Published:  12:00 AM, 02 March 2020

Generation inequality in land rights of women

Generation inequality in land rights of women

Shanjida Khan Ripa

When Shapla (not the real name), who was 18 back then, found out that she would inherit the properties of her deceased parents, she never thought she would be met with so much hardship. Her older brother instead tortured her for about a month, in an attempt to drive her lunatic.

"I was locked in a dark room. My older brother tied my legs on a chain and sometimes he would come to the room only to give me injection and sleeping pills forcefully. He didn't even give me enough food," said Shapla. Finally local police with the help of neighbor rescued her.

Elsewhere in Bangladesh, Zaynab Begum inherited 2 acres of farmland from his maternal uncle after her mother had died,but she was not given the opportunity to hold the property. Instead, her two sons tortured and forcibly took her fingerprints and registered the land in their own names.

There are a lot of women like Sara and Zaynab in our society who are being ill-treated in various ways because of property. In a male dominated society, women are unable to establish their rights over land and other resources.Most of the educated and working women do not enjoy rights of their property and some are forced to hand over their income to their husbands. They are not being involved or even asked their opinions in decision-making process in the family. They arejust being used as puppets to implement decisions ordered by her male peers.

Bangladeshi women have been struggling and advocating for equal distribution of land since 1947. Historically, women played a significant role in the peasant and land rights movement. For instance, IlaMitra, a veteran front runner of the Tebhag aMovement, was a legendary peasant leader in the undivided Bengal.

The contribution of IlaMitra(popularly known as the queen mother of the farmers in the then Bengal) to Tebhaga Movement did not only play a role in getting a fair account of the peasants of this country, but also radically changed the land management system of the country.

The enthused Tebhaga Movement in Bengal in the mid-forties was a struggle of sharecroppers. At that time, share-cropping peasants had to give half of their harvest to land owners. The demand of the movement was to reduce the share given to landlords to one-third and to retain the two-thirds of the production for themselves.

Similarstruggles to protect our land rights are still ongoing in many places in Bangladesh.Pricilla Murmu, an indigenous woman from the Santal community in Dinajpur District, northern Bangladesh is one theleader of the land rights movement.

More than 2,000 Santal and Bangalee families were evicted from their 1842.30 acres of ancestral farmland by the Shahebganj Bagdafarm Sugar Mill in Gobindaganj upazila in 2016.Another indigenous Oraon woman named Bichitra Tirki in Chapainawabganj district is waiting for justice after being subjected to rape by land grabbers. Tea workers and Adivasis (a term for indigenous peoples) in Habiganj, northeastern Bangladesh, are protesting against the Government's decision to set up the Special Economic Zone in 511.83 acres of agricultural land. 

There are more examples we may find that women leadership is playing an important role in the struggle for land rights. Considering the proportion of land with the increasing population of Bangladesh, it can be assumed that in the coming future, most of the disputes will be related to land and marginalized people - women in particular - will be the worst affected.

Land is considered as the most significant means of production, source of livelihoods and power structure in rural Bangladesh. Land provides food, nutrition, shelter, ensures income and is a symbol of social prestige and power. But women in our society are not enjoying equal rights and access to resources, particularly to land and other assets.

Even with the patriarchal mindset, women's contribution to agriculture is seen as part of family work.Discriminatory power structure, male domination, gender inequality, social and economic disparity between men and women are the common features and still prevailing in the society. Which is increasing gender imbalance in the ownership of and control over land and put women in subordinate position.

Women development, women's empowerment and women's human rights issues are considered with priority across the world, including Bangladesh. Women are deprived of property rights due to poverty and patriarchal views ingrained in customary law and regulations.

The culture is established in the way that good sisters always surrender their shares of paternal property in favor of their brothers. This problem is evident in rural areas and middle-class families. In another example, women divorcees and widows would find it difficult to claim their property rights and some of them are even subject to domestic violence.

Conversion of agricultural land for industrial purposes are burgeoning, making local communities and rural farmers vulnerable to displacement. The involvement of men in agriculture is declining owing to other income opportunities. This in turn pushes people, especially men and heads of families, to migrate into urban areas to find jobs. In absence of their husbands, it is the women who stay behind and work on their farmland.

Despite making the highest contribution to agriculture, women are not recognized as farmers; even they do not have ownership and control over land. Government benefits, agricultural cards, subsidies, loan and everything are only made available to male farmers.

According to Labor Force Survey of Bangladesh 2016-17, there are 72.6 percent women  are engaged in agricultural activities but they are deprived of recognition as farmers, let alone in own farmlandsWomen also face major obstacles in marketing agricultural products because the society still cannot accept women bargain with men for their products in the marketplace. In order to engage women in the marketing system, the society should change its mindsetandtake positive steps in the public and private arenas.

Women in Bangladesh are very much visible in the formal economic sector. But participation alone does not guarantee equality. A patriarchal state has used the rhetoric of women's participation and empowerment but continue to deny her security, equal right to property.

Bangladesh has made noticeable progress in terms of reducing gender disparity in recent years, which is attested by the World Economic Forum in its Global Gender Gap Report (2020). The report takes into account indicators such as education, maternal healthcare, political participation, employment, and participation into productive economic activities etc.

Despite such reported progress, women in Bangladesh lag well behind their male peers, facing routine discrimination, inequality and are regular victims of sexual and domestic violence. The Constitution of Bangladesh highlights that "Women shall have equal rights with men in all spheres of the State and of public life". Women's economic empowerment is the only solution to achieve gender equality, poverty eradication, and inclusive economic growth, leading up to SDGs.

The writer is a women rights activist

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