Interview with Dr.Nusrat Ameen: PhD and DV Advocacy Lawyer
- February 12, 2008
- 9 Comments
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
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
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
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.