Women's Vulnerabilities: Levels and Forms

5 Levels of Women's Vulnerabilities

Levels and Forms of Women Vulnerabilities

Levels of Women's Vulnerabilities

According to Valerie Duffy and Ciara Regan (2012), the vulnerability of women can be highlighted at five fundamental levels:

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Biomedical Vulnerability

Women remain biologically seven times more vulnerable to the transmission of the virus during sexual intercourse than men; cultural practices reinforce this, and women's role as the primary caregivers also leaves them vulnerable.

Social & Cultural Vulnerability

Certain cultural practices associated with the subordination of women to men help ensure women's vulnerability to HIV and AIDS. The practice of multiple concurrent sexual partnerships is lethal in this context.

Economic Vulnerability

The poverty experienced by women and their economic dependence on men leaves them vulnerable, often with little option but to sell themselves to survive or feed their children.

Legal & Political Vulnerability

While women are seen to be equal in rights to men, in theory, the practice often denies this with customary law and constitutional law often discriminating against women and structures and institutions routinely enforce this discrimination.

Educational Vulnerability

The ongoing challenge of ensuring female access to, and completion of, education at primary and post-primary levels contributes to the subordination of women.


Forms of Women's Vulnerabilities

“The conditions determined by physical, social, economic, and environmental factors or processes, which increase the susceptibility of a community to the impact of hazards” (ISDR, 2004: 7)

Family Violence

The definition of family violence used in the present study emphasized violence by any family member. While defining family violence, the term ‘domestic violence was consciously avoided, as technically, this would also include violence by domestic help or nonfamily members living with the family. Family violence here included child abuse, sibling abuse, parent abuse, and in-law abuse perpetrated by male and female Aggressors on female and male victims.


Rape and Sexual Violence

According to Section 375 of the Bangladesh Penal Code, rape occurs when a man has intercourse with a woman of any age without her consent. Many instances of gang rape are also reported, and rape is followed by murder. Rape may occur in different forms: marital rape, rape in armed conflicts, rape of women refugees, statutory rape, gang rape, and jackrolling or “recreational rape”. Sexual assault or abuse is any type of sexual activity that a person does not agree to, including rape or attempted rape touching a body or touching someone else, incent or sexual contact with a child, someone watching or photographing in sexual situations, or someone exposing their body. Custodial violence refers to violence directed toward anybody placed under State custody. State custody refers to government agents, such as the police or military personnel, other law enforcement agencies, and different shelters and vagrant homes run by the state machinery. Women are vulnerable to abuse whether accused of petty theft, inappropriate sexual behaviour or affiliation with a “wanted” criminal. There is a rule of not arresting women after sunset. However, often police misuse Section 541, especially after sunset, to arrest women and keep them in police custody.


Murder and Suicide

Both women and men are victims of murder at the hands of strangers and known people, including family members. Women are often murdered by their closest relatives such as husband, brother, son, and in-law due to a family quarrel, demand for land, polygamy, husband extra-marital affair or remarriage, demands for dowry, failure to give birth to children, especially a son. In many cases, women commit suicide when they cannot bear the pain of physical and mental torture due to rape, religion-based community violence such as fatwa, dowry demands and abandonment. These forms of violence violate the first clause of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the human right to life. Community Violence occurs when community members collectively perpetrate violence on individuals of the same community. It is the outcome of a “community” decision to punish one of its members.

Trafficking in Women

Trafficking of women and children is a significant problem in developing countries around the globe and particularly in South Asia. In the absence of social protection, economic security, and legal support, an alarming number of women and children from the poor, marginalized section of the community become easy victims of trafficking. Bangladeshi women and children are trafficked both within the country and internationally. The neverending demand for women and children makes trafficking a highly profitable business. Victims of Trafficking are generally trafficked for forced prostitution, but sometimes also for other purposes such as organ transplants and slave labour.


Torture by Husband

Wife beating is the most commonly occurring Act of domestic violence in Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, it is common knowledge that husband exerts their authority and physically assault wives for even minor mistakes such as unsatisfactory meal, an untidy room, a conversation with another man or any act of disagreement. Men have been socially conditioned to genuinely believe in their own superiority. From childhood, they are treated differently from their sisters. They grow to believe that they are more valuable and deserving than women and that their opinions and views should have more weight than any women. This way, men can delude themselves into believing that abuse of their wives amounts to religious duty and that they are wholly justified in their actions.


