Recently, a newspaper story reported that a religious teacher of a Dhaka school gave “discriminatory and provocative” questions to its students. That question, according to the news report, blamed women for sexual harassment and violence against women.
The news story added another dark shadow upon the already depressing picture of the ongoing violence against women in the country, where women not only fall victim to violence, but are also made to share the blame. Not long ago, the harassment of women in Dhaka University and the gang-rape of an adivasi girl in a city micro-bus had stunned the whole nation.
What one should remember, though, is that disrespecting women and violence against women is not a problem unique to Bangladesh. On December 16, 2012, a young woman was gang-raped on a bus in New Delhi, India.
After that event, then Maharashtra women commission member, Asha Mirje, like the religious school teacher of Dhaka, blamed the girl -- a victim of gang-rape. A spiritual leader, Asaram Bapu, too, opined the same and argued that victims of gang-rape had to share equal responsibility for the crime.
These debates and social behaviours are grossly misguided. However, I believe that human beings are not born criminals. Rather, they possess a hedonistic drive -- their inherent nature -- which often leads to acts of criminality. These criminal acts can be controlled by a good, moral education. The prevention of such crimes could be governed by societal norms and values, rather than by law.
Socialisation and the violence against women
To a larger degree, the most significant reason behind the above-mentioned incidents is our broken socialisation process. Socialisation in our country teaches ill-perceptions and wrong attitudes towards women, and provokes men to commit further crimes. These teachings stop women from moving forward, thereby restricting them from contributing to the progress of the country to the full extent of their potential.
It is true that against the backdrop of globalisation, the socialisation process in Bangladesh is progressing to a more liberal viewpoint, but the benefits of such changes are reaped mostly by men.
For example, presently, modern society in our country openly permits relationships between the opposite sexes -- the ultimate demand from both sides being sexual love.
However, a warped form of that healthy sexuality strongly ends up contributing to stalking, sexual harassment, rape, etc. Shockingly, we often see leaders of religious organisations get involved in committing crimes of rape or sexual assault. Only a select few of these get published in the newspaper. Oftentimes, juvenile delinquents initiate these kinds of behaviour.
What can we do?
Internationally the UN charter, the universal declaration of human rights (UDHR), the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW), and the commission of the status of women (1946) are working to protect women’s rights.
Nationally, the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs (MOWCA) and various developmental organisations are working to protect women’s rights. However, a complete prevention of violence against women through these institutional arrangements is somehow impossible.
Rather, awareness-building during a child’s upbringing (the socialisation process) is necessary. Men in our society must learn to resist the type of “masculinity” that encourages violence. If children learn from watching their fathers treat their mothers well at home, it will leave a lasting, positive impact.
So, we need to change our culture to change the social mind-set. Sincere attempts should be made to create a social order that promotes social bonding, social attachment, commitment, and involvement.