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Interview with Dr.Nusrat Ameen: PhD and DV Advocacy Lawyer

by Sabrin

Dr. Nusrat Ameen has devoted her professional career towards fighting against gender abuse, completing her PhD in domestic violence and working towards implementing legal laws for dealing with domestic violence in Bangladesh. She is currently conducting research at Rice University and also serves as the Transitional Home Coordinator for Daya, a South Asian domestic violence organization located in Houston.

OAA: Dr. Ameen, would you like to briefly describe your work as an advocacy lawyer in Bangladesh and what drove you to become passionate about advancing women’s’ rights in terms of gender abuse? 

NA: As you know, I am in the legal area and while doing my Phd on domestic violence, I realized the services needed in our society. I gathered that gender abuse is not even considered an offence- thus an invisible offence, as I described in my research. I felt that I must continue my services for promoting and establishing the rights of women against domestic abuse. I also realized that all the women’s rights NGO’s were focusing on graver violence and ignoring domestic abuse. Mostly because the Government was also keeping it an invisible issue for political gains. The Jamati (political party) being one of the reasons for such policy. I was more determined to pursue my vision and so kept link with people in NGO’s with a broader vision. It took me a long time since 1999 completing my Phd to 2004 to convince people to see this abuse as an offence and do more research in this field.

By this time, BNP (political party) was in power and the NGO which helped me to do the research in whole of Bangladesh (my thesis focused on the Capital city only) was in good relation which paved my way to publish my book from UPL and get the focus of the government. The Law Commission was also by this time more focused on the issue and Law Minister promised at the inaugural of my book to pursue for a law on domestic violence with the Law Commission. So I was and still am totally with the advancement of gender abuse.
 

OAA: From your experiences, what do you believe is South Asian society’s view on gender abuse issues and why do you think that legal structures in South Asian countries fail to have adequate domestic violence laws? 

NA: That, it is a very normal thing and cannot be an issue. Most surprisingly, my experience in USA dealing with domestic violence is that the attitude is the same in the South Asian community here. The patriarchal attitude and the behavioral pattern remaining the same, the community tries to ignore the issue and mostly blaming the women. On the other hand, there are many reasons in South Asian countries that fail to take into account any recourse to domestic violence laws.

The two main theoretical frameworks identified by the United Nations Report, 1989 that establish the cause of wife abuse are, in my opinion, of great importance. One focuses attention on the characteristics of the wife, husband and the family, and finds the cause of the violence in the personal inadequacy of the husband or wife or in external stresses that affect the family. Thus, some theorists argue that men are violent towards the women with whom they live “because of some internal aberration, abnormality or defective characteristic”1. They tended to look for ‘inner traits’ rather than social or cultural context. These may include alcoholism, violent upbringing, mental illness and poor self-control. Others suggest that wives provoke their husbands to beat them or are predisposed to violence, being attracted to violent men and addicted to abuse. Their provocation results from external causes of stress and frustration resulting from unemployment or poverty.2 Research3 in Bangladesh reflects this framework as it explains how women are abused in home because of personality conflicts and external causes (for example, poverty), as shown in my field study4

The other theoretical framework goes beyond an analysis based on psychological or social causes, noting the acceptability of violence against women in the home and roots its cause in the structure of society itself. It suggests that wife abuse is neither a private nor a family problem, but rather a reflection of the broad structures of sexual and economic inequality in society. Therefore, it suggests that violence by husbands against wives is not a breakdown of the social order at all, not an aberration, but as Freeman5 sees it rather as, “an affirmation of a particular social order”, arising out of the socio-cultural belief that women are less important and less valuable than men and so are not entitled to equal respect. In Bangladeshi context the misinterpretation of religion and also social taboos proves fatal for women’s subordination. For example, ‘heaven lies under husband’s feet’ and ‘the part beaten by husband goes to heaven’ are self explanatory of this situation. 

The causes of domestic violence are various. I identified various factors according to the responses of the respondents in my study which give rise to conflicts and result in abuse by the husband. Firstly; personal traits/modes of behaviour which are designated as individual personality factors. Secondly, tension/anger which is aggravated by certain environmental factors. These correspond with the theory which puts the cause of violence in both in the inner personality traits causing external conflicts or social/ psychological causes imbedded in society. 

The different environmental and personality factors also contribute to domestic violence. Among the environmental factors, physical assault, dowry, money trouble and non-maintenance which comes from poverty, and second marriage, interference by in-laws rank high as seen in the table. The other factors included i) nature of husband to quarrel in trifling matters, for example, where the wife did not serve hot food or when the wife slept at an odd time of the day, ii) suspecting the wife of infidelity, iii) cannot tolerate wife’s independence, for example if she went to work or went out alone, iv) compelling wife to lead immoral life, and v) adultery. Drinking and gambling were also causes for assault and many of the respondents said that the husbands resorted to physical assaults after being drunk or after losing in gambling.   

Among the respondents more than 50% stated adultery by the husband as one of the main reasons for abuse. Adultery was more prevalent in the lower-income class than in the other classes. However, the statistics as stated by the women had to be believed. It may happen that adultery is also more existent in the higher-class but is not disclosed owing to stigma.  

I think, because of all these factors, associated with the political will are the reasons for not adopting a law in this area.

OAA: In 2005, you published your book Wife Abuse in Bangladesh: An Unrecognized Offence. What basic conclusion(s) did you come across regarding domestic abuse in South Asian households while conducting research for your book? 

