We Are Women
‘Being able to speak is my first success’ is one of the statement made by Srijana Karki, a woman working in dolakha district of Nepal for women rights and equality.
The above statement of Srijana tells the position of women in our Nepali society. Nepal where women like Anuradha Koirala(CNN Hero 2011) and Pushpa Basnet(CNN Hero 2012) have proved that women can change and contribute in the society, still many women are silent due to our culture, our position in the society and lack of social and political access. The dominating Hindu religion and engraved discriminative cultural practices have positioned women in such a condition that we grow up with our mind shape that ‘we have to face such discrimination because we are women and if we speak against it we are questioned against our morals’, continuing the ‘culture of silence’ among women who would even be silent even in the case of sexual violence.
If we follow the definition of violence in our society then probably we find uncountable numbers of violence happening in our society. However, for many of us, still what are defined as violence by scholars and legal documents are still just the social practices, are our culture and are still our tradition. It is same like, the severe punishment that we got in our childhood for not studying or doing something that our parents do not like, was just a thing that we got for not following our parent’s wish and many generations have accepted without any complains. Because we believe, it’s our custom. Similarly, a wife or daughter or mother has to go through such condition if we do something that our society doesn’t accept, that the men members of our society do not like it. Here are just few of the incidents among thousands of violence that I have seen and experienced:-
Around 1996, Charikot: A widow was beaten almost to death by men in the village nearby my hometown. She was in her 30s and had 3 girl children. I saw people taking her to the hospital. I was around 9 or 10 years old and even my child mind couldn’t stop thinking about her being so helpless and I was so sad to hear that she was beaten by 5-6 men for some property issues. When I asked my elders why she was beaten up, they replied- ‘she acted as if she knows everything, why would she has to speak in-between men. What you do is what you get!’ Later I came to know that she was just asking for her part of property from her in laws after her husband died.
In 2010, Kathmandu: In my neighbor, there was a family with 1 husband with his 2 wives and 4 children. Kathmandu, a capital of Nepal has thousands of women rights NGOs and activists but almost every night I had to hear the fighting and crying of a woman just next to my house. The two wives fought with each other and their in laws would always support the second one. The first wife was the one who was always beaten and blamed for the quarrel. Although she was self-entrepreneur strong woman, she never asked for her legal rights and help. To be noticed, the first wife of the man was from different cast and already had 3 children with her; the second wife belongs to the same cast as the man and had one child with her.
2012, Seoul: I have seen one of my girl-friend was often bullied by her so called educated friends from the activist background for not knowing and speaking the English well. I have seen them bullying the girl for being friendly to the male friends and I have also seen one of them hit the girl when he was drunk.
These stories are very simple for the women from our society, or even for all of us probably- the women around the world. Let me explain what I want to say from these three incidents that I have mentioned above.
In the first case, the woman who was beaten was illiterate and didn’t have any knowledge about her rights. When she spoke for what she owned, she was punished. We can least expect that she could go through any legal process by herself to claim her rights or complain against those who bit her. In the second case, the first wife of that man had education and she was well aware of the legal rights and process if she wanted to go through it. But she didn’t because, first she was married to the different cast man which our society doesn’t accept; second, even if she would divorce her husband, our society would first question her about her moral characterand her children would also have to face the same. It was her compulsion to accept the condition not only for her future but for her children too. In the third case, the incident is about the well aware educated people that too are from activists’ background who are supposed to be the ambassadors of the change in our community or country. The one who is bullied and one who hit the girl are both very well aware of their rights, the law and the women rights specially. But still women have to face in that circumstances, what kind of activism are we doing and is activism free of gender discrimination or women violence?
Is there any difference in women violence in these incidents? Just the place is different but the issue remains same. It is because we have so far have succeeded to make the law, succeeded to make the international standard of human rights, organization to assure the women rights in our community and the country. But we have forgotten to go through the culture, our beliefs and values that we have been brought up in. We have forgotten to check our own organizational culture of gender discrimination, we have forgotten to check our own civil society, NGO and INGO which still carries the gender discrimination and violence in many cases.
Here, I am not mentioning the numbers of cases of women violence that are registered in my community or in my country. We would probably find the facts and figures of the women violence that happens in our life, in our office or in our home or in our community but there are hundreds and thousands of violence that have been overshadowed just because, it is not the case of life and death, just because it is not the case of ‘international human rights’ standard and more than that it is just because the matter of our home that shouldn't be gone out in public. If it goes out then probably the people in our society won’t look at us with the good eyes and after all it is what has been practiced by our seniors and ancestors for many years, from generations to generations it has been passed to. Even, i myself cannot say that i can speak against every violence that i have faced in my life for many reasons. It is our culture, it is our custom and we have to accept it because WE ARE WOMEN.
What can we do to stop it? We cannot just go to some community or to people and tell them, change your mind setup, and change your culture, tradition and custom. No, not even we can expect the international community to solve these problems. The change has to come within the same people and place; it has to come from the community where this violence is happening in the name of culture or custom. We need to interpret our religious books correctly which doesn’t allow this violence. Only one ‘international standard’ won’t work for all the communities. Because we are different, we do have different values and we do have different cultures. I know these issues have already been raised by some scholars and activists but we need to empower more women in the ground level so that we can understand and address their issues. We need to address their issues in their context not with the ‘international standard’. I really appreciate what today the organization like worldpulse is doing by giving space women to raise voice because still for many of us being able to speak is itself a step towards solution. And why don’t we create more platforms where we can give space for every single issue so that they can speak for themselves, so that it can be addressed. So that the notion of ‘international standard’ and ‘local culture and practices’ won’t conflict with each other and won’t create the international debate of ‘southern- northern debate’. If we don’t speak, we won’t be able to stop violence.
We faced violence believing we have to face this because WE ARE WOMEN, now we have to speak against it because WE ARE WOMEN.