SAFE takes up networking and advocacy at the local community as well as among key national stakeholders. SAFE seeks to enhance women or girls’ ability to exercise their right to choose or consent with respect to marriage, sex, contraceptive use and childbearing. Targeted advocacy initiatives have been undertaken to expand and deepen women’s understanding of their rights, on concepts of consent and choice, to ensure law, policy and procedural reforms regarding access to justice, ensuring access to services for sexual and reproductive health and rights, strengthening referral system and prevention of early and forced marriage. Advocacy efforts have engaged law makers and policy makers, and have focused in particular on key actors within the justice system, i.e., police, prosecutors, social workers, health professionals, the judiciary and the parliamentarians.
Prevention of Child Marriage and Forced marriage
Forming network of prevention of early marriage- Study group meeting on early marriage
To form a network among organizations working on early marriage prevention in Bangladesh, SAFE organized a study group meeting on May 14, 2012, on “Child Marriage and ‘Girls not Brides’ Initiative”. All the partner organizations of SAFE were present at this meeting. The problem of early marriage was discussed from different points of view. Laila Rahman from Population Council gave a brief about the “Girls not Brides Initiative”. She presented study findings on child marriage in Bangladesh. Sumayia Sidique, Legal Facilitator of BLAST made a presentation on the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929. Project partners agreed to work on existing gaps in the Nikahnama (Marriage Registration Form) which inhibit steps to prevent early marriage. Based on the decision taken at that meeting, BLAST held a training for Marriage Registrars and Ward Commissioners in Dhaka in October 2012. In the Project’s Third Year, BLAST plans to hold more coordination meetings with Marriage Registrars to get their support in preventing early marriage.
Targeted sensitization of key actors-Training of marriage registrars and ward commissioners
The Project held targeted sensitization of key actors in the marriage registration process focusing on their roles and responsibilities to ensure women’s right to choose and consent in marriage, and the specific procedures which require identification of the age of the woman prior to marriage registration, along with determination of whether her consent has been obtained.
BLAST organized a one-day training workshop, primarily focused on the laws and procedures relating to marriages under Muslim law, for Marriage Registrars and Ward Commissioners from the three project areas on 23 October, 2012. The training content included discussion of the concept of gender equality, the key provisions regarding capacity to and the formalities of marriage under Muslim law as it applies in Bangladesh, legal provisions concerning registration of marriages and divorces under Muslim law, remedies for domestic violence, and the roles and responsibilities of Marriage Registrars/Ward Commissioners. It also highlighted a recent judgment of the High Court Division of the Supreme Court whereby, the Court upheld governmental action cancelling the license of a nikah registrar for registering child marriages and further held that it is mandatory for nikah registrars to ascertain the age of the bride and the groom before solemnization of marriage to stop child marriages. Five (5) marriage registrars, twelve (12) assistant registrars, one (1) ward commissioner and four (4) staff from the ward commissioners’ office participated in the training. Marriage registrars recommended that the bride and groom, should be required to file their photographs along at the time of marriage registration, and that copies of these should be endorsed on the Nikahnama (Marriage Registration Form).
Ensuring Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights
Increased access to service and strengthening referrals -NGO coalition meeting
BLAST organized coalition meetings on 10 October, 2012 and 31 October, 2012 with selected NGOs and service providers to form an informal network for increasing support to women and girl survivors of violence and for strengthening the SAFE referral system. BLAST referred one female sex worker living with HIV AIDS for assistance to Ashar Alo through this coalition.
Violence Against Women
Targeted Sensitization of key actors: Training for police
To increase responsiveness and greater gender sensitivity among police, BLAST conducted a two-day training on “Laws to prevent violence against women and the roles and responsibilities of police” on 26-27 September, 2012 at Rajarbagh Police Academy, Dhaka. The training covered the issues of gender and equality, the causes and consequences of gender based violence, duties of police to ensure freedom from violence against women, laws on rape and sexual abuse, the rights of girl and women survivors of violence, police responses to survivors of sexual violence. The participants of the training included 30 front line police officers from 12 police stations in three SAFE project areas, and three officers from the Victim Support Center based at Tejgaon Thana also participated in the training. It is noteworthy that BLAST has started receiving referrals from some of these police stations after this training.
