After continuous pressure from groups of loosely organized individuals, activists, and the media, the prime minister has called for a cabinet meeting to discuss the case of a woman robbed (and later raped) at Tribhuvan International Airport today. The protests, going by the name of “Occupy Baluwatar,” had originally started as an outcry against the aforesaid rape and robbing of Sita Rai (name changed to protect identity). But day by day, they have grown to mean more, and have served as the singular venue of protests for many cases of abuses against women, including Chhorimaiya Maharjan, who disappeared several months ago, Saraswati Subedi, a domestic help found dead at her employer’s home, and Shiva Hasmi, a teenager burned to death.
Up until this point, the government had not shown much initiative, beyond what was perfunctorily required, to counter violence against women. Lone women are still afraid of walking alone after dark, and cases of rape, sexual harassment, and abuse make the headlines every so often. According to the National Women´s Commission, though 40 percent of women are suffering from some kind of violence; 61.3 percent women in the country do not even know that there is a law on violence against women. It is said that “every country gets the government it deserves,” and perhaps the general public’s apathy to cases of violence against women was partly to blame for the government’s lack of initiative. But this time, people have decided to take matters into their own hands and build relentless pressure on the government.
We applaud the latest initiative by the PM, and hope that the cabinet comes up with constructive and effective ways to punish the wrongdoers of past crimes, as well as ensure that such incidents are not repeated in the future. Historically, laws regarding rape have been heavily in favor of men, preventing many women—provided they could muster the courage to register cases of violence by going against all the pressure on her not to—from getting justice. With time, the laws have become broader, and currently, Nepal’s rape laws are pretty strong. But there are many loopholes. For instance, what actually constitutes rape is still open to interpretation. For example, the law states that any sexual intercourse under the threat of violence constitutes rape, but the “threat of violence” is difficult to prove in a court, leading to interpretations that the act may have been consensual.
This has led to cases where those vested with powers have intimidated women and forced themselves upon victims, as happened at TIA recently. There have been other cases where women have had to prove that a rape has occurred by providing evidence of violence on their bodies. Besides instituting strong punishments for the perpetrators, we hope the cabinet meeting today takes the initiative to amend inequitable laws which are damaging to victims’ already fragile morale, and initiates awareness programs that reach out to women of all strata and inform them of their rights, as well as to men to remind them of their moral obligation to preserve the sanctity of women