Friday, February 24, 2017 EDITORIAL

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 EDITORIAL 
Human rights versus animal rights!
Virtually Human life seems to have become the cheapest commodity in this wretched country where the government continues to show wanton disregard for the fundamental human rights. Since 2009 when the ruling Awami League came to power, over the last seven years extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances of mostly opposition BNP leaders and activists are taking place recurrently. But RAB, police and other agencies are rather enjoying somewhat impunity. Poor governance has been characterised by utterly farcical elections, financial scams of gargantuan proportions in state-owned financial institutions and unbridled corruption, as admitted by the finance minister himself and attempt has been made to muzzle the media.
Here it will be pertinent to have a cursory look at the horrendously sinister human rights scenario of our Republic, which was described as “The prison that is Bangladesh” by globally acclaimed journalist and author John Pilger in the Guardian on 15 December 213.
According to the human rights organisation Odhikar, 1,279 people had fallen victims to extrajudicial killing between January 2009 and November 2016 although the ruling Awami League in their election manifesto in 2008 promised to stop such killings. Odhikar recorded that 319 people had fallen victims to enforced disappearance between January 2009 and November 2016.  Of them, 42 were found dead, 151 had returned while whereabouts of 151 others remained untraced.  Families alleged that of the victims of enforced disappearance, 42 per cent were picked up by Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), 29 per cent by the Detective Branch of police and 29 per cent by police and other law enforcing agencies. [Vide New Age dated 03 Jan 2017, Extrajudicial killings continue, disappearance increases].
The Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), another human rights watchdog, reported that 195 people fell victims to extrajudicial killing in 2016. Of them, 159 were killed in the name of ‘crossfire’ or ‘gunfight’. It said that 192 people had become victims to extrajudicial killing in 2015, of which 146 people were killed in the name of ‘crossfire’ or ‘gunfight’. Police were involved in 58 per cent of the killings and RAB in 28 per cent, while rest of the law enforcing agencies were involved in the rests of the killings.
The ASK in its annual report stated that 97 people fell victims to enforced disappearance in 2016.  Of them, 11 were found dead, 3 had returned while 26 were shown arrested later. Whereabouts of the rest 57 people were not clear.
ASK further reported, 55 people disappeared in 2015. Of them, eight were found dead, five had returned and seven were shown arrested later, while the whereabouts of the rest 33 were still unknown. [Ibid]
Today’s grim human rights record harks back to the period from 1972 to 1975 when law and order rule of law reached its nadir. Soon after the country’s Liberation, earned at the cost of millions of lives, during the first term of the AL there were bloodcurdling atrocities perpetrated by the Jatiya Rakkhi Bahini militia force personnel and the then ruling AL party cadres to suppress the voice of dissent that resulted in the killings and enforced ‘disappearances’ of thousands of people. At that time the late lamented journalist Nirmal Sen wrote, in 1973, in his column under the nom de plume ‘Oniket’: “I demand guarantee of my natural death” (Aami swabhabik mrityur guarantee chai).
Such being the horrendous human rights situation in Bangladesh for which Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina did not regret, the Cabinet on 20 February last has cleared on principle draft of a bill on ‘Animal Welfare Law’, which once passed, will award penalty of two years in prison or maximum Tk 50,000 fine or both. This will be seen as a mockery to the bereaved families of this country who have lost their near and dear ones as victims of custodial deaths.
Our big neighbour India’s majority people have great regard for the cow. Throughout the Vedic scriptures there are verses which emphasise that the cow must be protected and cared for; so millions of Hindus revere and worship cows.[ ayurveda-sedona.com/knowledge-center/spirituality/holy-cow/]. A Hindu fundamentalist and senior member of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party prompted a new storm of protest from liberals and minorities by suggesting Muslims are second-class citizens who should leave the country if they do not abide by Hindu customs, as reported in the Financial Times UK by Victor Mallet in New Delhi on 16 October 2015.  “Muslims can continue to live in this country, but they will have to give up eating beef,” Manohar Lal Khattar, chief minister of the BJP-run state of Haryana, said in an interview in The Indian Express.  “They can be Muslim even after they stop eating beef, can’t they?” Mr Khattar also defended the men who beat to death a Muslim farmer last month on suspicion he had eaten beef at home, comparing their actions to those of someone who sees his mother killed or sister molested, although he added that both sides had been in the wrong.
Now the question is: What is important —- priority of beasts over humans; or what?