Dowry Related Violence

The practice of dowry demand ('Joutuk') is not deeply rooted in Bengali Muslim tradition but has emerged as a significant social evil in recent years. Generally, dowry means the property that the bride’s family gives to the groom or his family upon marriage. In Bangladesh law, dowry has been given an extended meaning. Whatever is presented, whether before or after marriage, under demand, compulsion or pressure as consideration for the wedding, can be said to be dowry. Rising unemployment has contributed to the phenomenon as more and more young men are unable to find employment, their families use marriage and dowry demand as a source of income, prospective grooms and their families demand large sums of money or property from the would-be bride's family as a pre-condition to the marriage agreement. Although dowry demand is illegal, the practice persists in rural communities. For example, the women have acid thrown on their faces, burnt, severely beaten, and even murdered. For the most part, in high-risk pregnancies, married women in Bangladesh are not aware of their own sexual and reproductive rights and have only limited control over their own bodies. A Women’s freedom of choice regarding sexual intercourse, birth control, pregnancy, prenatal care and abortion is restricted by the collaborative decision-making of her husband and his family. The husband is the aggressor in this situation, and the wife is merely a passive participant. Similarly, the wife's personal convictions on birth control and family planning are irrelevant in decision-making.



Another concern highlighted in the special reporter's report is “Pornography”, which represents a form of violation against women that “glamorizes the degradation and maltreatment of women and asserts their subordinate function as mere receptacles for male lust.”

Community Violence

There are diversified reasons for community violence. It depends on the attitudes of the local elites and other religious persons. Pre-marital pregnancy and pre-marital and extra-marital sexual relationships were the primary cause of community violence.


Environmental and Climate Change Victims

In the 1991 cyclone disaster that killed 140 000 people in Bangladesh, 90% of the victims were women (Aguilar, 2004). The death rate among people aged 20–44 was 71 per 1000 women, compared with 15 per 1000 men (WEDO, 2008). Explanations for this include that more women than men are homebound, looking after children and valuables. Even if a warning is issued, many women die while waiting for their relatives to return home to accompany them to a safe place. Other reasons include the sari restricts the movement of women and puts them more at risk at the time of a tidal surge and that women are less well-nourished and hence physically less able than men to deal with these situations (Chowdhury et al., 1993; WEDO, 2008)

Women, young people, and people with low socioeconomic status ara a comparatively high risk of anxiety and mood disorders after disasters (Norris et al., 2002). One study of anxiety and mood disorder (as defined by the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders; DSM-IV) after Hurricane Katrina found the incidence was consistently associated with the following factors: age under 60 years; being a woman; education level lower than college completion; low family income; pre-hurricane employment status (largely unemployed and disabled); and being unmarried. In addition, Hispanic people and people of other racial/ethnic minorities (not including non-Hispanic black people) had a significantly lower estimated incidence of any disorder compared with non-Hispanic white people in the New Orleans area, as well as a considerably lower estimated prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the remainder of the sample. These same associations have been found in community epidemiological surveys in the absence of disasters, suggesting that these associations might be related to pre-existing conditions (Galea et al., 2007). A follow-up study that looked at patterns and correlates of recovery from hurricane-related PTSD, broader anxiety and mood disorders and suicidal behaviour found a high prevalence of hurricane-related mental illness widely distributed in the population nearly 2 years after the hurricane (Kessler et al., 2008).



Sexual and reproductive health and rights, or SRHR, is the concept of human rights applied to sexuality and reproduction. It is a combination of four fields that in some contexts are more or less distinct from each other but less so or not at all in different contexts. These four fields are sexual health, sexual rights, reproductive health and reproductive rights. In the concept of SRHR, these four fields are treated as separate but inherently intertwined.

Sexual Rights

Unlike the other three aspects of SRHR, the struggle for sexual rights includes, and focuses on, sexual pleasure and emotional, sexual expression. One platform for this struggle is the WAS Declaration of Sexual Rights. The World Association for Sexual Health (WAS) was founded in 1978 by a multidisciplinary, worldwide group of NGOs to promote the field of sexology. 

Reproductive Rights

Reproductive rights are legal rights and freedoms relating to reproduction and reproductive health. The World Health Organization defines reproductive rights as follows: Reproductive rights rest on the recognition of the fundamental right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health. They also include the right of all to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence.

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