Home  -  Back Issues  -  The Team  -  Contact Us
    Volume 9 Issue 27| July 2, 2010|

 Cover Story
 Writing the Wrong
 Straight Talk
 In Retrospect
 Book Review
 Star Diary

   SWM Home


Voices Against Violence

Shudeepto Ariquzzaman

Victims of harassment and violence rarely get emotional support from their families.

The vision has been to create a society, no matter which part of the globe, where women can reach their individual and collective potential, have an equal voice to nurture harmonious and peaceful communities. The members of Soroptimist International, a global organisation of women, has been for decades, initiating endeavours to transform the lives of girls and women all over the world. Soroptimist International has 3000 clubs in 125 countries. In the current scenario in Bangladesh, where reports of young girls being tormented to the point that they must take their lives, it is incumbent for an organisation like Soroptimist International to try to do something to prevent such unacceptable tragedies. On June 25, 2010 at the premises of the national Press Club where they held a press conference. Speakers included activists Maleka Begum, Advocate Salma Ali, Salma Khan, Taleya Rahman, Najma Siddiqui, as well as Dr Badiul Alam Majumdar, Syed Abul Moqsud and Ramendu Majumdar.

The Soroptimist International Club of Dhaka, Bangladesh is affiliated with Soroptimist International of Great Britain and Ireland (SIGBI) and has undertaken activities in the past to improve the conditions of women in Bangladesh. The specific objectives of Soroptimist's programmes are to ensure that women and girls enjoy equal rights, live in safe and healthy environments, have access to education and have leadership and practical skills.

“There have been numerous laws guaranteeing security for women but they have rarely been implemented”, declared Professor Najma Siddiqui, Executive member of Soroptimist. “Violence against women that include acid throwing, gang rape, stalking has reached alarming proportions. We women have to unite and strive for justice, we shall not take it anymore. Women form the poorest and most vulnerable segment of society. We have to stand alongside this silent majority, the women and girls who cannot speak out for themselves as circumstances do not allow them a voice in society.” Hence the catchphrase- ‘women against violence’.

Taleya Rahman, Executive Director of Democracy Watch shed light on some disturbing facts and figures.” During the last four or five months, 68 women have been assaulted for dowry and 18 have been tortured mercilessly. Acid was thrown on a three year girl, and a 16 month infant has been raped.”

Columnist Syed Abul Maksud speaks at the press conference. On his right are Dr Suraiya Siddiky, Professor Najma Siddiqui and Taleya Rahman.

But do the victims, their families and in fact society as a whole possess the courage to stand up against those responsible for committing horrendous acts of brutality against women? Probably not. There have been cases in the capital city itself where neighbourhoods have remained silent as organised groups of local hoodlums engaged in acts of stalking and even physical aggression against young girls. Take the case of Pinky who committed suicide after being unable to bear the humiliation anymore. Her suicide note read, “when my tormentor pulled my scarf and harassed me physically in front of the house, onlookers at the scene laughed. Nobody protested.” People oppress the weak and fear the strong that is the law of society nowadays.

“Guardians are terrified for the safety of their daughters,” said Dr. Maleka Begum, teacher of Women and Gender studies at the University of Dhaka. “ They do not even allow their daughters to walk in the roof of their own houses lest they attract attention from unwanted people. Such is the lack of security in neighbourhoods that girls are even barred by their families from standing in front of the windows.”

According to Soroptimist, the social, cultural and economic disparity of women and the perpetrated norms of subjugation of women who are unable to move out of the traditional family setting needs to be clearly understood before striving for action. Speakers at the conference emphasised on this issue. “ Even educated fathers and mothers generally put the blame on their daughters if they suffer from stalking or eve teasing.” Pointed out Dr Maleka Begum, “In our society this tendency has always been prevalent, the trend of blaming girls for crimes they did not commit. On the other hand the actual crimes are let off very easily. As a result, victims of injustice have nowhere to turn to, not even their own parents and they become psychologically demoralised.”

“As a teacher, I always try to look out for my students and ask them to report cases of harassment which they have often done. I personally deal with their guardians and convince them that it is not the girl's fault that they are the victims of crime. In this way these girls know that they have somewhere to turn to when injustice is committed against them. This is very important; girls who have suffered need some support that is currently unavailable.”

“I request editors of newspapers to inform potential victims through their respective papers about a hot line that shall be managed by us, the Women's Social Movement. We shall take total responsibility for operating the hotline and take the necessary steps for helping the victims. But for that, the newspapers have to inform the public that such a hot line exists,” said the speaker. Dr Maleka Begum even gave out her personal cell number at the conference and requested attendants to report any incident relating to violation of women's rights.

Eminent women's rights activist and President of Women for Women Salma Khan said, “The fundamental reasons that create breeding grounds for the oppression of women need to be taken into account for the purpose of ending injustice against women. Economic discrimination of women, social and political bias and the overall culture of female subjugation has to end. Women have to reach the frontlines. The overall social attitude concerning women have to change and men must also step in to make a difference.”

According to Soroptimist, even CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against women) was not clear on the issue of violence and it was only after the 1995 Beijing conference that the issue of violence was forced to the forefront. Incidentally, CEDAW adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, was widely regarded as an international bill of rights for women.

Syed Abul Maksud, columnist also spoke at the conference, providing his own views regarding stalking and violence against women. “Bangladesh should follow the footsteps of Malaysia. In Malaysia, the authorities whip perpetuators of gender violence. Our legal system should accommodate such strict punishments that shall deter criminals from committing these activities.” Needless to say, the organisers and the other speakers of the conference did not approve of such a revolutionary view. However, the murmurs of agreement coming from some sections of the audience could not be ignored either.

Speakers at the conference also emphasised on the identification of the unseen but powerful forces that often derail action, on the face of which even law-enforcing agencies are unable to act.


Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2010