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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 308
February 16, 2013

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Envisioning a 'Rape-free Society'

Munir Uddin Shamim

Photo: www.stoprapenow.org

Rape is the most devastating oldest crime committed by 'men'; it is a malicious offence not only against women and girls but also against humanity and civilisation. The cumulative efforts across the globe for development, democracy, rights and governance cannot make an end to this cruel crime. Rather it is now the fastest-growing crime. The number of incidence of rape is not only on rise but also is diversified in its forms and cruelty. Gang rape, serial rape, killing after rape, and minor girl rape are most common incidences. Videoing of rape occurrence and circulating it through internet, mobile phone is a new addition. As a result women irrespective of their age, race, color, class, education and location are in an endless fear, the fear of being raped and harassed by their male counterpart. In most cases, the perpetrators are prior-known to them; even belong to close group; friends, colleagues, neighbors, bosses, teachers or relatives. It does not matter whether the sky is full of sunlight, moonlight or it is early in the morning, evening, a daylight or a dark night time, rape cases are happening somewhere on the earth, as if rape was a part of the globalised culture.

An Amnesty International report (2004) says that among each 300 South Asian Women, 100 become victim of rape or attempted rape in their lifetime. Bangladesh is one of the countries where incidences of rape are terrifically increasing. It is evident from official statistics of Bangladesh Police on registered cases. It says that the numbers of cruelty occurred to women in a single year were 12958 in 2001, which reached to 16210 in 2010. The reported cases of child abuse were 380 in 2001 and 1542 in 2010. Although this report does not clearly mention about the incidence of rape, another study by Naripokkho, a national NGO, finds rape as the second most common form of violence among Police First Information Report on Violence against Women (VAW). A recent report released by Bangladesh Sishu Adhiker Forum says that 90 girls were raped last one year, among them 49 committed suicide following the incidence (Daily Prohotom Alo, 21 January 2013).

Data tracking system in Bangladesh on VAW is very weak. Due to social stigma and the dominant notion of the family honor, it is very clear that only few cases of rape among countless are reported. American Medical Association observed that sexual violence, especially rape, was the most under reported violent crime. In fact, rape occurrence has turned into a social disaster. Therefore, it is very crucial to look into its root causes and take appropriate measures to build a 'rape-free society'.

What are the causes of exceptionally-increasing this social 'epidemic'? Popular discourse on it by and large has two major opinions: first one believes that rape is happening and increasing due to lack of proper legal framework and poor implementation of existing laws, the second opinion triggers its finger directly to the victim concentrating its analysis on how the victim dressed herself, what time she was outside home, if she was alone, what types of activity she was involved in, whether she tried to resist the rapists, if yes, how. As if the aforesaid issues were not complied with the social norms, the rape is justified. We observe this tradition in recent rape case of 23-year old physiotherapy student in Delhi.

Having appropriate laws with proper enforcement is obviously important to curb any kind of crime. On the other hand, continuous lawlessness naturally inspires perpetrators to commit crime without a fear of facing trail. Despite this, merely legal measures must not be able to eliminate the 'rape culture'. If we have a look at the countries, which are on top of the ladder in global ranking for their achievements in democracy, governance and economy, we would see a rape culture also exists there. For example, Sweden among the European countries has the highest incidence of reported rapes. A study in 2009 revealed that 46 rape incidences occurred per 100,000 residents in Sweden. A BBC News report on 12 November 2007 said that about 230 rape cases took place every day in UK. According to the Feminist.com, a web-based feminist forum, 18.3% of women in America have survived a completed or attempted rape. Almost a similar feature exists in other developed countries. What the main reason behind this is patriarchy and masculinity. Production and reproduction process of patriarchal values, which sanctions male hegemony over female folk from private to public life, is still ongoing. In addition, Capitalist Patriarchy is continuously illustrating women in a highly commoditised image, as merely a 'sex-object', just to maximise capitalist profit. Erving Goffman in his Gender Advertisements illustrates how stereotypical gender roles and unequal power relations are depicted in advertisements. Modern entertainment industry not only reproduces women's commoditised image but also encourages a new form of consumerism around sex. Major institutions playing roles in socialisation process in western world have significantly failed to produce an atmosphere where both girls and boys can grow up without learning of gender domination rather with a feeling of mutual respects and dignity, what Eve Ensler, the author of 'the Vagina Monologue' and the initiator of global campaign One Billion Rising to end VAW, likes to term as 'the beginning of new consciousness'.