Comment

Virtually Human life seems to have become the cheapest commodity in this wretched country where the government continues to show wanton disregard for the fundamental human rights. Since 2009 when the ruling Awami League came to power, over the last seven years extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances of mostly opposition BNP leaders and activists are taking place recurrently. But RAB, police and other agencies are rather enjoying somewhat impunity. Poor governance has been characterised by utterly farcical elections, financial scams of gargantuan proportions in state-owned financial institutions and unbridled corruption, as admitted by the finance minister himself and attempt has been made to muzzle the media.
Here it will be pertinent to have a cursory look at the horrendously sinister human rights scenario of our Republic, which was described as “The prison that is Bangladesh” by globally acclaimed journalist and author John Pilger in the Guardian on 15 December 213.
According to the human rights organisation Odhikar, 1,279 people had fallen victims to extrajudicial killing between January 2009 and November 2016 although the ruling Awami League in their election manifesto in 2008 promised to stop such killings. Odhikar recorded that 319 people had fallen victims to enforced disappearance between January 2009 and November 2016.  Of them, 42 were found dead, 151 had returned while whereabouts of 151 others remained untraced.  Families alleged that of the victims of enforced disappearance, 42 per cent were picked up by Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), 29 per cent by the Detective Branch of police and 29 per cent by police and other law enforcing agencies. [Vide New Age dated 03 Jan 2017, Extrajudicial killings continue, disappearance increases].
The Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), another human rights watchdog, reported that 195 people fell victims to extrajudicial killing in 2016. Of them, 159 were killed in the name of ‘crossfire’ or ‘gunfight’. It said that 192 people had become victims to extrajudicial killing in 2015, of which 146 people were killed in the name of ‘crossfire’ or ‘gunfight’. Police were involved in 58 per cent of the killings and RAB in 28 per cent, while rest of the law enforcing agencies were involved in the rests of the killings.
The ASK in its annual report stated that 97 people fell victims to enforced disappearance in 2016.  Of them, 11 were found dead, 3 had returned while 26 were shown arrested later. Whereabouts of the rest 57 people were not clear.
ASK further reported, 55 people disappeared in 2015. Of them, eight were found dead, five had returned and seven were shown arrested later, while the whereabouts of the rest 33 were still unknown. [Ibid]
Today’s grim human rights record harks back to the period from 1972 to 1975 when law and order rule of law reached its nadir. Soon after the country’s Liberation, earned at the cost of millions of lives, during the first term of the AL there were bloodcurdling atrocities perpetrated by the Jatiya Rakkhi Bahini militia force personnel and the then ruling AL party cadres to suppress the voice of dissent that resulted in the killings and enforced ‘disappearances’ of thousands of people. At that time the late lamented journalist Nirmal Sen wrote, in 1973, in his column under the nom de plume ‘Oniket’: “I demand guarantee of my natural death” (Aami swabhabik mrityur guarantee chai).
Such being the horrendous human rights situation in Bangladesh for which Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina did not regret, the Cabinet on 20 February last has cleared on principle draft of a bill on ‘Animal Welfare Law’, which once passed, will award penalty of two years in prison or maximum Tk 50,000 fine or both. This will be seen as a mockery to the bereaved families of this country who have lost their near and dear ones as victims of custodial deaths.
Our big neighbour India’s majority people have great regard for the cow. Throughout the Vedic scriptures there are verses which emphasise that the cow must be protected and cared for; so millions of Hindus revere and worship cows.[ ayurveda-sedona.com/knowledge-center/spirituality/holy-cow/]. A Hindu fundamentalist and senior member of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party prompted a new storm of protest from liberals and minorities by suggesting Muslims are second-class citizens who should leave the country if they do not abide by Hindu customs, as reported in the Financial Times UK by Victor Mallet in New Delhi on 16 October 2015.  “Muslims can continue to live in this country, but they will have to give up eating beef,” Manohar Lal Khattar, chief minister of the BJP-run state of Haryana, said in an interview in The Indian Express.  “They can be Muslim even after they stop eating beef, can’t they?” Mr Khattar also defended the men who beat to death a Muslim farmer last month on suspicion he had eaten beef at home, comparing their actions to those of someone who sees his mother killed or sister molested, although he added that both sides had been in the wrong.
Now the question is: What is important —- priority of beasts over humans; or what?

