04/18/2008, 00.00
BANGLADESH
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Patriarchal culture ensnares the rights of Bangladeshi women

The road toward equality of rights between women and men in Bangladesh seems to be still a long way off, and the goal is even farther after a committee of religious Muslims has asked the government to correct its policies in favour of women's emancipation "in the light of the Qur'an and of the Sunnah".

Dhaka (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The equality between men and women is still a mirage in Bangladesh, where patriarchal culture prevails over policies in favour of women's emancipation, and suppresses these as soon as they are introduced.  In spite of the interim government's efforts to promote a decree in favour of women, a close-knit group of 20 Muslim scholars, the ulemas, has spoken out against the equality of the sexes, and asks for the elimination of six sections in the decree and the amendment of another 15, because they are incompatible with Qur'an and the Sunnah - the acts and sayings of the prophet.

Hiding behind the sacred principles of Islam, the members of the committee are presenting themselves as the interpreters of the scriptures, and revealing in reality the widespread fear (which is not unfounded) in the Muslim world that the emancipation of women would lead to a reduction of male power and 'supremacy', in addition to competition with their female counterparts in the various cultural, political, and economic sectors.

In an interview published yesterday by The Daily Star, mufti Mohammad Nuruddin says: "A woman cannot enjoy rights equal to a man's because a woman is not equal to a man by birth. Can there be two prime ministers - one male and one female - in a country at the same time?".

The committee of the ulemas has delivered to Hassan Ariff, a lawyer who specializes in religious law and affairs and is a delegate for the revision of the decree, a 20-page report that emphasizes the incongruities between the concept of the equality of the sexes and the teachings of Islam.  In fact, the experts are asking for the addition of the phrase "in the light of the Qur'an and of the Sunnah" after each reference to the rights of women, and are calling upon the Government not to adopt the UN convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW).

Specifically, the committee is recommending that the government eliminate the clause that guarantees women seats in parliament, or in the local governments, and is bringing into question the section that calls for rights in the political, economic, social, and cultural realms.  The ulemas oppose equality in matters of inheritance, and have also defined the law against the marriage of minors as not in keeping with Islam, which instead allows a girl to be given as a wife as soon as she has reached the age of development.

The Bangladeshi government publicised its policies in favour of women on March 8, but the euphoria was short-lived.  Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to protest against the initiative, and forced the government to set up the committee of the ulemas, with the task of identifying - and correcting - the points on which the decree is inconsistent with Islam.  The report drafted by the ulemas says that the 'corrections' are to the detriment of the very rights of women that the decree is intended to protect.

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