NA:  My research mainly revolved around the Bangladeshi laws and the inadequacy in dealing with domestic violence. I showed how the absence of law resulted in misuse of law. Secondly the absence of law made the issue secondary, and I showed how all the cases in the Family Courts’ were filed for dower, divorce and maintenance where the issue was domestic violence. Thus making domestic violence a non-issue. Therefore, the need for change is imminent. We have to make a new law or alter the existing laws to accommodate domestic violence- a clear message from the society that it is not permissible. Without a law this cannot be possible.

OAA: Your research has suggested that often times the more intellectual a women is, the more likely she is to stay in an abused relationship. Why do you feel that is and how has your research supported this view? 

NA: This question is more theoretical. Education has a great impact on the tolerance of women in a given society. My research in Bangladesh, found that unlike the West, the women who are trapped in violent marriages come from the educated class rather than the uneducated class. This is because for the educated losing family honor is more a stigma than the uneducated and lower class women. For the latter, family honor does not come into account when poverty is the main issue. The socio-cultural-religious norms also play a vital role in shaping the women’s choice to break the silence. Many women in my research who were doctors, lawyers or professionals working in company’s were not ready to break the silence but came for only counseling without disclosing their husbands. This attitude owes mainly to the fact that domestic violence is not recognized as an offence and still a stigma to speak about.

OAA: In your opinion, what is the first steps we should take as a community to combat gender abuse? 

NA: The first and the foremost thing to combat gender abuse is to rethink roles. The change should come from individual level changes. By developing self-worth and self confidence women should fight the prejudices that obstruct them from exercising their rights. The next step comes from the organizations working for women’s rights. These organizations should collectively work against the prejudices and forward the message that domestic violence will not be tolerated.

The voice of an individual woman carries no weight. In fact she may be accused of being outspoken or radical. It is necessary, therefore, that more and more women’s organizations be developed to create an awareness among women to struggle against their oppression and to fight against the men who exploit, humiliate and torture women.

Moreover, the need for change has to come from within the community level starting from courts, lawyers, judges, police to community leaders. The high schools should include the issue of domestic violence in their curriculum. It may be by way of seminar or workshop.

OAA: Any additional comments for our readers/bloggers? 

NA: Be assertive, be positive, be conscious of yourself. No one has a right to abuse me. Abusers have no place in my house. Domestic violence is no less than a serious offence. Report any domestic abuse, whether its you or your friend or neighbor.

9 Comments

Riffat Zaman, Ph.D.Feb 14 2008 - -

Bravo Nusrat! I am proud of you for voicing it loud and clear. I, being a Bangladeshi, an educated professional who had the courage to go for a divorce from an influential conservative narrow-minded wealthy family couldn't agree with you more on the taboo and stigma issue of upper-class society of Bangladesh where abuse is silent and mental and of course unspoken!! But I am glad that you are one lady of substance who come from the same social circle and have broken the rules of silent abuse yourself and look at us now how we have moved on with our lives for the better. But I am glad your work is to set examples (personally and professionally) to unleash the chains of silent and violent abuse on women. Congrats and I salute you for your work!! Riffat Zaman, Ph.D. Washington DC

Nusrat AmeenFeb 14 2008 - -

Thank you Riffat for agreeing with me to voice against abuse. It is our duty to let people know that domestic abuse is no more a taboo and a stigma and thus to suffer in silence rather to fight against such abuse and live a worthy life for ourselves and make others believe in that also.

Riffat Zaman, Ph.D.Feb 14 2008 - -

Let's post it in your facebook!! Let the ball rolling!!

Nadia Lodhi WahhabFeb 15 2008 - -

Brilliant piece of work Nusrat. You have covered a wide area on how domestic violence has been perceived and dealt with in Bangladesh, with so much conviction and dedication. I must add to that before formulating a law against domestic violence, it is required to be accepted and acknowledge consciously as a criminal offense by every individual of our society. Our women needs to search for their inner strength to come out and fight for their own rights. Again congratulations and thanks for enlightening us with so much in depth work. Nadia Lodhi Wahhab, MBACP psychotherapist, London

Mahbub KaziFeb 15 2008 - -

Excellent interview indeed. I hope you and people like you will be able to raise the consciousness enough to the point where every concerned parent would realize the importance of gender abuse and will be able to educate his or her young daughter on the subject. I believe the key is to convince every adolescent girl that it is quite all right to leave an abusive relationship regardless of the social and economic outcomes of that action. Also, it is important to notice early signs of abuse and call it “quits” rather than stay in to the relationship thinking it will get better over time – it NEVER does!

Adiba AhmedFeb 17 2008 - -

A brilliant interview!! Needless to say, it points to the issue of educating our "elite and well to do/educated" social circle of domestic abuse and the various forms of it that continues to eat away our level of confidence and the zeal towards life!! Well done.

RomanaApr 9 2008 - -

It has been great pleasure to read about your interview.I am living abroad.I am sorry to say that domestic violence here is also big problem among Bangladeshi community.There are resources and help available,but they are not taking advantage of it.They are rejecting as they think it is western law.I strongly believe many Bangladeshi women in western countries are not aware of "what is domestic violence is", they do not know their rights at all. They are having a lot of health problem, emotional problem but they do not know that these problems are directly related to domestic violence.I wish I can help them but I do not know how, but at least.. I am confident that I can only help myself. You have done a great job.

LucyJun 11 2008 - -

Does anyone know where I can contact Dr Ameen? I tried the University in Dhaka but they said she'd left. Its quite urgent.

Reply to LucyJun 11 2008 - -

Lucy, Please email me at sabrin@outagainstabuse.com for more information about Dr. Ameen. Thanks, Sabrin

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