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The Pilkhana massacre trials and addressing HR concerns

Saquib Rahman
 
The long-awaited trials of Pilkhana massacre began on November 24, 2009. On November 5, 2013, after nearly four years of lengthy trials, the court passed capital punishment on 152 perpetrators for their involvement in the BDR Pilkhana massacre, when the nation lost 74 people, including 57 bright Bangladesh Army officers.
Moreover, 161 accused were jailed for life, 256 were jailed for various terms, and 277 persons received acquittals. As it is known, the death penalty remains a valid form of punishment in Bangladesh under its penal code, and there is hardly any constructive and meaningful discussion among the civil society personnel, intellectuals and lawyers   about re-evaluating the need for such severe punishment.
 
Appeal before High Court
One of the main reasons behind this is probably the fact that the majority of people in Bangladesh still believe that harsh punishment are still necessary for establishing the rule of law in the country, especially considering the perpetual impunity enjoyed by the high and mighty.
While there may come a point in time in future when the death penalty in Bangladesh shall be abolished, the realities and circumstances that exist in the country today are very different those from the West, and are not favourable towards a ban on the death penalty.
Having founded “Desh, We’re Concerned,” the only organisation to have campaigned for proper justice of the VDR carnage throughout the years, honesty, I do not have it in me now to call for a moratorium on the death penalty. I want justice for the senseless killing of my father, Col Quadrat Elahi Rahman Shafique, and so many other innocent men and women, and right now I equate justice with the implementation of punishments on the perpetrators through the court—however harsh that punishment may be.
I would like to believe that the roles played by “Desh, We’re Concerned,” including my articles published in national dailies, have perhaps put some pressure on the government to efficiently carry out the trial process. It has taken over four decades to start any meaningful trials of perpetrators of crimes in 1971, when 3 million people lost their lives. It was our failure to successfully prosecute those who were involved at the time, which led to the spreading of the culture of impunity in my country like a deadly virus.
Moving on to November 29, 2015, Attorney General Mahbubey Alam prayed to the High Court to uphold the lower court verdict that sentenced 152 convicts for killing 74 people. The death reference and appeals were likely to be heard in the High Court by the month of May. However, if the capital punishment remains, I reckon that two big guns in the rights arena, namely Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, will start reacting.
 
HRW’s concerns
Human Rights Watch, in a report in 2012, had mentioned that “the mass trials of nearly 6,000 suspects raise serious fair trial concerns.” Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, Brad Adams, in his statements had said that culprits must be brought to justice, but not through “unfair” trial.
Furthermore, “justice has not been served with the verdict which, if carried out, will only result in violation of 152 more people’s human rights,” Amnesty’s deputy Asia-Pacific Director Polly Truscott had stated, upon the lower court’s verdict, in 2013. Such a statement was followed by their bold expression against capital punishment: “The sentences seem designed to satisfy a desire for cruel revenge. The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhumane, and degrading punishment and has not been proven to be a deterrent to crime.”
Some 57 officers who were the protectors of the land and had represented the nation with pride at international fronts, were shot.  Then bayoneted, mutilated, and thrown down the manholes. So whose “cruelty” should any human with a heart prefer to consider when it comes to Pilkhana?
The death penalty can be labelled “inhumane” and “degrading” in accordance to bookish definitions, but those countrymen who had lifted the martyred bodies out of the manhole drains weren’t the only ones whose spirits were shattered. Rather, the whole nation, through the media, had experienced what inhumane and degrading actions can be. It is unarmed officers and civilians being at the receiving end of such heinous crimes.
In this case, the argument against the death penalty, which states that it has “not been proven a deterrent to crime” is not something a son who remembers a mutilated face every time he remembers his father, is prepared to hear.
 
