Speak out

DEC 12 -

Each year, various women’s and human rights organisations, along with the government and UN bodies, come together for a 16-day activism campaign to end violence against women. The 22nd observation of this campaign started late November and ended earlier this week. Ironically, while the campaign was in full swing, with rallies and conferences being organised across the country, a ghastly story of a 15-year old girl who was set ablaze alive hit the headlines. Siba Hasmi, a native of Bardiya district, had petrol poured over her and was set on fire by a 23-year old who wanted Siba to elope with him. Siba is currently in critical condition and even if she survives, will carry the physical and mental scars of the incident for a lifetime. This story is not the only instance. There have been similar cases of violence against women. But the timing of this one incident raises the question of how effective the seemingly endless campaigns and programmes to end gender-based violence in Nepal have been.

Nepalis have been hearing about the severity of violence against women since the 1990s. They are often reminded that it is one of the major factors responsible for the poor health of women, their livelihood, insecurity and inadequate social mobilisation. All research assessments indicate extremely high instances of violence against women. Back in 2001, a UNICEF survey discovered that 66 percent of Nepali women have endured some form of abuse and 33 percent have suffered emotional abuse. According to the research, in 77 percent of all cases, the perpetrators were family members, indicating that the majority of Nepali women are not even safe at home.  

A decade later, with abundant NGOs and INGOs working against gender-based violence, one would expect the issue to have been addressed on some level. Various laws such as the Domestic Violence Act 2009 and provisions in the Interim Constitution are already intact. The Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, the National Women’s Commission and a handful of other governmental and non-governmental organisations have been working to address violence against women. But despite these measures, the situation has not improved. Instead, according to the Ministry of Health and Population, violence against women is now being increasingly seen in urban areas. Domestic violence, which can take the form of physical, mental and cultural violence, is predominant. In fact, the Ministry of Health and Population has concluded that women are mostly victimised by their “drunkard” husbands. It is clear now that campaigners are going to have to find a more effective strategy to deal with the breadth of the problem. Since the Nepali state already has laws against gender-based violence, it is now a matter of getting these cases to court, convicting the guilty and thus, thwarting any potential perpetrators. Exacerbating the problem is the fact that most victims are still hesitant to file complaints, especially against their own family members or husbands. The campaigning, henceforth, should focus on how to muster confidence in women so that they are able to speak up against the atrocities they continue to face.

Posted on: 2012-12-12 08:28