Systematic case management: Meeting on case management system on VAW
SAFE implementing partners- BLAST, Nari Maitree and We Can Campaign are developing a case management system for victim support. A draft was prepared after the first meeting on 5 June, 2012 and shared among the partners. Another meeting will be held in the 3rd year to finalize this.
Access to Justice
Rape is the second most commonly reported form of violence against women (VAW) in Bangladesh. However, several reasons impede rape survivors’ access to justice such as social stigma associated with rape, fear of reprisals lack of family and other support and absence of witness/victim protection programs, protracted court proceedings, inadequate investigations and the absence of rape shield provisions. Insensitive medical procedures are used in collecting medical evidence the as so-called “two finger test” significantly dissuade women and girls from seeking remedies in the courts.
Review of Rape Case Records to Identify Concerns re Collection and Use of Medical Evidence
SAFE engaged Ms. Asmita Basu as a consultant to conduct a review for understanding the manner of gathering medical evidence in cases of rape, and how such evidence is used to prove that rape has occurred, and what it is understood as implying about a woman’s consent or choice to sexual relations, as well as to medical testing
Data on 62 rape cases were collected from 6 units of BLAST from October 2011 as well as two of BLAST’s partner NGOs (Bangladesh Mohila Parishad and Nijera Kori). An intern and legal facilitators completed data entry. Analysis of rape cases is in progress by the Consultant Ms. Asmita Basu.
Review of Medico Legal Examination of Rape Survivors
Ms. Asmita Basu reviewed the use of Ministry of Health guidelines on the investigation and prosecution of rape including gathering of medical evidence on rape cases and prosecution. The review furthered the work of BLAST on the issues of violence against women and sexual assault following on earlier research previously conducted in this field by by Dr. Dina Siddiqui (Consultant) in 2010/2011 and later Sylvie Maccallum Rougerie in 2011. The data used in this review came from case records maintained by NGOs (BLAST, Mahila Parishad and Nijera Kori) on 61 rape cases from across 15 districts in Bangladesh. These data helped SAFE to identify challenges that were faced in recording medical evidence and its subsequent use in court in each case. Records included in the analysis are: the First Information Report (FIR), medical reports and charge sheets (police investigation reports). All case reports used pseudonyms in order to maintain absolute confidentiality of the survivors/clients.
Ms. Basu shared the preliminary findings of the review on the law and practice regarding medical evidence in rape cases at a meeting held with SAFE Partners and several other women’s rights organizations at the BLAST Head Office on 26 December, 2011.
BLAST organized a panel discussion on the issue of ‘Women’s Rights and Gathering Evidence for Rape Prosecutions, and Concerns regarding the Medico Legal Test’ at the Unnayan Mela organized by the Gonoshasthya Kendra, Savar on 18-20 February, 2012.. Lawyers, academics, forensic medicine experts and over 100 students and doctors of Gonoshathya Medical College were present at that event.
In July, 2012, Ms. Sara Hossain, HED, BLAST led a parallel session on ‘Collection of Medical Evidence in Rape Cases’ at icddr,b organized by the SAFE Project on the occasion of the Dissemination Seminar on the Baseline Survey Findings of the SAFE Project at icddr,b.
In October, 2012 BLAST organized an expert meeting for forensics experts, women’s rights advocates, lawyers, police officers, Victim Support Centre staff and other stakeholders working on VAW, and with specific experience and expertise in the prosecution of rape cases, to review current policies, practices and procedures governing the collection of medico-legal evidence in cases of rape. The participants identified gaps preventing effective prosecution of such cases and developed recommendations for enforcing the rights of women and girls who are survivors of rape to ensure more effective access to justice.
