We are outraged at yet another deplorable incident of rape of a university student near what is one of the busiest thoroughfares in Dhaka, reinforcing just how unsafe the city, and indeed the whole country, has become for women and girls. In fact, we are outraged at how often we have to express our outrage at such incidents of violence against women, without seeing any changes in our behaviours, norms and policies. Each day, each week, each month—the numbers simply keep piling up. Just last year, 1,413 women and girls were raped or gang-raped, 76 were killed after rape, and 10 died by suicide. And let’s remember, these are only the reported cases, meaning they denote only a fraction of the actual number of such incidents that take place in the country. There’s no denying that only a handful of atrocious acts of violence capture the headlines and the public imagination—and even fewer of these ever see the light of justice.
We join the protesters in Dhaka University and around the country in demanding exemplary punishment and an end to the culture of impunity that emboldens rapists. A gender sensitive and responsive legal framework is the need of the hour—we need to challenge discrimination and inequality in rape law, address procedural barriers to accessing justice for survivors, and redress rape by ensuring punishment, deterrence, and reparation. But beyond, we must put an end to the victim-blaming attitude that pervades throughout society as well as our justice system which puts the onus on the victim rather than the perpetrator and insists on framing rape within the context of morality, honour and modesty of a woman. We categorically say, rape has nothing to do with what a woman was wearing, where she was, who she was with, at what time of the day, whether or not she was in a relationship and so on. It has everything to do with a patriarchal society that believes in the subjugation, control and exploitation of women and girls, by laws, norms and customs and by force, when necessary. If we are truly serious about putting an end to violence against women, we must change the way we think about women and their rights; we must challenge the institutions, including our families, education and legal systems, which perpetuate women’s subjugated status.