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With 52 per cent of women living in the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh and a significant number of single mother leading households, Bangladesh has room for bolstering its policies vis-à-vis the escalating rate of gender-based violence and sexual assault in the camps

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IPRI # 81, 16 July 2020

WOMEN, PEACE AND TWENTY YEARS OF UNSC 1325
In Bangladesh, laws need to catch up with reality

  Mehjabin Ferdous

The “Global Gender Gap Report 2020” has claimed that Bangladesh has secured the highest score among its South Asian neighbors and is the 50 country in the world to curb the gender gap. While indicating Bangladesh’s quantitative journey forward in this course, it is worth paying attention to how well is Bangladesh performing in fulfilling its commitments vis-à-vis curbing its gender gap especially when women’s contribution in peace and security is concerned. It’s been 20 years since the resolution 1325 was passed in the UNSC, which above all underscored women’s increased participation in peace and security measures as well as their protection in armed conflict and post-conflict situations of which Bangladesh is a signatory.

Not just a Caregiver, Women in peacekeeping mission can do more in combat roles

Starting in 1988, Bangladesh is now the second most troop and police-contributing country in the UN peacekeeping missions. It has achieved the honor of deploying the first ever women contingent commander in the UNPKO history under Colonel Nazma Begum in the Ivory Coast. Bangladesh has also sent an all-women contingent in Haiti and another in DR Congo. While it is laudable that Bangladesh is heading towards enhanced women’s participation and representation in conflict prevention, resolution, peacebuilding, and post-conflict governance, the upshots are not reasonable to be complacent yet. Besides, one must not forget that women in these missions mostly plays role in caregiving and providing support to the principal forces and their presence in direct combat or hardcore military operations are quite hard to be seen. For instance, all the women contingent in Haiti was primarily occupied with providing humanitarian assistance as well as the one in DR Congo was focused on providing economic, medical, and socio-economic support to the Congolese people.

In contrast to the UNSCR 1325 that calls upon the signatories to ‘expand the role and contribution of women in United Nations field-based operations’ at‘all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions.’ Two women combat pilots in DR Congo and the petite number of women in patrolling forces are inadequate to fill the huge gap in meeting strategic gender needs of Bangladeshi women in their way to contributing in peace and security and thereby Bangladesh fails to uphold its commitment to UNSCR 1325 to a large extent.

Additionally, even after Bangladesh has progressed to ‘politically empower’ women through the constitutional quota system of reserving 50 seats in the national parliament, it has only eight per cent women seating in the cabinet and 20 per cent in the parliament. Also, only one in 10 leadership roles is occupied by women.

Laws fail to curb child marriage, domestic violence & sexual abuse

As far as preventing violence and human rights abuses against women in conflict and post-conflict situations are concerned, in the year 2000 the parliament passed Nari O Shishu Nirjaton Domon Act 2000 (Women and Children Repression Prevention Act) and Domestic Violence Act 2010 as well as Child Marriage Restraint Act 2017.

But, in contrast to these legal regimes and initiatives, reality says something else. For instances, under the Child Marriage Restraint Act 2017, the state has allowed girls to be married off at the age of 16 under special circumstances with permissions from the parents and the court which definitely violates a girl’s basic human rights and their rights as children and pushes them further towards poor educational and health opportunities and even death in some cases. Bangladesh stands fourth in child marriage internationally.

WHO says every one in three women in Bangladesh has experienced physical and sexual violence. As conflicts among the indigenous community, Bengali settlers, and armed forces mount, each month have reported rape and sexual assault of indigenous women and girls by the settlers and armed forces with few cases been tried since 2000. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, 4,249 women across the state have been reported to be subjected to domestic violence by their family members.

No pre-emptive protection system for the victim in conflict situations

With regard to strengthening safety and physical security and promote and protect the rights of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict situations, the Dhaka Metropolitan Police has its ‘Women Support and Investigation Center’ which started its journey in 2009 with its so-called groundbreaking initiative of “Victim Support Center” with around 1,600 cases investigated since 2011. However, under the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs, Bangladesh has a VAW unit that monitors incidents of violence as well as provides legal and police assistance to the victims and the ministry of Social Welfare provides for six safe homes for women. Despite a ‘theoretically’ super responsive mechanism to protect the rights of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict situations, Bangladesh lacks a pre-emptive protection system for the victims and most of its mechanisms come to effect only after crimes take place.

Recovery remains distant, Relief blindsides gender needs, Transitional Justice is shortsighted

Lastly, although the UNSCR 1325 calls for actions to address the specific needs and priorities of women and girls in relief, early recovery, transitional justice, and economic recovery efforts both nationally and internationally, the suggested national strategies are not commensurate to the specific needs and priorities of women. For instances, according to the Humanitarian Assistance Program Guidelines 2012-2013, women members of the local governments are instructed to be included in the relief committees which is a reasonable decision but the guideline fails to elaborate further in addressing women’s specific needs as well as to provide gender-sensitive guidelines for the relief workers to operate during humanitarian crises.

From Paper to Practice, National Action Plan for Women Peace and Security cries for implementation

Furthermore, it is high time Bangladesh had developed mechanisms to address gender-based violence and sexual assaults against women and girls during humanitarian and health emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic. Considering the 52 per cent of women living in the Rohingya camps in Bangladesh with a significant number of single mother leading households, Bangladesh has room for bolstering its policies vis-à-vis the escalating rate of gender-based violence and sexual assault in the camps.

Amid the bleak scenario of the implementation of UNSCR 1325, Bangladesh has drafted its ‘National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security 2019-2022 (NAP WPS 2019-20220)’ – an update to be hopeful about. But still, being one of the pioneering members in adopting this particular resolution, Bangladesh has far more serious responsibilities than that, and NAP WPS 2019-2022 is just a kickoff. The disadvantaged position of Bangladeshi women in peace and security is sanctioned by both the society and state at political, social, cultural, economic, and religious fronts. Patriarchy is so well rooted in all the social and national apparatuses that it can’t be demolished only by making women more visible quantitatively. It requires deliberate intervention at deeper levels of society and to address the strategic gender needs of women.


Mehjabin Ferdous is a young professional based in Bangladesh. She has studied International Relations at the University of Dhaka and currently working with an NGO to promote safe migration for the women of Bangladesh. 

The above commentary is a part of a series on ‘WOMEN, PEACE AND TWENTY YEARS OF UNSC 1325’. This an attempt by NIAS to mark the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the historical United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on ‘women, peace and security’ which was the first to recognize the importance of women in the peacebuilding process and incorporate gender perspectives in all UN peace and security efforts.

Also from the series...

In Afghanistan, there is no going back for the women 

Fatemah Ghafori

In India, the glass is half full for the women

Jenice Jean Goveas 

In Nepal, it is a struggle for the women out of the patriarchal shadows

Kabi Adhikari

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