Monday, December 15, 2008

Marriage and the rights of urban poor women

by: Franziska Landesberger

Finally I got the opportunity to do my first interview with a family living in New Zimkhana a slum area in the center of Narayanganj which is threatened with eviction. According to Municipality plans at the very same place a green park should be created.

The seven-member family I was invited to conduct my interview with lives in a small one-room building with the kitchen stove on the pathway like many others in this neighbourhood. On that stove the mother makes small coconut-rice cakes and sells them seven days a week and has sold them for 18 to 20 years now. She has learned how to cook these cookies from her mother and neighbours. Her husband is very old and had been unemployed for a longer time but si
nce his stroke three months ago he is not able to work at all. Therefore her income and that of her two daughters has to feed the family. Normally it is not enough to be able to afford meat thus they eat cakes prepared for the petty business and rice sometimes with vegetables.

Both of her adult daughters are married and work in the garment sector. However the husband of the elder o f the two daughters has abandoned his wife following the birth of their daughter. He has not been seen by the family for almost 15 years. While discussing that issue with my supervisor he explained to me that this practice is very common in Bangladesh (and probably in many other countries too).

lthough there is no legal statute requiring a marriage registration the majority of recent marriages adheres to it. With promoting this practice officials and NGOs try to strengthen the rights of women with stipulations related to separation. If the husband deserts or divorces his wife she can claim for a specific amount of money, fixed on the day of registration. But especially within slum areas and among urban poor people many marriages are not registered. And men coming to the city to earn money to send home to their wife and children can easily remarry urban poor woman without registration and leave after a few weeks. They seldom have relatives in the city to whom the wife’s family can go to complain. This does not mean that the registration of marriages gives women all opportunities but there are cases in which this practice strengthens woman’s rights.

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