The final report of the study was presented at the National Conference on Medical Evidence Collection in Rape Cases: Practices, Procedures & Policies, held in February 2013 at icddr,b.
Protocol for Legal Service Providers
BLAST has prepared a Protocol for Legal Service providers on Addressing Domestic Violence in English and Bangla. This is intended to be used by service providers including those in the SAFE project and beyond for responding to requests/ applications for assistance from women and children survivors of domestic violence. The Protocol was shared with legal practitioners at a meeting organized in April 2013 at BLAST.
Review of Rules to be framed under the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act, 2010
BLAST as part of the Citizens Initiative against Domestic Violence took part in consultations and provided technical input in the drafting of the Rules to be framed under the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act, 2010.
Expert meeting on collection of medical evidence in rape cases
BLAST organized an expert meeting on collection of medical evidence in rape cases on 17 October, 2012. The aim if the meeting was to review current policies, practices and procedures governing the collection of medical evidence in rape cases. The participants were forensic experts, women’s rights advocates, lawyers, police officers, and other stakeholders working on VAW and having experience and expertise in the prosecution of rape cases, The participants discussed identifying gaps preventing effective prosecution of such cases, and developed recommendations for enforcing the rights of women and girls who are survivors of rape to ensure more effective access to justice.
National level conference to call a ban on two finger test as a method of evidence collection for rape survivors- Experts meeting on Demand Change in Medical Evidence Laws and Justice for Rape Victims
SAFE partners-BLAST, icddr,b, Marie Stopes Clinic, We Can Campaign, Nari Maitree and Population Council- jointly organized the conference titled “Collection of Medical Evidence in Rape Cases: Practices, Procedures and Policies”. The conference called for a ban on the use of ‘two-finger test’ as a method of medical evidence collection. This test is used to assess whether a woman who is alleging rape is ‘habituated to sex’ and whether her hymen is broken. ‘ The two-finger test is demeaning and does not provide any evidence that is relevant to proving the offence’, said over a 100 experts including doctors, lawyers, police, women’s rights activists in their joint statement at the Conference.
The Conference called for urgent steps to be taken to ensure compliance with the government guidelines on medical tests in rape cases; review and revision of the 2002 Health Ministry Circular; amendment of the Medical Evidence Form to requires full informed consent of the victim and omit the two-finger test; amendment of relevant laws such as the Evidence Act, Penal Code and Suppression of Violence Against Women & Children Act to replace the definition of rape with sexual assault; framing of Rules under the SVAW Act and improved access to DNA tests in such cases.
See more: press release Feb 02, 2013
Draft Protocol for legal service providers on addressing domestic violence (in English and Bangla)
Protocols were developed under SAFE for conducting of cases by legal professionals (including client counseling, duty of confidentiality etc.), drawing on the experiences of the Court/Thana watch exercises investigation of incidents of violence against women/ adolescent girls.
To date there has been no protocols for addressing domestic violence by legal service providers in Bangladesh. SAFE consultant Ms. Asmita Basu developed a draft protocol for legal service providers under SAFE. This protocol is intended to be used by legal service providers including those in the SAFE project to respond requests/applications from survivors of domestic violence. Currently the draft protocol is being used by SAFE legal facilitators. After finalization BLAST will share the protocol with the concerned legal service providers. “Legal Service Providers” include lawyers or para-legal staff providing pre-litigation, litigation and mediation support or legal representation in courts and before administrative bodies to women facing violence against women.
The draft Protocol was presented to Panel Lawyers and their feedback was incorporated in the document by BLAST and sent to the consultant for finalization. As a part of SAFE intervention this protocol would promote an understanding of violence against women as a violation of women’s human rights among legal service providers.
Preparation of draft leaflet on DV law and poster on marriage and divorce registration procedure and fees
BLAST is developing the content and design of a leaflet on domestic violence (DV) law and poster on marriage and divorce registration.