We are reminded more often than desirable that social attitude and behaviour is difficult to change. Violence against women (VAW) in Bangladesh is widespread. Its alarming growth over 2004-2009 prompted the government to come up with stringent measures like enactment of the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act 2002 (amended 2003), Domestic Violence (Prevention & Protection) Act 2010, Acid Control Act 2002 and Acid Crime Prevention Acts 2002. All these measures earned the government much appreciation both at home and aboard.

Despite all these efforts, according to experts, the situation has barely improved other than decline in acid violence. They feel that the government still needs to put in more efforts on sensitising the law-enforcing agencies about gender and VAW-related issues to deal with women repression cases.

“We can never overstate the relevance of legislation for control of crime and violence. However, on its own, legislation will have no bearing if it is not enforced,” said ActionAid Bangladesh Country Director Farah Kabir in her reaction to the recent inhuman attack on Dhaka University professor Rumana Manzur by her husband. “It is also critical to give the message that there is no impunity for any violation of right,” Farah Kabir noted.

A comparative analysis of national statistics from Police Headquarters shows that a total of 12,832 VAW-related crimes were reported in the country in 2009, while 14,274 and 14250 in 2008 and 2007 respectively.

The statistics also show that some 36,641 people were made accused in VAW-related cases filed in 2009. Of them, a negligible number of 238 criminals were convicted. In 2008, VAW-related cases were filed against 10,274 people.

Compared to the figure of 2009, the number of accused in VAW-cases in 2008 was too low than that of the incidents took place in the year. The figures of convicted criminals clearly indicate that most of the perpetrators went unpunished, frustrating the justice-seekers.

This dismal picture of the country’s judiciary and the law enforcement system indicates that the state has failed to do enough to reverse the growing trend of violence against women.

Human-rights organisations like ActionAid Bangladesh (AAB) that work with women rights issues have long been trying to draw government attention to the weakness of the judiciary and loopholes in the law enforcement system. So, it has long been insisting for reinforcing the vigilance alongside, toughening the existing laws to put an end to the menace.

In addition to the advocacy at the policy-level, many of these organisations have also formed watchdog committees at community-level to prevent VAW-related crimes and extend legal support to the victims.

Keeping that in mind, ActionAid Bangladesh formed Stop Violence Against Women (SVAW) Networks comprising local civil society representatives, community women and local human-rights organisations in 24 districts in 2004. All the 24 networks that work as watchdogs in rural Bangladesh have created a tremendous opportunity for women to raise their voice against violence against women and girls and also tried topromote zero tolerance against women repression in those localities.

ActionAid Bangladesh later brought all the SVAW Networks to a greater platform and formed Jatia Nari Nirjaton Pratirodh Forum (JNNPF) to unify the strength of all the networks and thereby bring a consolidated impact. Initially, the secretariat of the forum was placed in AAB office for 2007-2008. Later, it was shifted to the office of WAVE Foundation.

In 2010, the SVAW Networks provided legal support to some 956 aggrieved women to run their respective cases. Besides, the forum has been running three murder cases by its persistent lobbying with the police administration. This makes it clear that mere enactment of laws is not enough to deal with a problem that has many underlying causes. There is no denying that poverty, social insecurity and conflict of ethical values are among the reasons that cause tension between men and women, resulting in violence. We, therefore, need to identify the root causes first and then look for a better strategy to overcome the problem. Who can deny that dealing with a social problem socially is the ‘best option’?