Demanding safety in public spaces should not be a first-world luxury
Let’s get this out of the way real quick: The streets of Dhaka (or really any major overpopulated metropolis, for that matter) are a dangerous place for any individual past a certain hour -- not limited to the fear of being mugged for all the money and worthless knick-knacks left dangling in your pockets, there is also the relatively new phenomenon of getting stopped at police checkpoints and being harassed for no good reason by those sworn to protect you.
Unless it’s an absolute emergency, or if the party is too good to pass up, I suggest anyone reading this to simply impose a curfew on themselves and stick to it -- trust me, it’s much safer that way.
Having said that, it is absolutely incontrovertible that, in any of the scenarios outlined above (and more), women have it much worse than anyone else.
Yes, Bangladesh is a deeply patriarchal society, compounded by the fact that the majority of our population subscribes to a faith (or at least a version of it) that, at its policy level, views women as being less than men. But, even within the confines of those parameters, our country has all but left half of its entire population to the dogs by failing to provide one of the most basic rights that a citizen can lay claim to: The right to security.
While the same holds true for both men and women, our society’s less-than-ideal attitudes towards women and girls, combined with decades of sexual repression, means that anyone without external genitalia is left vulnerable to the clutches of sexual violence.
What’s even more troubling is that it’s not limited to public spaces.
A recent UN report concluded that domestic violence is the most likely reason behind women getting killed around the world. Last year, around 50,000 of the 87,000 women killed were done in either by “intimate partners” or family members, and around 20,000 of such homicides were observed in Asia, which topped the list.
Which isn’t all that surprising.
Marital rape is the most common form of sexual violence in Bangladesh, thanks to murky laws which make the heinous act all but legal in our country -- a relic of our colonial-era laws, section 375 of the penal code all but dictates that, once married, a woman becomes the legal property of the husband.
Now, there’s little point to blaming dead old British men for placing such laws on our land in the first place -- the onus lies solely on us as a people. By letting a dusty old provision such as section 375 fester in our law books, our law-makers are implicitly contributing to women in our country still feeling vulnerable and scared, which is especially jarring in an era where women all over the world are raising alarm bells against broken institutions which view them as nothing more than a commodity.
Sure, the gender wage gap in Bangladesh is one of the lowest in the entire world, but how has that helped an RMG worker feel any safer going home late after spending an ungodly number of hours stuck in front of a sewing machine?
It’s not hard to decipher what women want. In a country like Bangladesh, demanding safety and security in public spaces is often considered a first-world luxury, and with good reason. But, at the very least, is it too much for them to ask for the same levels of danger that men (for want of a better word) enjoy?
Rubaiyat Kabir is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. He can be followed on Twitter @moreanik.