of the Articles 8 and 9of the Optional Protocol the two articles that it is yet ratify.
2.Subsequently, Bangladesh should take immediate steps to change the family laws recognizing the equal rights of the women of all religious groups and to this end, to adopt a time-bound plan of action for a ‘uniform civil code’ for all the religious and ethnic communities on the basis of the principles of CEDAW.
3.Bangladesh should take immediate measures to invite the CEDAW Committee to investigate and provide recommendations on the state of the rights of women in Bangladesh.
4.Bangladesh also should initiate measures for full ratification of the other UN human rights treaties, conventions and declarations.
5.The Government of Bangladesh should seek revisions of the existing development policies in a time-bound framework in partnership with the civil society and women representatives to incorporate the vision for realization of equal rights between men and women.
6.Bangladesh should immediately undertake a capacity building programme of the concerned government agencies and officials on CEDAW.
7.The Government of Bangladesh should initiate immediate revision of the concerned laws and policies with a time-bound frame to give proper recognition to the women as ‘farmer’ for their role in promoting and sustaining agricultural productions in the country.
8.The revision of policies should be accompanied with commensurate actions comprising of relevant programmes.
9.The Government of Bangladesh should immediately initiate more pro-active actions for inclusion of the marginalized peoples, groups and communities, including the indigenous peoples and indigenous women in its development plans and programmes.
10.While revising the existing policies or adopting new laws and policies, the Government of Bangladesh should make these culturally appropriate and sensitive to the vulnerable socio-economic and political conditions of the marginalized communities, in particular the indigenous peoples. In this regard, the Government of Bangladesh may draw relevant guidance from various international guidelines and policies including the Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Tenure of FAO.
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