I share the sad sentiment of the hundreds of Nepali women who are battered by their uncaring husbands only to be forced to reconcile with their oppressors at the expense of the so-called ‘traditional dispute resolution’ of the Nepal Police. I had my fair share of insults when I reported a similar case to the Hanumandhoka Police Station, wherein my sexual harassment complaint was officially registered on a small sheet of paper and later unceremoniously dismissed with a sickening question, “Would you like me to call him and force him to return to you?” Apparently, I have encouraged a monster to escape from Pandora’s Box. It is atrocious. And the wanton disregard of the Nepal Police to further investigate my allegations of sexual harassment shocked me and moved me to fury.
I come from a country with a very high regard for girls and women. The 2012 World Economic Forum report on Global Gender Gap ranks the Philippines eighth in terms of providing resources equitably between women and men. The Philippines remains the highest-ranking country from Asia in the index. It ranks first in both education and health and is also among the top 20 on economic participation and political empowerment. In history, we have elected two women presidents—the highest political position of the country. And we have taken pride in a 93 percent literacy rate that has continuously leveraged leadership among girls and women in the global economy, politics and society and even more to the competitive world.
Not too long ago, I marched with thousands of protesters in People Power 2 to oust a corrupt Philippine president. Amidst the excruciating pain of the sun, I survived a four-day walk protest and lived to tell the tale of a successful campaign of civil resistance against violence and electoral fraud because of the generous water and bread supply from nuns from Manila churches. I was fearless and I knew what to stand for. Sadly, my innate courage and fearless fight for injustice has not prepared me for the gloomy reality of blatant disrespect towards women in Nepal.
This gender discrimination that holds women in low regard, if not in scorn, has made rape or sexual harassment, seem almost like an every-day affair in Nepal. Violence against women has gotten out of hand as stories of women being raped, sold to brothels or being burnt to death are published in Nepali newspapers each week. Sexual harassment has become rampant and as is evident from my own experience, the police seem powerless in the face of it. If police authorities do not respond to gender-based violence seriously, how far can you encourage women victims to report it? Clearly, the police authorities are in great need of training and expertise to address gender-based violence through participative dialogues and learning; the training being observed and practiced by international police.
A report from International Alert reveals that mistrust and lack of faith in the police force to provide security to ordinary people have been seriously attenuated by the ten-year conflict. Across the research locations, it was apparent that the activities of the police and security forces during the conflict had resulted in a loss of credibility and public mistrust. The conflict has also increased the impunity of security forces, rendering them unaccountable to the people they are supposed to protect. Most often than not, police agencies that are mandated to provide security are themselves guilty of gender bias and discriminatory practices.
But the ordeal of victims does not end here. Moreover, it is culture too: the culture of communities to humiliate and often blame victims of violence for the abuses they have suffered. Such shame, ridicule, unfounded accusations against victims and threats of disinheriting them from the family invite more intimate partner abuse. That is the reason why perpetrators of violence against women are not held accountable for their acts. Abusers walk free and their crime are being replicated to the same person and much worse, extended to more victims. Can anything be more ridiculous? When women do confront their abusers, it can often only be accomplished by long, costly and humiliating court battles with little sympathy from authorities or the media. Rape victims are named, their faces splashed on tabloid sheets and their sexual stories magnified to sell publicity at the expense of the victim’s integrity. I have no problem with mockery. I have no problem with patriarchy. I have no problem even with traditional customs and beliefs. But I have a problem with people violating other people’s rights. When the media starts reporting the names of victims without any inch of respect and or consent from them, then it is guilty of contributing to the victim’s loss as incalculable as it is unnecessary. The media only adds to the victim’s feeling of shock, horror, sorrow, rage and disillusionment.
The abuse of women, open or disguised, is the ultimate source of violence against them. And when you combine this with the laxity of the police, the instigating stories of media and the callousness of society, it becomes a horrendous crime. That is the reason I salute every movement of courage that speaks out about violence against women. I applaud the men and women of Occupy Baluwatar, who, in their everyday struggle, desperately want to alter and reshape the regard for women in this country. It takes courage to fight for any injustice, especially in Nepal. As Desmond Tutu has said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” A new hope has emerged. Victories of women such as Pratima Sharma, who recently won a case on domestic violence in Kathmandu court this month, is a favourable indication that under the assistance of the judiciary, violence against women shall not be tolerated.
All those who are espousing this crusade against women violence should strongly join their efforts to make the impact a national concern. The only question that we have to ask ourselves is: are not our mothers women? If we cannot respect and protect our mothers, then the monster is inside us.
Cabrido is a Communications Specialist consultant in a multilateral development bank. She is also an international news stringer of GMA 7 News and Public Affairs Philippines assigned in Kathmandu, Nepal. She writes on environment, transport and gender empowerment issues.
This story was printed in The Kathmandu Post OPED section, March 22, 2013. Photo from Amnesty International