Estimates count 3.5 to 5.5 million Dalits residing in Bangladesh.
Dalit girls and women, who rank the highest in levels of illiteracy, often fall victim to prostitution and bonded labour trafficking. Discrimination against Dalit women is also reinforced by traditional norms and customs in Hinduism and Islam that deprive the women not only of control over property, but also over their own bodies. They are also excluded from participation in politics, community development and employment.
Dalit women in Bangladesh face discrimination, exclusion and violence as a result of both their caste and gender. A study undertaken in 2011 explored Dalit women’s participation in the political sphere – at national level as well as at local and community level (1). The study found that Dalit women in Bangladesh lack political representation and are subject to continuous and systematic deprivation, exclusion and neglect.
The majority of Dalit girls drop out of school and miss one of the most crucial opportunities in escaping poverty. Given the vast numbers of Dalit women and men living in poverty, justice will not be achieved if Dalits continue to be excluded, and their human rights denied. The status of Dalit women is dictated by the socio-cultural, economic and political situation of Dalit people in Bangladesh today and the extreme levels of exclusion and marginality they experience.
Dalit women in Bangladesh are also victims of political violence and the country witnessed a number of fatwas issued against women’s right to vote, accompanied by violent attacks (2).