The one common element in the recent rape or harassment cases is the 'victim blaming'. As we know, moral policing exists in society and has been there for long. However, it is not being helpful for the victim, or for the society as a whole.
Instead of the blame-game, we should stop for a second and actually listen to what the victims have to say. What we need now, is to have more conversations to minimise the communication gap, in order to eradicate moral policing.
On July 29, 2017, Footsteps, a development based social enterprise in Bangladesh, came up with an open space for women to express their voices and showcase their work. These women run their own organisations and work passionately to bring about positive changes. According to the President of Footsteps, Rafayat Chowdhury, it is "the first of many such initiatives", and was held at the Press Club. The 'Open Space- Discussion on Women empowerment, Sexual Harassment and Consent' panellists discussed on issues like misogyny in culture and society, indigenous women's rights, self-defence in tackling sexual harassment, sexual harassment, sexual rights and education and its relevance in combating sexual harassment.
The first speaker of the panel, Shagufe Hossain, said that the statistics and news make us ponder on how through culture and language we are promoting misogyny in our society. Usually, 'the girl is dishonoured' is the kind of language used after a rape case. When a rape case is reported, one narrative that we keep hearing is that, this is a result of overall moral degradation of the society. Thus, we shift focus from that particular subject and bring in many other issues with it. Instead of holding the perpetrator accountable, we start holding the whole society accountable with such narrative.
Even Muktaseree Chakma Sathi said that we need mutual respect and understanding to solve issues. She works for the rights of indigenous women, who are subject to assault solely based on their origin, ethnicity and background. Moral policing has been a fact here too. Indigenous women gets tortured because of not wearing her traditional clothes to functions, taking pictures with Bengali people who do not belong to their community etc. We hardly see reports of their violence on the media. Sathi thinks that the situation has gotten worse because of keeping their mouths shut for too long. Now, it is high time they speak up.
Syeda Samara Mortada, representing Bonnishikha, an organisation that provides an open space for people to share their stories, said they include stories of masculinity too. Through the stories, it becomes transparent how patriarchy is affecting men too. It puts pressure on men to be the bread-earner of the family, while they fail to pursue their passion. She also believes it is important to pay attention to choice and consent of men and transgender people too. Hence, people would not blame feminists if they knew how patriarchy is demeaning both men, women and transgender people at the same time.
Mariha Zaman Khan, lecturer of LCLS, said their institution encourages participation of women in cultural activities, something our society does not approve. However, one of the categories of sexual harassment in our law now actually states that forbidding women from participating in sports or cultural activities will too count as sexual harassment.
Project Attorokkha, founded by Zaiba Tahyya, has been training women from urban slum areas for basic self-defence classes. Tahyya does not promote violence and wants women to be physically empowered through basic self-defence classes.
Sara Hossain, advocate of Supreme Court of Bangladesh, said that along with awareness we need to think of actions as well. Judging women based on the 'sleeves' and clothes they wear will not ensure us justice for sexual harassment.
By judging and fighting with each other, we have failed to ensure a secure society. It is high time we went beyond the traditional mindset and come to an understanding of the minorities. By discussing issues and having more of such conversations, we can sympathise with the victims and demolish moral policing.