Discrimination against women has persisted and is a tussle since ages and one of the main highlights of 2019 in the context of discrimination against women is the removal of the Word “Virgin”, from the Muslim marriage forms in Bangladesh.
Prior to 2014, the practice in Muslim marriage law required a bride to declare whether she is a Virgin (Kumari), a widow, or divorced. This requirement was embedded in Clause 5 of the Muslim Marriages and Divorces (Registration) Act, 1974 (hereafter referred to as ‘The Act’).
The said Clause required the bride to make a statement on her sexual history and marital status. The bride is required to specifically state whether she is a virgin, divorced, or widowed. There was no similar requirement for the groom.
Many Human Rights group campaigned against the discriminatory and humiliating nature of this practice.
In the spirit of this campaign, in 2014, the Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (Blast), Naripokkho, and Bangladesh Mohila Parishad, filed a joint writ petition before the High Court of Bangladesh.
In the writ petition, the Petitioners challenged the said Clause 5 on the grounds that the clause discriminated between women and men, and as such violated the Constitutional provisions on freedom of discrimination.
The two-man bench, consisting of Justice Naima Haider and Justice Khizir Ahmed Choudhur, found merit in the writ petition. But before delivering its final judgment, the Court asked the government to address it on why Clause 5 should not be declared illegal.
In its Ruling, the Court directed the government to remove the word “Kumari” (i.e. Virgin) from the said Clause, and replace it with the word “Unmarried”. The other words, ‘Divorced’ and ‘Widow’ were left untouched.
The Court further directed that a Clause 4A should be included in the Act. The said Clause should contain provisions directing that a groom should state his marital status i.e. whether he is ‘Married’, ‘Widower’, or ‘Divorcee’.
Consequent to the Court’s ruling, women in Bangladesh are no longer legally required to declare if they are ‘Virgins’.
This landmark ruling has ended the discriminatory and humiliating practice against Muslim brides in Bangladesh. Proper implementation of the ruling, will definitely help in the advancement of women’s right in Bangladesh.