30 May - 5 June 2014 #709

#YesAllWomen

In California or Kathmandu, the fundamental beliefs that engender atrocities against women are identical: the desire to use, control, and 'protect' their bodies
Trishna Rana
MIN RATNA BAJRACHARYA
A week after 22-year-old Elliot Rodger went on a murderous rampage near the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara, killing six people and injuring 13 others, residents of this city in the US west coast have been struggling to come to terms with the tragedy.

While public opinion is acutely divided depending on where they stand in the American political spectrum, a gun culture that is quickly spiralling out of control and a flawed mental healthcare system are both to blame.

Add to this heady brew, a deep seated misogyny and the insidious pressures of upholding the ideals of masculinity that are perpetuated daily by popular culture, and it becomes apparent why young Rodger, who felt profoundly wronged by his peers, saw murder as his only way to retaliate. In his chilling 147-page autobiographical manifesto and series of YouTube videos (one ominously named 'Retribution'), Rodger bristles with antipathy towards "popular kids" for turning a "supreme gentleman" like him into an outcast. He directs much of his ire towards women who made him feel unwanted and undesirable by denying him sex and love.

Outraged by Rodger's sense of entitlement to women's affection and his feelings of injustice at being rejected, women on Twitter started the #YesAllWomen campaign to chronicle everyday sexism and show how Elliot is not a one off 'lunatic' case. Although the million plus tweets largely originate from the US and the campaign has been rightfully criticised for neglecting the particular experiences of women of colour, women all over the world can still relate to these harrowing accounts of harassment.

While the context and extent of violence against women in our part of the world are different, whether it is California or Kathmandu, the fundamental beliefs that engender these atrocities are identical: the desire to use, control, and 'protect' women's bodies. From being catcalled on the streets, to being groped on a bus, to being aggressively pursued in bars, to rape and sexual abuse at the hands of boyfriends, husbands, male relatives, friends, colleagues, and strangers, women not only face violence day in day out, but the onus to stay out of 'trouble' and not 'overreact' is also on our shoulders.

Closer to home, in Pakistan, the family of 25-year-old Farzana Parveen bashed her to death with bricks on Tuesday in front of a courthouse in Lahore in full view of passersby for daring to marry a man she loved, without their consent. Last week, a female student of Delhi University from Nagaland accused a lawyer of molesting her at a train station in India's capital. When her lawyer and friends went to court the next day, they were viciously attacked by the accused and his friends inside the court premises.

Two months ago in Nepal's Banke district, Farid Sheikh and his parents set 19-year-old Rihana Sheikh Dhaphali on fire because she did not bring enough dowry. In 2013 alone, more than 2,000 cases of violence against woman were reported by human rights group INSEC in Nepal. Out of these, around 350 cases included rape, attempted rape or sexual abuse. Hundreds of other cases go unreported every year because survivors fear retribution and don't want to 'dishonour' their family.

Even when women find the courage and means to speak out against their family members, friends, and colleagues, the recourse to law is so skewed, it is almost impossible for women to seek justice. Although marital rape is punishable by law in Nepal, hardly any men have been convicted. When young girls grow up learning from their mothers, grandmothers, teachers, from songs and movies that their bodies are not their own, but objects of desire to be used for the pleasure of men, how can you expect them to say 'no' when their husbands force them to have sex, let alone take the men to court?

Nepal's Domestic Violence Act 2009, which includes physical, mental, sexual, and financial torture and slaps fines ranging from Rs 3,000 to 25,000 and/or six months in prison, has been far more helpful for women who want to prosecute their rapists/abusers, but even here the 35-day statute of limitation on reporting rape severely curtails their chance of obtaining justice.

Yes, hacktivism or hashtag activism is not the anodyne to women's predicament. Much like the #BringBackOurGirls movement which was started in response to the kidnappings of more than 200 schoolgirls in April by Boko Haram, a terrorist organisation based in northeast Nigeria, the excitement surrounding All Women will reach a climax and dip. But even as thousands of detractors are quick to retort 'not all men', the hashtag is a testament to the degree to which violence and abuse have become 'normal' parts of women's everyday lives.

Read also:

#GenderViolence, Trishna Rana

“My husband and in-laws left me to die”, Ayesha Shakya

…gender rights and education, Kong Yen Lin

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