Scarred Yet Alive
In a patriarchal community, a 15 year old girl nursed a desire to receive the same education as the boys did. She received a bullet instead. The attack on Malala Yousafzai garnered sufficient attention from media, governments, and civil societies globally, giving us hope that gender-based violence will eventually end. Two months later, a 23 year old indomitable spirit boarded what she thought a safe public transportation, thinking she would reach home. She never reached home. The brutal gang rape and mutilation of Amanat* in Delhi is a reminder of how much more needs to be done to put an end to gender-based violence.
Many are concluding that gender-based violence is a characteristic of India and Bangladesh. Delhi has been termed as the “rape” capital. “It’s risky for women to live in India and Bangladesh,” a well-meaning social activist commented. In reality, the problem is much more pervasive. At a UNFPA conference that I attended in Bali (Indonesia), an American lady said, “Although America is promoting sexuality through Hollywood, gender disparity still exists. While men are considered masculine for having a sexual life, women are labeled as immoral for doing the same.” In that room, everyone, from Palestine to Nigeria to Pakistan, nodded in agreement. In Bali itself, women’s safety was questionable in the area where I was staying. Venturing out of the house in the evenings was not advised. Even at daytime, local men would stare, whistle, and at times, yell nasty propositions. Gender-based violence is a global epidemic, not a regional phenomenon.
An article on the BBC website aptly mentioned “they [women] are not safe anywhere, at home, on the streets, on a bus, on the new metro system, nowhere really.” According to UNFPA, “one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or abused in some other way, most often by someone she knows, including by her husband or another male family member.” Take the example of Shabana,* an autistic girl, who was raped for months by her family members before her mother found out. Although the mother ensured this did not happen again, neither did she take the help of counselors and doctors, nor did she attempt to bring the perpetrators to book. Demanding justice for the victim was not more important than upholding family honour. Sharmin,* a school student, said, “My parents have always taught me to suppress my anger at such incidents.” Women have become silent abettors. Yasmin* admitted preferring sons to daughters. “As a woman, I had to struggle a lot. Gradually, I began to develop hatred for women.” Prevention of gender-based violence at home and uniting women in this movement must be top priorities.
A comprehensive education that includes sexuality education has to be at the forefront in moulding a mindset that does not view women as objects. Today’s robotic education, both at home and outdoors, might be producing many degree-holders, but it is failing to create civilized citizens, peace-makers, change-catalysts. According to a report by NDTV, one of the perpetrators (of the Delhi gang-rape) has been described as a “diligent student” by neighbours. At the conference that I attended, a Bangladeshi youth representative was constantly bullying another youth, a female, from his country. When asked for the reason, he responded, “She will never forget me.” These “educated” men take the support of harassment to establish their identity, their self-worth, or to leave an impression, a “mark of masculinity” on the girl. Rizwana,* a university student, had a similar experience to share. “Whenever my male classmates approach me to join their team for a project, they always call me the ‘cherry on the cake.’ They say I add glamour. This actually makes me feel inferior as if I lack the ability to contribute on an intellectual level.”
No debate surrounding gender-based violence is complete without heated exchanges on the effects of dress. One self-proclaimed pious girl remarked, “Learn something from this event, girls! If you wear revealing clothes and provoke men, you will bring harm upon yourself.” If dress was indeed a determinant of rape, why would we have cases of child molestation, marital abuse, and female genital mutilation?
The insensitivity of the masses was disturbing. What would have happened if Amanat survived in a society which believed she could “never lead a normal marital life again?” Looking at her resilience, I believe she would have lived a happy marital life, no matter how much the society tried to push her towards despair and impede her recovery.
People say Amanat has died. I believe she is alive; alive in each one of us as the desire to create a safer, more equitable world. Here’s wishing 2013 sees the end of gender-based violence!
* Names have been changed to protect privacy
Biswas, S. (2012). Women's tales from brutal Delhi. BBC News.
NDTV. (2012). The six men accused of murdering 'Amanat', India's Daughter. NDTV.
UNFPA. (n.d.). Gender Equality. Retrieved from UNFPA: http://www.unfpa.org/gender/violence.htm
A slightly-modified version of this article was published by the Weekend Independent (Bangladesh) on the 4th of January 2013.