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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Social attitude towards women must change

Source: The Daily Star News

VIOLENCE against women in different forms happens everyday everywhere in the world. But the causes behind the violence vary, depending on which society one is talking about. And in each and every incident of violence against women, in the case of sex-related ones in particular, it is always the male who is taking advantage of the victim's weakness. And the weakness can be both physical and social in origin.

In recent times, we get more reports on such incidents of violence being committed against women day in, day out than in the past. The latest report on the violence against women shows that in the last six months of this year some 1,479 women fell victim to sexual assault by men. That means every day more than eight women get raped in the country. This does not, however, mean that, of late, violence against women has grown in number for some strange reasons. For on average, the figure was still higher at 3,462 in 2008 and at 3,584 in 2007.

Some blame the ubiquitous satellite TV channels screening different kinds of shows including films with violent contents, especially those depicting sexual violence against women, for the worsening state of the social scourge. It is, however, a matter of research to find out if such shows or films have really the potential to increase the number and frequency of such criminal assault on women. That apart, it can be said without doubt that it is due to the media that we are now getting more and more aware of this ever-festering wound every society is suffering from.

In Bangladesh, it is only recently that the level of awareness about this social ill has been rising. For in the past, some cases of violence were not even taken cognisance of, let alone considered as a culpable offence. As a consequence, incidents of domestic violence often went unreported as those enjoyed some kind of immunity from the glare of publicity.

With the enactment of a number of laws against women repression, the cases of domestic violence traceable to various social roots including dowry claims have now come within the ambit of law. Similarly, male violence of sexual type against women has also got adequate coverage in the laws enacted by the successive governments.

But the mere existence of laws to bring the offenders to justice is not the only deterrent against the male-inflicted violence on women. Laws can take its due courses only after the offences are committed against the victim. But the law cannot come into action on its own, unless the victim, her family members or any concerned citizen brings the issue to the notice of law. Even after the issue is brought to court, justice is not immediately established. One has to go through the entire procedure of law before the wrong done to the victim is righted. This is but the accepted mode of delivering justice.

Nonetheless, in our society, the victims of violence, especially women, often shrink away from having recourse to law. Here comes the issue of our society's sensitivity to the violence inflicted on women by men. Unlike open societies with advanced democracy, here the very idea of making the subject of rape or any other kind of aggressive male action against women public involves certain amounts of risk. And it is about the honour of the woman concerned in the public eye. Which is why the acts of sexual violence in particular against women often either go unreported or are hardly brought to court for redress. Only the handful of cases that draw any serious media attention may finally see the light of justice.

But what happens to the lives of those victims of male violence after all the publicity over their dishonour and the legal measures taken die down? The media hardly ever keeps track of that other side of the story, if only because those may not carry much value as news items. The irony is even after the wrong done to a woman victim of rape is redressed and well-compensated for through the due process of law, the subject of the wrong done never recovers from the blow she suffered to her social honour. The woman at a stage becomes a liability to the family and society. The victim, if unmarried, may forever lose the opportunity to be married. And for a married woman, her husband and his family may permanently abandon her.

Here it is the culture and tradition of society that is to blame for the general lack of sensitivity to women victims of violence of every kind. To change the situation, existence of the relevant laws is not enough. The family and social values that dictate our behaviour towards women must undergo transformation before a woman may fight in the court for her honour and rights like her male counterparts. To achieve that end, we would need more than the work of a few urban-based and elitist gender-conscious advocacy groups. In truth, the nature and quality of the politics itself that rule our life has to be transformed lock, stock and barrel.

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