In most societies, the access to power and resources is limited to a few, and misused by the same to oppress the rights of the underprivileged and marginalized members of the community. Those holding power and resources, including knowledge, wealth, or military strength often have a say over those who do not command such assets. Therefore, there has been dominance of a few over thousands all over the world. In a patriarchal society like ours, women are further marginalized by being treated as second class population. Thus, while all marginalized communities bear the brunt of such power structures, women from all strata of society, caste, class and creed are the most ostracized and oppressed.
Gender-based violence is the most heinous of human rights violations. Though it cannot be denied that men have also faced different forms of abuses, it is the women who have been subjected to more mental, physical, ideological, spiritual, economical and financial violations for the past several centuries all over the world.
“Wives are beaten here every day. One was beaten unconscious and thrown out into the street by her husband and parents-in –law, as she and her family had not provided enough dowry. No one, not even the authorities, helped her. When we tried to take her to the hospital, the in-laws threatened us,” said a woman from Tanmuna VDC of Sunsari district. Finally a group from Janaki Mahila Federation gathered the courage to take her to the hospital and save her life. The woman is now trying to obtain justice, but she has a long way to go.
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
The state has to take the initiative to document women’s human rights violations during the war and make it public.
There are several cases like this, where women are beaten and killed just because she happens to be of the female gender and is poor. Dowry is one of the many reasons for violence in the Tarai belt. “We get several cases of domestic violence against women, including cases of rape and child marriage,” informed a police officer from the Women Cell in Morang District Police Office. Similarly if one travels from the east of the country to the west, several heart-wrenching stories of violence against women can be gathered. The violence may be perpetrated by family members, peers, or society at large.
In our patriarchal society, girls are always taught to keep quiet, speak less, and be hidden. Such societies often develop a “culture of silence” which is very difficult to break. They enter womanhood with their experience of violence kept to themselves. The “culture of silence” is created in a society through generations of values and norms practiced in families and communities. This culture is often endorsed by the religion and the state. Economic, social and cultural dynamics play a big role in human lives. In a country like Nepal, where a daughter is supposed to be “the property of someone else” by her parents and other members of her family, she is literally brought up as a commodity with no rights. She has to dance to the whims of those who provide for her needs. There have been cases where women have spent their whole lives never realizing that they have human rights which give them the wherewithal to spend their life as they wish. Because family wealth is often owned and controlled by the head of the family (usually male), women and children have to abide by his laws.
At present, Nepal’s political transition from a conflict-afflicted state to a republic has resulted in the political leaders’ struggle to maintain their positions in power. However, the increased militarization of the country after the advent of rebel Maoist forces and the impact of that on women and children has been totally neglected by the state. The fact that war has affected women as well as men has not been acknowledged to the degree that it should. In addition to violence from the rebels, there has also been state inflicted violence against several citizens of the country in armed conflict situations. At such times, women and children have often been victimized. Because of the conflict, there has also been mass internal and external displacement and migration of women. Women, children and senior citizens have either been left behind in their villages in very vulnerable conditions, or forced to leave their hometowns and move to Kathmandu with no support and shelter. Trafficking, sexual exploitation and physical abuse become regular as such displaced communities seek employment to keep their families alive. However, due to lack of evidence and proper documentation, there is no statistical data on violence against women during and after the war.
In Nepal, both women of Maoist groups and women outside the rebel force have faced violence. “The perpetrators who gang-raped me during the war now die every day with the fear that I may reveal their identity any moment. I can bring them to justice, but it was the whole state that was at fault, so there is no sense in taking action against a few individuals” said a very senior politburo member of the Maoist party during a public meeting. There are several such cases where the women combatants of the rebel force faced violence, but nothing has been properly documented. At the same time, women whose husbands have been killed by the Maoists and are left behind with children, but with little means of supporting them, struggle to make ends meet and are also subjected to violence. In patriarchal and male-dominated societies, women are compelled to keep quiet and never speak out about the injustice they have faced. This makes documentation difficult.
There has been no documentation of women’s human rights violations during the war in Nepal. The state has to take the initiative to collect relevant data and make it public. Such documentations are essential during the reconciliation and reconstruction process a country goes through after the end of a war. Though the process of reconstruction has started in Nepal, there is no accompanying documentation.
After the restoration of democracy in 1990, which guaranteed freedom of speech and the right to organize pressure groups, several women’s groups linked to civil societies have been created in villages. With their initiatives, and with support from the media, some issues have now started to emerge. However, a lot more needs to be done in order to eradicate violence against women and girls. There also has to be a proper process to take action against the perpetrators and support the victims.
The time has now come to end the “culture of silence” and encourage the silent voices to emerge and openly sing their songs of sorrow.