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Women in Bangladesh face significant gender inequality, a lack of respect for and enforcement of their rights and, most dramatically, high rates of domestic violence. The ABA Rule of Law Initiative’s (ABA ROLI’s) work in Bangladesh, which began in March 2009, strives to significantly decrease women’s rights violations, particularly those relating to domestic violence. The program aims to facilitate women’s access to justice, increase citizens’ basic legal knowledge and advocate for enhanced legal protections.
Working with local partners, ABA ROLI works to equip non-lawyer social advocates with the fundamental legal skills and knowledge to assist women in need. These actors can assist domestic violence survivors and other women when the services of a legal professional are unavailable or inaccessible.
Once trained, these advocates, who are identified via women’s rights organizations, will increase Bangladeshi women’s ability to access basic legal aid. They will be able to effectively promote women’s social, economic and legal rights in a localized context.
To aid these advocates, ABA ROLI will develop a manual to serve as a practical guide for their work. It will include information about the law, templates for assisting with marriage registration, strategies for dealing with conflict, advice on facilitation and listening skills, and information about the compatibility of Islam with the protection of women from violence. They will also receive a database of relevant government agencies, non-governmental organizations, religious leaders, lawyers, doctors and other health care providers that can assist their clients.
Communities in rural Bangladesh suffer from a lack of legal services. Even when lawyers are available, the cost of retaining legal services is out of reach for most poor, rural Bangladeshi citizens. Furthermore, many of these citizens do not know their legal rights or do not have faith that their rights will be enforced.
ABA ROLI is creating a traveling lawyer program to bring free legal assistance to rural villages in Bangladesh, increasing access to justice and providing female victims of domestic violence with a rare opportunity for legal resolution. ABA ROLI is training 15 lawyers in domestic violence and women’s rights law, legal problem-solving, case resolution strategies and meeting the various legal needs of a rural village.
The traveling lawyers will be provided with a standardized women’s rights brochure for distribution. The brochure will include written and pictorial representations of women’s rights, and it will provide clear guidance for villagers interested in contacting the traveling lawyer program or an ABA ROLI partner organization for further assistance.
ABA ROLI’s public education campaign seeks to educate citizens about gender equality and about the consequences of domestic violence for women and for society at large. The campaign has a number of components, including public service announcements, posters and informational pamphlets.
At the community level, ABA ROLI is working with female local government representatives and other community leaders to facilitate roundtables and town hall meetings in select rural communities. The program hosts approximately one event each month for health-care providers, law enforcement officials and key community, political and religious leaders. ABA ROLI is also working with a local partner to implement a street law program, targeting secondary school students, to address women’s and girls’ rights.
Our work in Bangladesh is supported by the U.S. Department of State.