History of violence
- Political leaders must speak out against the recent spate of gender-based violence
Aug 18, 2014-
Even a cursory glance at any of the daily newspapers will reveal that Nepal remains a perilous place for women. Reports of various forms of gender-based violence, including rape, feature regularly. Just last Saturday, a particularly heinous crime was reported from Kavre. An eight-year-old girl, missing from her home in Ugratara, was found dead. Police concluded that she had been gang-raped before being murdered after a preliminary investigation. Similarly, on August 6, an 18-year-old was gang-raped on a bus in Nepalganj by transport workers. Even in Kathmandu the Capital, on August 5, a group of feminists gathered in the heart of the city to talk about women’s access to public spaces were attacked by an extremist Hindu mob composed almost exclusively of men.
And these are only the most egregious of incidents. Harassment in the form of eve-teasing, verbal abuse and molestation on public transport and in public spaces has become routine for most women. As social scientist Seira Tamang rightly pointed out in a recent opinion piece on these very pages, women in Nepal live under a continuing “unofficial curfew” where they have never been allowed to walk the streets after dark without feeling insecure or being subjected to a barrage of humiliating questions from overzealous males. It is clear that this is not a matter of a few wayward men with criminal intentions; to treat it as such would do a great disservice to Nepal’s burgeoning feminist movement. The state of affairs that persists today is the continuation of a centuries-old male-dominated power structure, where men feel entitled to everything, even the bodies and minds of women. This easy claim of ownership often turns into outright hostility when rebuffed.
Like most ingrained inequalities, this power structure is aided, abetted and perpetuated by the state and its institutions. But the state itself must lead the charge to change. Citizen-led movements, like 2012’s Occupy Baluwatar campaign, are only effective up to a certain extent. Eventually, lacking a concrete agenda and distinct leadership, they tend to fizzle out. It is the state and the government that must internalise the aspirations of such movements and work accordingly. To begin with, reforms must be made to law enforcement agencies so that police are more sensitive and responsive, prosecutions are pursued with rigor, and punishment is resounding. Towards this end, community mediation, where all too often victims and perpetrators of violence are made to ‘reconcile’, must be discouraged. The state must seek prosecution to send a message that crimes against women have serious consequences. It is heartening to note that charges have been filed against perpetrators of the Nepalganj gang-rape and investigation is ongoing into the Kavre case.
On a more symbolic level, influential political leaders, the majority of whom remain male, must speak out, condemning such atrocities against women and supporting their rights as equals. This could help do away with the perception that women’s rights are strictly a women-only issue. After all, no country can develop if half its population feels insecure to even walk the streets after dark.
Published: 19-08-2014 09:20