How to define justice
It is high time that Amnesty and Human Rights Watch come up with a proper sketch (since only complaining is not really helping) of how they expect this trial to be carried out for it to be “fair” in nature. And perhaps, care to explain how their scholars define “justice” to my mother, who has not spent a day without tears in her eyes in the past seven years.
Otherwise, it would be wiser for them not to comment further with regards to this issue, since it is quite clear how their defence of human rights seem to be unsatisfactory, in the context of bringing solace to the souls of the martyrs, their families, activists of “Desh, We’re Concerned,” and all concerned citizens who want DAD Syed Tauhidul Islam and his monstrous partners hung to death.
Therefore, as long as it can be shown that the trial process is meeting the standard practice in Bangladesh, in context of criminal trials, the trial must carry on at its own pace.
Moreover, taking into consideration the possibility of a few cases regarding the torture of perpetrators inside the prison during the period of trial, and chances of the innocent being punished (as per rights bodies, international and otherwise) certainly should not invalidate the whole trial process.
Human rights are extremely important. However, if particular Westernised definitions of rights keep us from claiming justice, then the international bodies must accept it with grace that their brand of human rights may not fit everywhere.
 
Finding the conspirators
Lastly, as to unearthing the mystery behind the killings and finding the men behind the guns, “Desh, We’re Concerned” over the years has demanded for a separate judicial inquiry commission. The commission would be headed by a retired Supreme Court justice and would conduct investigations and eventually provide a public report.
Therefore, simply punishments given to the perpetrators and the execution of the 152 jawans shall not be enough. Justice will only be served when the conspirators are found and brought to the courts of law.
 
Saquib Rahman teaches law at North South University

Comment

Saquib Rahman
 
The long-awaited trials of Pilkhana massacre began on November 24, 2009. On November 5, 2013, after nearly four years of lengthy trials, the court passed capital punishment on 152 perpetrators for their involvement in the BDR Pilkhana massacre, when the nation lost 74 people, including 57 bright Bangladesh Army officers.
Moreover, 161 accused were jailed for life, 256 were jailed for various terms, and 277 persons received acquittals. As it is known, the death penalty remains a valid form of punishment in Bangladesh under its penal code, and there is hardly any constructive and meaningful discussion among the civil society personnel, intellectuals and lawyers   about re-evaluating the need for such severe punishment.
 
Appeal before High Court
One of the main reasons behind this is probably the fact that the majority of people in Bangladesh still believe that harsh punishment are still necessary for establishing the rule of law in the country, especially considering the perpetual impunity enjoyed by the high and mighty.
While there may come a point in time in future when the death penalty in Bangladesh shall be abolished, the realities and circumstances that exist in the country today are very different those from the West, and are not favourable towards a ban on the death penalty.
Having founded “Desh, We’re Concerned,” the only organisation to have campaigned for proper justice of the VDR carnage throughout the years, honesty, I do not have it in me now to call for a moratorium on the death penalty. I want justice for the senseless killing of my father, Col Quadrat Elahi Rahman Shafique, and so many other innocent men and women, and right now I equate justice with the implementation of punishments on the perpetrators through the court—however harsh that punishment may be.
I would like to believe that the roles played by “Desh, We’re Concerned,” including my articles published in national dailies, have perhaps put some pressure on the government to efficiently carry out the trial process. It has taken over four decades to start any meaningful trials of perpetrators of crimes in 1971, when 3 million people lost their lives. It was our failure to successfully prosecute those who were involved at the time, which led to the spreading of the culture of impunity in my country like a deadly virus.
Moving on to November 29, 2015, Attorney General Mahbubey Alam prayed to the High Court to uphold the lower court verdict that sentenced 152 convicts for killing 74 people. The death reference and appeals were likely to be heard in the High Court by the month of May. However, if the capital punishment remains, I reckon that two big guns in the rights arena, namely Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, will start reacting.
 
