Bangla Tribune, one of the country’s leading online news portals, published one of my articles on Wednesday on violation against women in Bangladesh. In the piece, I thanked actor Mosharraf Karim for raising an issue of “decent and indecent attire of women” on a television program.
While discussing rape in Bangladesh, the issue of women’s attire came up and he questioned: “If indecent attire is the reason for rape, why was then a seven-year-old child and a burqa-clad woman raped?”
The audience didn’t understand Mosharraf’s question and thought he had attacked religion. Later, he apologized for asking that question regarding women’s attire.
My subject of today’s article is not Mosharraf, but the psyche of the male population in Bangladesh. When my Bangla Tribune piece was posted on its official Facebook page, the followers called me names and tried to brand me an atheist. More importantly (and surprisingly), some of the comments clearly stated that it was logical to violate a woman, if she allures men by wearing indecent attire.
For a moment, I felt sad about the shower of attacks against me, but later I was simply depressed realizing the Bangladeshi male psychology’s take on abuse and harassment of women.
Although most of the men who commented in the thread don’t represent the entire male population of Bangladesh, yet it was enough for me to fathom the partial picture. Most of them thought it is okay to rape a woman, if she wears “indecent” attire.
These people lack the basic understanding of what is abuse or harassment; at the same time, they also don’t have any idea about what religions say about the violence and harassment of women. As a man, I felt belittled by their attitude towards women.
This brings me to the overall picture of how men behave with the women of the country. According to a BBC Bangla report, citing research by ActionAid, about 50% of women have said they have experienced “uninvited touches” while they shopped in the market places. More than 42% of women have said that they encountered bad behaviour while seeking medical services in the hospitals.
The women who responded to the research survey also said they suffer from various kinds of physical harassment in their daily life which they don’t talk about. They don’t talk about it because they know there won’t be any action taken against such harassment.
Ask the women who commute on public transport every day. From bus conductors to other male passengers -- everyone, irrespective of age, tries to take advantage of congested spaces within the vehicle and inappropriately “touch” female passengers, every chance they get. And there are plenty of chances, every day and in every bus.
Ask the woman who travels alone on rickshaws: How do the men driving the vehicle behave with them?
The roads, the schools, the workplaces, even their own homes are not safe from abuse and harassment
One time, a friend of mine experienced sexual assault inside a bus. When she protested and sought justice from the passengers sitting in the bus, no one said anything -- as if nothing has happened, as if it was normal for the abuser to do what he did; and shockingly, in response, everyone told her to shut up.
On the other hand, the male-dominated media only talks about abuse of women on March 8, very year -- on International Women’s Day. Otherwise, we keep silent regarding the gravity of this epidemic issue during the rest of the year.
The period reports of rape do surface in the media, but the follow-ups are never enough to address the issue effectively and thoroughly. At the state level, the issue of sexual violence against women is not addressed properly either.
A female colleague of mine was telling us that as women, they live in constant fear about being physically abused by men. The roads, the schools, the workplaces, even their own homes are not safe from abuse and harassment. Men utilize every opportunity to harass them. She also explained to us how women have developed their individual defense mechanisms. Some succeed, but most do not; and in either case, living a life like this is a constant trauma for them.
This condition doesn’t seem like healthy atmosphere to live in. Formulating laws haven’t helped much -- women are still being physically abused when they step out of their homes, they are still deemed sexual objects by men, and they are still being battered in their own homes.
We couldn’t bring about any positive change among the men of the country. Well, some men say they are ashamed to observe other men’s attitude towards women. I guess that’s a change -- at least, some feel, rightfully, ashamed.
Ekram Kabir is a story-teller and a columnist.