Case study

Changing attitudes, fighting abuse in Bangladesh

Educating both men and women about women's rights helps to reduce domestic abuse

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In Bangladesh, a project run by a DFID-supported charity is tackling the causes of domestic violence and helping abused women and girls to make a fresh start in life.

The project, which is based in the impoverished Comilla district, works hard to change the attitudes that lie behind abuse. It educates local men about women’s rights and shows them how violent behaviour can be passed on from one generation to another.

One local husband talks about how the project has made him look again at his treatment of his wife. “I realized through the training that when I stopped my wife from going outside alone, didn’t provide enough food, or was abusive to her, all were acts of violence,” he says. “It will never happen again.”

The project also recognises the need to raise awareness of domestic violence among women. “Peer educators” are crucial to achieving this. Selected from within communities, they talk frankly to other local women about rights and abuse issues. 

“She never knew before that she had any rights as a wife,” says 1 peer educator about a woman she helped. “She came to learn, and now she talks to her husband about women’s rights. This is a major change. She can make her own decisions, move anywhere - even give advice to other women.”

The project also offers legal representation to abused women to help bring their attackers to justice. “(The project) helped me with legal support,” says 1 woman who was attacked by her drug-using husband. “We took him to court and he apologized. He signed a paper in front of the judge agreeing that he will not take drugs and will provide for the family. Now he is better.”

Training and loans are also provided to women to help them set up small businesses. As they begin to earn money for themselves, the women become less dependent on their husbands. They even find that their husbands’ attitudes towards them tend to change.

“I was abused every day,” says one local woman who was married at 13 to a man of 32. “But I was too scared to protest. Then I took a loan and set up a poultry farm. Once my husband saw me earning, he started respecting me more. Now my husband says: ‘She’s independent - I can’t do anything to her!’”

Facts and stats

The project in Comilla was implemented by the Family Planning Association of Bangladesh (FPAB), which is supported by the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF).

DFID is providing £43 million to IPPF through a Partnership Programme Arrangement from 2008 to 2013.

An estimated 53% of women in Bangladesh aged 15 to 49 who are or have been married have experienced domestic violence (2007 Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey).

To date, FPAB has provided 25,000 women in poor rural areas with small loans, skills training, reproductive health education and other services.

Published 28 May 2010