By: Shireen Huq and Syeda Samara Mortada
There has been growing outrage among Bangladeshi citizens over the past two weeks at a string of gruesome gang rapes and sexual assaults reported in the media. There is a deep lack of confidence that the victims will ever get justice, as well as anxiety over the traditionally-held view that a woman and her family lose “honour” when she is raped.
The question remains: did the woman ask to hold this honour that has been bestowed upon her? Is a woman’s honour held in her body? According to Ain O Salish Kendra, an organisation in Bangladesh that provides legal assistance to victims of violence, between January and September this year, men raped 975 women, killed 43 women after raping them, and attempted to rape 204 others. This is not the actual number of rape cases, but the figure that has been reported publicly – the true toll will be a lot higher.
So last week a group of women got together to form an alliance called “Feminists Across Generations”. We want to protest against the violence which women and girls are suffering, irrespective of their class, occupation or any other identity marker; be it at the hands of family members, strangers, or state actors from law enforcement or the military.
We are angry. We are angry at families, schools, and at the government for blaming the victim and for forcing them to change instead of holding perpetrators to account. Those who continue to ask what he victim was wearing, where she was, who she was with and what time it was. Those who continue to say that she was “asking for it”.
Feminists Across Generations stood to protest against not just individual cases of violence against women, nor to focus on the trial and punishment of perpetrators, but to question the cultural and social practices that have nurtured and allowed this violence to breed; the systemic discrimination against women both de jure and de facto that persist; the inequality that underwrites our structures of governance and justice, and the provision of social services.
The goal of organising has to be broadened, beyond criminal justice, to include discourse around toxic masculinity and a strategy to bring about an end to the culture of rape and sexual violence.Surviving on a bag of rice: plight of Bangladeshi garment makersRead more
Systemic change is necessary and the modernisation of Bangladesh’s antiquated laws, such as the Character Evidence Law, which allows survivors to be questioned in the court of law on their “character”. More than ever, it is time to target societies, mindsets and the culture of impunity. It is time for all citizens to come together and demand freedom for women and girls, not protection. We demand safety on the streets at any time of the day or night, on public transport, at schools, at work and in our homes.
Gender-based violence is a national emergency in Bangladesh. It should be declared as such. No form of violence can be considered “normal”, nor can it be considered part of any culture. Together – women and men – we must continue the fight to help realise a Bangladesh that is free of rape and sexual violence.
We demand zero tolerance for victim-blaming at all levels of society (structural, institutional, societal and individual). We demand that rapists are no longer sheltered in our homes, schools and workplaces – families need to hold their boys and men accountable for any and all violence they perpetrate. We claim our right to occupy all public spaces without fear of violence, at any time and for any purpose.
Comprehensive sex education, including a clear understanding of consent, must be made mandatory in all schools. We ask that swift action be taken against all those weaponising cyber tools to commit violence against women. We request that rape laws are reformed to recognise and criminalise marital rape, irrespective of the age of the victim who is subjected to rape by her spouse.
We are opposed to the death penalty. It is not a solution. Talking about the death penalty has not brought justice for Nusrat Jahan Rafi, Kalpana Chakma, Yasmin Akhter, Sohagi Tonu or any of Bangladesh’s other lost women and girls. There are many more who live in fear.
Shireen Huq is the founder of Bangladeshi women’s activist organisation Naripokkho and Syeda Samara Mortada is an activist with the SheDecides movement
Updated On: 19, Oct 2020