Photo: nehasharmablog.blogspot.com

Let's see what legal and institutional provisions Bangladesh has to fight against rape and other forms of VAW. Our constitution clearly mentions about state's responsibility to ensure women's participation and equal rights in all sphere of social, political and public life (article-10 and 28.2). It also prohibits all kinds of cruelty and torture (article-35.5). Bangladesh is one of the first countries that ratified CEDAW and CRC. These two international conventions have made state's obligation to take required measures for protection of women and girls from all forms of discrimination. It has adopted a women development policy. The section 375 of penal code of 1860 deals with rape case although this law confines definition of rape to 'forced penetration by man' which is in a great criticism. This law also imposes huge burdens on woman to prove that she is raped. In addition, Bangladesh has adopted many other laws to deal with VAW including rape. Among them, Women and Children Repression Prevention Act 2000 (revised in 2003), Acid Offence Prevention Act 2002 and Domestic Violence (Protection and Prevention) Law 2010 are remarkable. These laws considering the nature of offences, keep sever punishments including rigorous life imprisonment, additional fines and death penalty. It was expected that these policy and legal frameworks would significantly contribute to reduction of incidences of VAW but the reality is almost reverse. Why? As mentioned earlier, a most pronounced explanation refers to the poor implementation of laws and gaps in the frameworks. It is true that current prosecution process is complicated, time consuming and uncomfortable for women. Despite all these, existing legal provisions could have been able to produce more vibrant and visible impacts if people in enforcing agencies were not guided by patriarchal norms. Patriarchy coupled with unchallenged nexus between power politics and criminality has created a supportive socio-political environment for perpetrators to commit rape and other forms of VAW and avoid in most cases prosecution. With few exceptions, we have observed that the offenders are powerful due to their affiliation with power politics. On the other hand, most of the rape or attempted-rape survivals are from poor family. Above all, male hegemony, sexism and social construction of sexuality, which are being transformed from generations to generations through various agents of socialisation, are the real culprits. This is a society where any boy can be grown up as prospective rapist and girl as potential victim.

Let us look into the case of 18 year old girl who was raped on 24 January 2013 in a running bus in Manikganj by its Driver and his assistant, perhaps the newest form of sexual brutality by men in Bangladesh. All of them, the girl victim and both perpetrators, belong to working class, the lowest ladder of social structure. But the socially constructed notion of sex, sexuality and gender based power structure, which was of course reinforced by invariable tradition of weakness in country's law and order situation and loopholes in prosecution system, allowed both to exercise their masculine power and commit to rape an adolescent girl in a running bus.

Susan Brownmiller in her classical work 'Against our Will' analysed rape incidences in both developed and developing countries including Bangladesh and drew a conclusion that rape was primarily a power exercise. It is a most widely used weapon against women as women are perceived to be marginal on the basis of gender relations. However, rape is in no way a biological, it is not about sex. Biology does not determine its motives. Rather it is a brutal expression of male hegemony and masculinity. This is why we cannot build a 'rape free society' without de-socialisation of patriarchy and masculinity. I again like to refer to Eve Ensler, who believes that having a strong legal framework could be fine but not enough to change the situation. More important thing is how boys and girls are growing up in a given society to respect, cherish and honor each other. Unfortunately this sort of learning initiative in our society is still very limited, almost invisible. Therefore, we need to initiate a comprehensive drive for an alternative socialization. We need to change our negative attitudes towards rape survivals. We also need to challenge society's most accepted assumptions behind causes of rape. We need to make prosecution process women-friendly. This new form of socialisation has to be in practice at everywhere; family level, education, media, formal and informal social institutions and obviously in political arena. Only then laws will work.

The writer is working as a Gender Expert with the Institute of Governance Studies at BRAC University.




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