In a victory for human rights in Bangladesh, women in the South Asian country will no longer be forced to declare whether or not they are virgins on marriage documents. Up until now, that was the law.
The welcome change comes not from the Islamic nation’s political leaders, but from a court ruling that declared women were improperly humiliated by having to check a box identifying if they are “kumari,” which can be defined as both “virgin” or “unmarried woman.” The court held that another word — one that only means “unmarried woman” — must be used instead.
On Sunday, the court said the Bengali word “obibahita”, which unambiguously means “an unmarried woman” — must be used from now on instead of “kumari”.
It’s a surprisingly progressive solution. It’s also common sense in a country where religious fundamentalism often dictates policy.
“It is a landmark verdict,” Aynun Nahar Siddiqua, a lawyer for the groups which filed the case challenging the term in 2014 said.
Rights groups have long criticised the term — used in certificates since they were introduced in 1961 — saying it is “humiliating and discriminatory”, and that it breaches the privacy of the woman getting married.
The judgement also ordered authorities to introduce the options “unmarried, widower or divorced” for the groom on the certificate.
In a way, this is a step toward gender equality. It’s no small feat for the third largest Muslim-majority country in the world. The measures won’t take effect until October, but when it does, women will have a little bit more freedom in a country ruled by an interpretation of Islam that treats them as second-class citizens.
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