Nepali Times
The war on women


Nepali rulers were probably glad that the public's attention shifted over the new year away from deadlocked politics to escalating protests in the streets of the capital against the latest atrocities against women.

But that should be short-term relief, for the reason why gender-based violence, and stigmatisation are so persistent in Nepal is because politicians have forgotten what it is all about. As representatives of the people, it is their job to ensure the safety, security, and rights of vulenrable citizens. It is the prolonged political disarray and the ensuing impunity that has led to a breakdown in law and order and an increase in gender-based crime.

It is not enough anymore to use the excuse of entrenched patriarchy or culturally-accepted gender inequity to explain away the epidemic of violence against women in our society. We had a system in place since the restoration of democracy in 1990 to set things right, and after the 2008 elections we had the most representative legislature ever in Nepal's history. Laws were passed, but enforcement has been feeble. A male-dominated society has been slow to change behaviour, and the priority for media has been male-dominated politics.

A young woman was robbed and raped on return from Saudi Arabia, a domestic helper was murdered in Kathmandu, two young women were burnt alive by family members in Banke and Bara. These latest atrocities pushed public outrage beyond the tipping point.

But inquiries at Maiti Nepal show that there are 3-5 women every week who are robbed, exploited, blackmailed, and abused by airport personnel. Sita was just the latest, and her story only came out because relatives dared to complain to the authorities.

Ironically, the protests in Baluwatar and Singha Darbar this week have provided the government an opportunity to earn brownie points and project itself as a champion of gender equality without having to change the status quo or answer difficult questions. If the Bhattarai government can fast track these cases and put criminals behind bars, the Nepali media with its notoriously short attention span will move back to covering politics and the only women who make it to the news will be semi-nude models.

Thousands of women were tortured, raped, killed, and disappeared during the conflict. It's been almost seven years since the war ended, but the formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission is still in limbo because of the collusion of the warring sides which are now both part of the establishment. War crimes have gone unpunished. Perpetrators of atrocities mingle openly with politicians. It is this culture of impunity that allows policemen like Parsuram Basnet and others to think that they can get away with rape and murder.

Demonstrators this week held placards calling for stricter laws and fast track courts to deal with rape and domestic violence. But we all know laws won't suffice, Nepalis must examine the patriarchal values that perpetuate such atrocities.

What does it say about our culture which excuses men when they grope, leer, cat-call, assault women on public transport, at movie theatres, in the vegetable market. Worse, they put the blame on the woman: she asked for it, her clothes were too revealing, she should not have been at a party so late at night. And what message is the state sending when the police ridicules and harasses victims, refuses to file their case, and holds them guilty instead?

While the demonstrations in front of Baluwatar might provide a quick-fix to the women and their families, the only long-term solution is to raise young Nepali men and women differently. Teach them that women's bodies are not free-for-all objects of desire, they have a voice and their consent is important.

And instead of commodifying the female body, the media, movies and tv should be at the forefront of trying to change social attitudes.

Read also:

We shall overcome, RUBEENA D SHRESTHA
At 12, she lost her innocence and was made to feel ashamed for something that was not her fault

The gender agenda, ANURAG ACHARYA
The epidemic of violent crimes against women exposes a rot that has seeped deep into our society

Social media magnification, analysis by KUNDA DIXIT

1. Henny

Thank you for the spotlight on these important issues.  In terms of international norms, Nepal ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1991, but the politicians have failed to fulfil the state obligations, such as the duty to eliminate discrimination in all its forms and to work towards fulfillment of women's rights.  The government is also required to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women by any person or organisation. and to modify/abolish laws, regulations, customs and practices that discriminate against women.  In the "political disarray", where is there the political will for any of this?  

As for women's consent -- it is not only "important"; it is *paramount*.

2. Sukilo
Agreed that Nepal's patriarchy needs to be broken, and women need to be empowered. But wonder how much about 40 people standing in the sidewalk in down jackets and fur boots taking pictures of each other on iphones to Tweet from the site is going to bring that change? For a campaign to turn into a mass movement, people have to spontaneously descend to the streets.

Leave a Comment

Name (required)

Mail (will not be published)(required)

    Please read our terms of use

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)