HRW’s concerns
Human Rights Watch, in a report in 2012, had mentioned that “the mass trials of nearly 6,000 suspects raise serious fair trial concerns.” Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, Brad Adams, in his statements had said that culprits must be brought to justice, but not through “unfair” trial.
Furthermore, “justice has not been served with the verdict which, if carried out, will only result in violation of 152 more people’s human rights,” Amnesty’s deputy Asia-Pacific Director Polly Truscott had stated, upon the lower court’s verdict, in 2013. Such a statement was followed by their bold expression against capital punishment: “The sentences seem designed to satisfy a desire for cruel revenge. The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhumane, and degrading punishment and has not been proven to be a deterrent to crime.”
Some 57 officers who were the protectors of the land and had represented the nation with pride at international fronts, were shot.  Then bayoneted, mutilated, and thrown down the manholes. So whose “cruelty” should any human with a heart prefer to consider when it comes to Pilkhana?
The death penalty can be labelled “inhumane” and “degrading” in accordance to bookish definitions, but those countrymen who had lifted the martyred bodies out of the manhole drains weren’t the only ones whose spirits were shattered. Rather, the whole nation, through the media, had experienced what inhumane and degrading actions can be. It is unarmed officers and civilians being at the receiving end of such heinous crimes.
In this case, the argument against the death penalty, which states that it has “not been proven a deterrent to crime” is not something a son who remembers a mutilated face every time he remembers his father, is prepared to hear.
 
How to define justice
It is high time that Amnesty and Human Rights Watch come up with a proper sketch (since only complaining is not really helping) of how they expect this trial to be carried out for it to be “fair” in nature. And perhaps, care to explain how their scholars define “justice” to my mother, who has not spent a day without tears in her eyes in the past seven years.
Otherwise, it would be wiser for them not to comment further with regards to this issue, since it is quite clear how their defence of human rights seem to be unsatisfactory, in the context of bringing solace to the souls of the martyrs, their families, activists of “Desh, We’re Concerned,” and all concerned citizens who want DAD Syed Tauhidul Islam and his monstrous partners hung to death.
Therefore, as long as it can be shown that the trial process is meeting the standard practice in Bangladesh, in context of criminal trials, the trial must carry on at its own pace.
Moreover, taking into consideration the possibility of a few cases regarding the torture of perpetrators inside the prison during the period of trial, and chances of the innocent being punished (as per rights bodies, international and otherwise) certainly should not invalidate the whole trial process.
Human rights are extremely important. However, if particular Westernised definitions of rights keep us from claiming justice, then the international bodies must accept it with grace that their brand of human rights may not fit everywhere.
 
Finding the conspirators
Lastly, as to unearthing the mystery behind the killings and finding the men behind the guns, “Desh, We’re Concerned” over the years has demanded for a separate judicial inquiry commission. The commission would be headed by a retired Supreme Court justice and would conduct investigations and eventually provide a public report.
Therefore, simply punishments given to the perpetrators and the execution of the 152 jawans shall not be enough. Justice will only be served when the conspirators are found and brought to the courts of law.
 
Saquib Rahman teaches law at North South University

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 VIEW POINT 
WOMEN’S  REPRODUCTIVE  HEALTH
Need for access to precise information
Dr. Shakira Nova
 
WOMEN face most of the superstitions in the world compared to men. Many women suffer from physical sickness including psychiatric disorders. For example, in terms of women’s reproductive health, food security and nutrition, they face and apply many unacceptable superstitions, misinformation due to ignorance, limited mobility and lack of access to correct information from the family members and other sources. Women have less participation in decision-making, and they are familiar with many detrimental practices including early marriage. Certainly it is one kind of cruelty against women and threat to public health.
I have talked to a few women and girls of different religions in both urban and rural areas in Bangladesh about these issues including menstrual period, menstrual hygiene management, and early marriage without proper knowledge of reproductive health. I have learned from them that sexual and reproductive health knowledge of the women, girls and adolescents is generally poor and what is known is often incorrect as it is derived from unreliable sources—from friends or peers who are equally uninformed. Adolescents are generally discouraged to discuss their sexual and reproductive health and rights with their superiors — parents and teachers. Traditional beliefs and religious norms restrict such discussion and the flow of accurate information on sexual and reproductive health.
In Bangladesh, usually diarrhoea, dysentery and skin diseases increase during monsoon. Pregnant women cannot stroll in the marooned condition. They are forced to stay back inside the house and ultimately fall victim to unhygienic reproductive health conditions. In many cases it has been observed that people are not keen to establish a marital relationship with the women from waterlogging affected areas because those women generally suffer from skin diseases.
In the saline-affected areas, women and adolescent girls are affected by gynecological problems by using saline water during menstruation. Women, explaining the bitter experiences about menstrual hygiene management, report that saline water causes pain during menstruation. The used cloths become very hard after drying due to salinity in water, which creates genital infection and other complications.
 
