BLAST works at all levels of the justice system to advocate for the recognition and realisation of women’s human rights. For example, BLAST conducts awareness sessions through the Gopibagh Legal Aid Clinic and its Unit Offices for women and girls to learn about basic legal rights. BLAST also provides mediation and litigation services, to enable women to enforce their rights in family law, land law, and labour law, with a special focus on assisting poor and disadvantaged women facing disputes or violence.
BLAST works hard to ensure female victims of crime are not detained against their will and takes on public interest litigation related to safe custody. Safe custody is intended to provide security for crime victims. However, it can actually violate victims’ right to liberty if they are placed in jail, a practice made illegal by Nari-O-Shishu Nirjatan Daman Ain, 2000, or put in custody against their wishes.
BLAST recently prevailed in two significant High Court judgments in the area of women’s rights. The first ruling, with BLAST as an intervenor, found that forcing women to veil or cover their heads constitutes a violation of their fundamental rights under the Constitution. The second, declared all kinds of extrajudicial punishment illegal, including that by local Salish in the name of ‘fatwa’; punishments which are overwhelmingly directed against women. The court held that any person involved in such a conviction or execution is in violation of the penal code and subject to punishment.
- BLAST reached 2,138 direct beneficiaries (mostly women) and 10,690 indirect beneficiaries (including children and other family members) through its mediation services. These services were also used by workers in the RMG sector, enabling the settlement of labour disputes for 57 workers (1 woman, 56 men) recovering BDT 1,147,432 [$ 13,808.25] as their arrears of wages, service benefits and compensation. Women clients and workers gradually appear to be gaining confidence in BLAST’s services, and the majority of service seekers in 2017 were women.
Monisha rescues her marriage and her family
Project: Increasing Protection of Women’s Legal Rights through Mobile Services (MLS)
Monisha and Hasib were happily married for a year before Hasib started demanding dowry from Monisha and became physically violent with her. Hasib subsequently left Monisha when she was two months pregnant with their first child.
After two years Hasib came back to the family and asked for forgiveness. Monisha decided to accept his plea and after a local shalish, they started living together again. However, on 30 October 2016, Hasib again began to demand a huge amount of dowry (BDT 200,000). As Monisha was unable to provide this amount, Hasib threw her and their child out of their home and cut off all contact with them.
In May 2017, Monisha’s mother attended a legal awareness meeting with the BLAST mobile legal services clinic and raised her daughter’s problems. BLAST sent a letter to Hasib, inviting him to a mediation session in July 2017. After a long discussion with Monisha and Hasib, they concluded that they wanted to resume their conjugal life for the sake of their children and their future. Monisha agreed that she would initially stay in Mirpur for the children’s education and Hasib committed to pay BDT 5,000 as maintenance through the BLAST Head Office. Monisha and Hasib promised that they would make family decisions together. When contacted by BLAST, Monisha confirmed that she had been receiving maintenance from Hasib regularly and that the legal awareness meeting and mobile services that BLAST provided allowed her to stand up for herself and her children.
Robina’s path to independence
Project: Women’s Health Rights and Choices (SHOKHI)
Robina lives in Korail in Dhaka city. Her father left her family and remarried in 2010 and her mother works as a domestic worker. Robina completed Class 8 but could not continue her studies due to financial constraints. She was involved with SHOKHI since the beginning of the project in 2013, where she started as a community change-maker and set up a group of 11 members. Initially, she received three days of training from SHOKHI’s project team, and in 2017 she attended the six-month-long IGA training on electronic repairs. There were only two women among the 20 training participants, and Robina passed the training with a score of 4.8 out of 5. She was subsequently employed at an electric shop for three months earning almost 10,000 BDT salary, however, she left this position due to an unfriendly workplace environment. She decided to drop her CV at UCEP and her trainer referred her to the Phillips Mohakhali warehouse section. Robina interviewed and got the job at Phillips on a monthly salary of 7,000 BDT. Though her salary is less than before, this job with a renowned company has created a new opportunity. She receives appraisals for her good work, and is respected by her colleagues. She believes SHOKHI made her journey easier, because it created links between the community and potential employers, and enabled her and others to find livelihoods and move closer to financial independence.
Challenge to the two finger test (TFT)
In 2013, BLAST, with other rights and development organisations and health experts, challenged the legal validity of the TFT, an unscientific and demeaning test used on victims of rape. In 2017, forensic experts gave evidence before the courts to the effect that the TFT was unnecessary to determine the occurrence of rape, and BLAST also submitted information on changing practices in neighbouring countries.