The lurking fear

  • Much needs to be done in the Tarai to make women feel safe in their houses
- Post Report, Kathmandu

Oct 14, 2015-

In an ideal world, Reema Sharma, a 15-year old student, from Belodevipur Village Development Committee (VDC) in Kailali, would have nothing to worry about except her studies. But the grade-eight student often gets teased by a group of boys while on her way to school in the morning. At times, boys even block the way and stop Reema and her friends’ bicycles. Once, two men tried to grab her when she was collecting grass in a forest. If anything, the young girl now knows that neither the road to her school nor the forest is safe. Most of the women and girls in her vicinity echo her sentiment.

According to a woman’s safety audit report titled ‘Safe Communities: Free from Violence against Women and Girls’ published by Didi Bahini, an NGO, 78 percent of the women from one VDC each of six Tarai districts—Kailali, Kanchanpur, Bardiya, Banke, Parsa and Bara—do not feel safe anywhere in their village. Worse still, 58 percent of the women confided that they do not even feel safe in the confines of their houses.

Women’s safety audit is a tool used to determine places that are safe and unsafe for women. This particular audit is based on the accounts of 2,160 respondents (360 in each VDC)—Bankatuwa (Banke), Prastoka (Bara), Sanoshree (Bardiya), Daiji (Kanchanpur), Belodevipur (Kailali) and Sirsiya (Parsa). But despite its limited coverage, there is a need to pay attention to its findings as it is indicative of the violence faced by women across the Tarai.

The Nepal Demographic Health Survey 2011 reveals that among married women in between the ages 15-49 years, 38 percent of the women in the Tarai have experienced emotional, physical or sexual violence committed by their husband. And according to the Didi Bahini report, 46 percent of its male respondents curiously blame women for the violence they face. Most, including VDC officials, teachers and police officers, argue that a woman invites violence on herself by the clothes she chooses to wear, places she visits and the people she associates with.

The prevalence of such victim-blaming and patriarchal mindset shows that much needs to be done in the Tarai for the well-being of women. The first step towards that would be massive awareness campaigns on the illegality of any form of violence against women. Local women politicians could take the initiative to mobilise savings credit and community forest groups to inform women of their rights and ways they can seek legal remedy. They should also encourage male politicians to join campaigns against domestic violence. The police, in particular female personnel, should proactively handle cases of domestic violence to win the trust of local women. Teachers also have a key role here. They can instill in young minds that harassing girls in schools is a serious social offence with legal repercussions. And that it could have long-term psychological impact on young girls like Reema.

Published: 14-10-2015 09:11

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