Blue baby syndrome
The prevalence of ‘blue baby syndrome’ seems higher in saline prone areas as compared to other districts in Bangladesh. It is yet to establish whether there is any direct relationship with the consumption of saline water by the mother. However, in every extreme weather situation, the affected sanitation system, severely affect the women and adolescent girl’s reproductive health the most.
According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), unmet needs for sexual and reproductive health deprive women of the right to make “crucial choices about their own bodies and futures”, affecting family welfare. Reproductive health should be considered through a lifecycle approach as it affects both men and women from infancy to old age. Reproductive health at any age profoundly affects health later in life. Usually the challenges people face at different times in their lives are family planning, services to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, and early diagnosis and treatment of reproductive health illnesses.
The Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), which is a part of the United Nations, organized an International Women’s Day event titled ‘Celebrating Womanhood: menstrual hygiene management’ in Geneva, Switzerland on March 8, 2013. It says that menstrual hygiene management is a taboo subject and one that is largely neglected. For example, a recent study in India conducted by Plan India and AC Nielson reported that among 335 million women menstruate on a monthly basis, 12 per cent have access to and use sanitary pads, 200 million have poor understanding of menstrual hygiene, and 23 per cent of girls drop out of school after reaching puberty. Lack of knowledge, facilities and good policies on menstrual hygiene management has profound consequences for health and development for women and girls, and for society more broadly.
 
Comprehensive plan needed
Reproductive health experts have emphasized the importance of comprehensive plan, as like India, as in Bangladesh and other developing countries in the world the facts and figures of menstrual hygiene management are more or less same. They recommended that women should put themselves in the frontline to share the responsibility in improving their own reproductive health. Poor reproductive health is a product of impaired socio-economic conditions in which women live. Reproductive health is often compromised by the violation of the human rights as well as by various intertwined factors embedded in women’s surroundings. The dearth of relevant medical knowledge, and unavailability, low quality and non-affordability of the services and therefore, requires a comprehensive tackling.
UNFPA Executive Director Dr Baba Osotimehin told a consultative meeting once in Dhaka, Bangladesh that young people in Bangladesh must have proper access to sexual and reproductive health information to avoid unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. Young people must be recognized as a crucial resource for realizing the post-2015 United Nations development agenda. The government and education institutions cannot expect that adolescents will remain in schools and colleges by maintaining that they are not allowed to know about their body or make their own choices regarding sexual health knowledge, he concluded.
Therefore, in accord with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly Goals 3, 4, and 5 have given emphasis to ensure sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) of women and girls. So, all the stakeholders must address the issues properly and work accordingly. We need to conduct research to know the status. It is necessary to listen to women and girls to break the silence, and to let them say how to engage them in our local, national, and global efforts.
 
