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Rape and sexual harassment: Where are we headed?

  • Published at 05:16 pm April 15th, 2019

Violence against women and girls at every turn

Rape and sexual harassment have drawn public attention in recent times following a spate of rapes.

Specially after a public initiative, “Ga Gheshe Daraben Na,” which loosely translates to “Don’t stand too close”, rights activists, female students, sociologists, and responsible citizens, are concerned whether we as a society are headed in the right direction in ensuring women's safety.

Rape as a tool in political violence, the culture of impunity, declining trust, and finally the erosion of social values, all are seen as responsible for the growing violence against women and girls across the country.

Rape and sexual harassment started drawing more attention with the gang rape of a 30-year-old woman on the eve of the national elections on December 31, 2018, perpetrated by 10-15 associates of an Awami League leader in Subarnachar, when the woman voted for a BNP candidate.

The case sparked widespread criticism across the country compelling the Awami League leader, prime suspect in the case, to be expelled from the party, but he was eventually granted bail. Bail was suspended upon disclosure of fraud, and his lawyer was later held in contempt of court.

Barely a month later, a 13-year-old girl was raped by two men in the same upazila on January 31.

Visiting the upazila crime scene, Ayesha Khanam, president of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, at a press conference on April 4, said they found intimations of political influence in the case.

A number of recent rape incidents has further stirred panic.

Samajik Protirodh Comittee (Social Protest Committee) and 66 other local women’s rights, human rights, and development organizations, formally expressed concern about the increasing abuse and sexual violence against women and children.  This came in the wake of incidents like the rape of a sixth grade madrasa student in Manikchhari of Khagrachhari, a teenage girl’s rape at Ishwarganj railway station in Mymensingh, a raped teenager in Durgapur of Netrokona, the rape of a five-year-old child in Gaibandha's Phulchhari, several rape attempts and cases of sexual harassment, and the abuse of a rape victim by a police constable in Jatrabari.

Some 189 women and girls were raped in the first 3 months of 2019

According to Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), some 189 women and girls were raped in the first three months of the year where some 28 women, girls, and boys were sexually harassed. Among them, 91 of the rape victims were children.

The national legal aid and human rights body said some 732 women and girls were raped in 2018. Of them, 271 were children and 172 women.

However, according to Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum (BSAF), 164 children were raped in the first three months of the current year and the number was 571 for all of 2018.

What rights activists and sociologists say

Rights activists, talking to Dhaka Tribune, said girls and women are subjected to violence in every corner of the country.

The news they have from the media is very disturbing they said, adding that it seems like perpetrators are taking every opportunity to commit violence against women and girls. 

Mahila Parishad joint general secretary, Rakhi Das Purkayastha, said in spite of the numerous initiatives, they are worried as the number of brutal acts and the degree of violence are both alarmingly on the rise.

She said the incidents in Subornochar are an outcome of political violence. She also demanded speedy trial and punishment of all perpetrators, saying that otherwise the country would become a rapist state.

She also questioned why the government is not implementing the High Court decree to stop sexual harassment and oppression at educational institutes.

Former ASK director, Nur Khan Liton, said when rape is used as a political tool, it carries  a very deep and worrying meaning.

While the first incidents took place at Subornachar, the role of the police was not satisfactory and had impact as well, Nur said, adding that not only in Subornochar, the same culture of terror has spread across the whole country, and opportunistic petty criminals are taking advantage of this, sensing that women are the most vulnerable targets.

Associate Professor of the Women and Gender Studies Department at Dhaka University, Dr Syed Saikh Imtiaz, said the incidents they see are expressions of machismo and domination.

“Boys and men have to be more respectful of women, if women are to be assured their safety. If they (boys and men) give due respect to women,things would be different,” he said.

Chairman of Criminology Department at University of Dhaka, Zia Rahman, told Dhaka Tribune that  society has been changing for some time now, and technology has further complicated matters.

“We have to determine where we are heading. We need to include the study of ethics  in our education system, strengthen the social monitoring system, and law enforcement has to be more effective. Most importantly, social and legal justice needs to be ensured,” he said.

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