Toxic Culture of Violence Against Women Must End in Bangladesh

*This article of mine is published in Bangla in The Daily Ittefaq.*

When it comes to the issue of violence against women and girls in Bangladesh, the reality is an ugly one. Despite Bangladesh’s strides on the international stage as a “development star” and a favorite when it comes to achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), when it comes to violence against women and girls, Bangladeshi society tolerates it.

The statistics back up what Bangladeshi women already know: violence against women and girls in our country is a national crisis. Bangladesh human rights group Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) reported that at least 235 women were murdered by their husband or his family in just the first nine months of 2020. ASK also found that between January and September this year, men raped 975 women, killed 43 women after raping them, and attempted to rape 204 others. These numbers are likely only a fraction of the real statistics when you factor in how many incidents and cases go unreported.

The COVID pandemic only worsened violence against women and girls in Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi non-profit, BRAC documented a nearly 70 percent increase in reported incidents of violence against women and girls in March and April 2020 compared to the same time last year. 

But often when Bangladeshis hear these stories and stats, we prefer to dismiss them as “just the way things are in the world” or accept them as an issue that cannot be solved. However, while we accept or ignore the sufferings and deaths of the women and girls in the rural parts of the country, or the less fortunate members of society, such as child brides or female laborers who return home in body bags from Saudia Arabia, beaten to death by their employers, are the women and girls from prominent and powerful families any better off? 

The answer is no.

Recently, a story was brought to my attention about a serial sexual predator who rapes, assaults, molests, and harasses young women with impunity. The predator is a former student from one of the most prestigious schools in Dhaka, the American International School (AIS/D). For over a decade, this young man, Masud, (not his real name), a 26yr old resident of the main Gulshan area, has been assaulting the girls in his social and friend circle without any consequences. 

But his victims are no longer staying silent and are going on the record, publicly naming and shaming their assaulter on an Instagram page called, “Now We Speak Up.” The social media account has over a thousand followers, their posts have gone viral, and Bangladeshi women from across the world are using the platform to share evidence, information, and stories to expose the predator and shift the shame our society places on women onto Masud– the serial predator and rapist.

“Holding in trauma for ten years can be a heavy burden to carry, but I’m finally ready to free myself from his shackles,” one of the young women, Aisha, (not her real name), who was raped by Masud, said. “I was only 14 when he raped my unconscious body. At the time, I felt disassociated from myself and packed my trauma in a box and locked it away. I couldn’t even comprehend what had happened. I was always thought that rape would happen in a back alley by some man who would kidnap me– not a friend or someone close to me. As I grew up, I learned the latter was true in most cases. No longer will I allow him to walk free without everyone knowing the monster he truly is. Let’s not rest until he is torn, broken down, and a shell of a man from his own actions.”

Another victim of this man’s predatory actions explained to me that despite her educated background, and access to many legal and financial resources the average female in Bangladesh does not have, she still fell prey to this predator and was unable to access justice.

“When I was molested by this psychopathic individual, I was a student in one of the top colleges in the United States and it still took me two years to understand that what I had gone through was not my shame to carry,” Anita, (not her real name) explained to me. “He was from the same socio-economic background as me, we had gone to the same high school, yet something I never imagined could happen to someone as protected as I was growing up, still happened. Education does not limit rape and assault. There is no exception when it comes to sexual violence. It’s not just justice that is needed but transformative justice as our entire society needs restructuring. As a collective, we need to understand where the root of this violence is coming from, and what it comes down to is the deeply-rooted misogyny that is inescapable no matter where you turn.”

Anita went on to explain how in Bangladesh, much like in other countries around the world, misogyny goes beyond socio-economic backgrounds.

“This misogyny in our country transcends social class and boundaries,” she said. “It’s the patriarchy that rules not just the country, but the entire world, and especially in Bangladesh there is no protection or proper assistance available for the vulnerable, at least nothing that feels safe or accessible to so many. There are countless aspects of this movement, but one thing that I hope comes out of this story and the outing of this predator is that this needs to set a precedent. We are not afraid to speak up for our human rights. The right to my body is only mine and if you violate that right, you are not going to get away with it as you always had been.”

If women from the most privileged part of Bangladeshi society cannot access justice, how do the women in the rest of the country fare? The truth is there is no justice for victims and survivors. Across Bangladesh, rich or poor, women from the most affluent of families to girls from the most impoverished villages, are ignored by a toxic rape culture that has silenced us for centuries.

But those days are on the way out. A new movement has begun in Bangladesh, and we can see women’s anger and determination pouring out across the streets of Dhaka. 

Women across generations and social lines are saying NO MORE. This is not Bangladesh’s #MeToo. It is bigger than that. It is our own movement to end the culture of impunity that tolerates disgusting and deadly violence against women and girls in our country. It is a national crisis that we can no longer accept as “normal,” nor can it just be viewed as a “part of our culture.” It is criminal, plain and simple. 

Together – women and men – we must continue the fight to help create a Bangladesh that is free of rape and sexual violence. And it starts with women who have the resources in Bangladesh to do so to stand up and say, “Enough. Rape culture in Bangladeshi culture ends now.”

*This article of mine is published in Bangla in The Daily Ittefaq.*

*This article of mine is published in Bangla in The Daily Ittefaq.*

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