The writer is a Physician and Researcher, Public Health Specialist focused on reproductive health and non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Email: syedanova002@gmail.com 

Comment

Dr. Shakira Nova
 
WOMEN face most of the superstitions in the world compared to men. Many women suffer from physical sickness including psychiatric disorders. For example, in terms of women’s reproductive health, food security and nutrition, they face and apply many unacceptable superstitions, misinformation due to ignorance, limited mobility and lack of access to correct information from the family members and other sources. Women have less participation in decision-making, and they are familiar with many detrimental practices including early marriage. Certainly it is one kind of cruelty against women and threat to public health.
I have talked to a few women and girls of different religions in both urban and rural areas in Bangladesh about these issues including menstrual period, menstrual hygiene management, and early marriage without proper knowledge of reproductive health. I have learned from them that sexual and reproductive health knowledge of the women, girls and adolescents is generally poor and what is known is often incorrect as it is derived from unreliable sources—from friends or peers who are equally uninformed. Adolescents are generally discouraged to discuss their sexual and reproductive health and rights with their superiors — parents and teachers. Traditional beliefs and religious norms restrict such discussion and the flow of accurate information on sexual and reproductive health.
In Bangladesh, usually diarrhoea, dysentery and skin diseases increase during monsoon. Pregnant women cannot stroll in the marooned condition. They are forced to stay back inside the house and ultimately fall victim to unhygienic reproductive health conditions. In many cases it has been observed that people are not keen to establish a marital relationship with the women from waterlogging affected areas because those women generally suffer from skin diseases.
In the saline-affected areas, women and adolescent girls are affected by gynecological problems by using saline water during menstruation. Women, explaining the bitter experiences about menstrual hygiene management, report that saline water causes pain during menstruation. The used cloths become very hard after drying due to salinity in water, which creates genital infection and other complications.
 
Blue baby syndrome
The prevalence of ‘blue baby syndrome’ seems higher in saline prone areas as compared to other districts in Bangladesh. It is yet to establish whether there is any direct relationship with the consumption of saline water by the mother. However, in every extreme weather situation, the affected sanitation system, severely affect the women and adolescent girl’s reproductive health the most.
According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), unmet needs for sexual and reproductive health deprive women of the right to make “crucial choices about their own bodies and futures”, affecting family welfare. Reproductive health should be considered through a lifecycle approach as it affects both men and women from infancy to old age. Reproductive health at any age profoundly affects health later in life. Usually the challenges people face at different times in their lives are family planning, services to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, and early diagnosis and treatment of reproductive health illnesses.
The Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), which is a part of the United Nations, organized an International Women’s Day event titled ‘Celebrating Womanhood: menstrual hygiene management’ in Geneva, Switzerland on March 8, 2013. It says that menstrual hygiene management is a taboo subject and one that is largely neglected. For example, a recent study in India conducted by Plan India and AC Nielson reported that among 335 million women menstruate on a monthly basis, 12 per cent have access to and use sanitary pads, 200 million have poor understanding of menstrual hygiene, and 23 per cent of girls drop out of school after reaching puberty. Lack of knowledge, facilities and good policies on menstrual hygiene management has profound consequences for health and development for women and girls, and for society more broadly.
 
Comprehensive plan needed
Reproductive health experts have emphasized the importance of comprehensive plan, as like India, as in Bangladesh and other developing countries in the world the facts and figures of menstrual hygiene management are more or less same. They recommended that women should put themselves in the frontline to share the responsibility in improving their own reproductive health. Poor reproductive health is a product of impaired socio-economic conditions in which women live. Reproductive health is often compromised by the violation of the human rights as well as by various intertwined factors embedded in women’s surroundings. The dearth of relevant medical knowledge, and unavailability, low quality and non-affordability of the services and therefore, requires a comprehensive tackling.
UNFPA Executive Director Dr Baba Osotimehin told a consultative meeting once in Dhaka, Bangladesh that young people in Bangladesh must have proper access to sexual and reproductive health information to avoid unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. Young people must be recognized as a crucial resource for realizing the post-2015 United Nations development agenda. The government and education institutions cannot expect that adolescents will remain in schools and colleges by maintaining that they are not allowed to know about their body or make their own choices regarding sexual health knowledge, he concluded.
Therefore, in accord with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly Goals 3, 4, and 5 have given emphasis to ensure sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) of women and girls. So, all the stakeholders must address the issues properly and work accordingly. We need to conduct research to know the status. It is necessary to listen to women and girls to break the silence, and to let them say how to engage them in our local, national, and global efforts.
 
The writer is a Physician and Researcher, Public Health Specialist focused on reproductive health and non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Email: syedanova002@gmail.com 

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