NewsFamily life in Bangladesh and the role of fathers
I have been coming to Bangladesh for almost 30 years now and continue to be amazed by family life in this country. What looks like a warm close-knit community with the whole family together in a yard, for many feels like oppression and a social prison.
A family in rural Bangladesh often consists of a man and his wife, their unmarried children and their adult sons with their wives and children. Together they form a residential community. The family provides economic stability and a social identity. Although sons often build separate houses for their families, they remain under their father’s authority. Married daughters move into their husband’s family. In addition to raising children, women take care of all household duties and often also work in the fields. Most of their economic and social life revolves around family, children and grandchildren. Although women are gradually taking on more roles outside the domestic sphere, men still have better access to education and paid employment and also act as the primary source of authority. The eldest wife has considerable authority within the household, but ultimately the father or eldest son takes most of the decisions.
Jealousy and ill will
Living with so many family members is anything but easy; there is a lot of jealousy and ill will. You cannot control your own future, because it is determined by your parents or older siblings. Life becomes even more difficult when, as a daughter-in-law, you have a child with a disability. Bullying, violence and abuse are issues that many young mothers have to face on a daily basis. And the remarkable thing is, they are holding up. Women in Bangladesh are immensely strong and resilient. In a culture in which it is not common to talk about your troubles, life is accepted and a lot of perseverance is shown.
Role of fathers
Traditionally and culturally, fathers are not involved in raising their children. But without their permission, their wife cannot take a child to a rehabilitation center or school. That’s why we regularly hear stories of mothers who secretly come to the center, lying to their husbands or in-laws, in order to give their child a chance to develop.
For years, and with varying results, we have been trying to involve fathers in raising their children and get them to understand the importance of therapy. It took a pandemic to really change this. During the COVID pandemic, we offered income-generating activities to families and this has led to a real turnaround.
There is tremendous appreciation that thanks to the child with a disability, they got through the pandemic and sometimes even came out better. There are fewer worries, which leads to less stress and more involvement. They are open to the small steps the children make. A greeting, waiting your turn, answering a question, is seen as socially desirable behavior and earns respect from fathers and grandparents. Fathers are spending more time with their children, playing football, helping their children do their exercises at home or doing their homework. It has changed family dynamics; the mothers are bullied and abused less, and the children get more attention. Parents, interviews indicate, are now satisfied with the role they play in family life.
My father takes care of me! Now that I am showing progress and am able to walk, my father wants to do activities with me. He has now allowed me to go to a special school. He has never been patient with me, but now he talks to me and encourages me to answer his questions.