Can our women take vital decisions independently?


by Alpha Arzu


Monzila Begum, a 29-year-old housewife, is now "‘fighting death in a hospital bed in Dhaka after alleged brutal torture by her husband. Her giving birth to a baby girl - the fourth daughter in a row— outraged her husband who. desperately wanted a son.

Born at Goyghar village in Palang thana of Shariatpur district, Monzila was married off 10 years ago. But she didn’t have the right to give her opinion in taking child or adopting birth control method.

"Monzila has three daughters. Naturally she didn’t want to take another, but she was forced by her husband to conceive for the fourth time only to have a son," said Fatema, elder sister of Monzila.

She alleged that We cruel husband unleashed a harsh regime of torture on Monzila accusing her of depriving the family of a son. When Monzila gave birth to her fourth daughter in November 2001, her husband became so angry and beat her up mercilessly.

"We have taken her to Pangu Hospital in Dhaka. Doctors said a bone in Monzila’s neck was fractured. She is now awaiting death," Fatema said narrating the agonising conjugal life of the ill-fated housewife.

After having three daughters and seeing her husband dissatisfied, Monzila started taking birth control pill without his consent. This made the arrogant husband more ferocious. "He forced Monzila to stop taking pills and as a result she conceived," Fatema said.

Not only Monzila, poor and rural housewives of entire Bangladesh are always denied their right to conceive and adopt birth control methods although it should absolutely be their own decision.

Traditionally, the husbands in our society don’t take their wives’ opinion while making decision to have a child. Even they don’t think that the mother has the right to say whether she is ready to conceive or not.

‘This is not unusual in a conservative society where husbands take all the decisions and the wives are ignored," said Dr Halida Hanum Akhter, senior advisor on Reproductive Heath of the Partners in Population.

Explaining the reasons, she said the women in Bangladesh are not aware of their rights. Taking advantage of the situation, the men maintain their dominance over the females and overlook their opinions.

‘To establish women’s rights in this regard, it is necessary to make both the men and women aware of their respective rights. Otherwise, the situation will not improve," Dr Halida observed.

In Bangladesh, the rate of contraceptive use is making steady progress keeping the population growth rate at below 2 percent in last few years. But the women are still deprived of playing their due role in this respect. The men are naturally reluctant to adopt birth control method although their birth control methods, especially condom, are less hazardous and more effective than the methods, like pills, for the women.

According to experts, the methods for the women are complicated and most of them have side effects. Moreover, the use of such methods needs physical fitness of the women, which often does not exist. "Despite all this, the women have to take the trouble because all the methods, except one or two, are designed for them. This is also a male-biased situation created by the male researchers," Dr Halida further commented.

Dr. Zebunnisa Rehman, national consultant of UNFPA, however, said the women are more encouraged than men in adopting various birth control methods due to hormone-related medical reasons. "But they should be made aware of the side effects before adopting any method," she said.

Women in Bangladesh are being made victims of unplanned, underage and forced pregnancy by their male partners. They are always at life risk because of dominance by their husbands in taking decision on conceiving a baby.

According to official statistics, 19 percent expectant mothers die from bleeding, 14 percent from abortion and 8 percent from other related diseases. About 25,000 mothers die every year during childbirth.

The story of Tehera Begum, 22, is sadder than others. She along with her child in the womb had to die for her refusal to abortion. In December 1999, her husband, a slum dweller of Agargaon in Dhaka, tied up her hands and legs, poured kerosene on her body and then set her afire. Her relatives took her to hospital but doctors could not save her life.

After a nine-day painful battle against death, hapless Tahera died in hospital. "My sister was pregnant but her husband didn’t want that. She didn’t agree with her husband’s order to go for abortion. That’s why she had to die," said Fazlu, elder brother of the young housewife.

The most unfortunate was the death of the baby before seeing the light of the world. But people like Mohammad Ali, Tahera’s husband, are not worried about it. Her death reminds us that safe motherhood, sound reproductive health and sexual rights of women still are not more than slogans.

Samia Rahman, a university teacher and newscaster of Ekushey Television, however, thinks that the men need to play a major role in this regard. ‘The most important thing is understanding between the husband and the wife. If the husband takes his wife’s opinion seriously, there is no chance of any trouble in conjugal life," she remarked.

She also suggested that the women should be more aware and educated so that they can protect their rights breaking the dominance of the men in taking decision about reproductive health and birth control. The prevailing situation in reproductive health is not so pleasant. 

News Network
Source: The Independent, April 5, 2002

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