A five-year-long legal battle has come to a fruitful end. Bangladesh’s High Court has ruled that women now need not declare, on their marriage certificates, whether they are a virgin (“kumari”) or not. The decision comes in response to a writ petition filed by women’s rights groups in 2014 who objected this declaration as an intrusion to women’s privacy and a window for their possible humiliation.
The ruling is big. And it certainly should be rejoiced as a major step towards the liberation of women’s position in the country. However, does it rid away the structural problem in the society that’s jeweled with orthodoxy and patriarchy? Does this decision also shift the mindset of grooms and the families involved who need to know about the virginity of the bride in the first place? Can women in the country now be more open to the dating culture without the fear of being judged after marriage?
Can women now download Tinder without being judged and frowned upon?
Gender Inequality in Bangladesh
Men never had to disclose their sexual experience (or the lack of it thereof) on their marriage certificates. So, the said judgment from the top court is quite a considerable step. Now, grooms will have to disclose if he was unmarried, divorced or widower – just like women. Both the genders seem to be on the same pedestal here. But gender inequality in Bangladesh is far more concerning, well ingrained in the culture, where, although progressing, women still struggle with several blatant and hushed stigmas.
Of course, the gap in pay is a very evident one. But it’s also an afterthought when you, in the first place, realize the lack of opportunities for women in education and employment. Even with Bangladesh’s all-time high literacy rate, many experts believe, women weren’t the biggest beneficiaries. Female participation in the workforce is low, too, with patriarchy, among other reasons, being a key root cause where women, still in 2019, are supposed to be stay-at-home moms, looking after the in-laws.
Much like in the large part of Asia, women aren’t positioned well in Bangladesh. Yes, optimism says we have come a long way. It says we’re making consistent progress. It says we are liberalizing towards gender inequality. But realism with a drop of skepticism, on the other hand, screams loud of how we’re still far from the desired place, how the pace of the progress is slow and how, while the society is getting liberalized, conformism still breeds on the ground levels.
The decision to remove “virgin” from marriage certificates, even for the sake of women’s privacy and not open-mindedness of the society, must be welcomed and should be rejoiced. But in the noise of that cheer, one must not lose sight of the distance that this country still needs to cover.