The pandemic and the subsequent lockdown led to more cases of domestic violence, said speakers at a virtual discussion organised by Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) yesterday.
Incidents of domestic violence are rarely reported in the media, with only the most extreme cases finding coverage, but even the scant reporting showed a large spike since the beginning of March.
Statistics presented by ASK show the rise of reported cases from 29 in March to 81 in July.
Dowry-related violence also rose from 167 last year to 184 this year -- this number however goes only up till October.
In addition, according to ASK data, 205 women were murdered by their husbands this year.
Shaheen Anam, executive director of Manusher Jonno Foundation, pointed out that the lockdown has provided clear proof that women are not safe in their own homes.
"Through our work we found out that during the lockdown more women reported being victims of domestic violence and many new cases were of those who had not been victims before. Once the lockdown was lifted, the number of reported cases went down. This is because the men could go out of their homes again," said Shaheen.
Nina Goswami, senior deputy of ASK, said, "Rape [incidents] too have gone up from 732 in 2018, to 1,413 in 2019, and 1,349 up until October 2020."
Dr Faustina Pereira, director of the Human Rights and Legal Aid Services at Brac, said, "The family sphere is the most dangerous," while pointing out that Bangladesh still holds reservations about ratifying Article 16 of The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
Article 16 addresses equal rights of women in marriage, family relations, and divorce.
"The government says that the withdrawal of the reservation is not possible because the society is not ready for such modification and the government is mindful of the possible repercussions from conservative religious groups and therefore is taking cautious steps," said Faustina.
"The very fact that this is the reasoning put out there is a matter of concern," she said, adding, "Our progress is in the economic sphere but not in the family sphere and that is where the true test of equality lies."
Orlagh McCann, representative of the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, pointed out that many countries made special provisions to make sure that the needs of women were addressed.
"The special rapporteur has been noticing and receiving information that because of the measures being put by governments in dealing with Covid-19, there was a huge rise in cases of domestic violence. She urges governments to address domestic violence even during the pandemic," said McCann.
"The special rapporteur noted that the current crisis exacerbated the gaps that already existed, especially when responding to cases of gender-based violence."
Dr Abul Hossain, project director of Multi-Sectoral Programme on Violence Against Women at the Ministry of women and Children's Affairs, said, "I believe the number of public prosecutors can be increased to expedite the judicial system."