That woman's clothing can be a trigger for rape is a fairly common belief held by the lesser educated or ultra conservative people of our country. But apparently one of our lawmakers feels the same way as well.
Recently, Rezaul Karim Bablu, an independent MP of Bogura 7 constituency, remarked during a parliamentary session that feminists are to blame for country-wide rape incidents. The MP went on to say that T-shirt clad women are evidently the reason why rape happens.
Ironically, the parliamentary session had been called in order to pass the newly-enacted provision of the death penalty for rapists.
Here is the problem with that notion.
Sexual harassment of women has been going on since the pre-Julian Roman calendar days – 376 BC. This era dates back to the time when Spartans were at war with Athens. Back then, human civilization was still struggling with basic human decency and women were certainly not draped in what would be described as 'revealing attire'.
At a time when women all across the nation are enraged at the state's failure to safeguard the female populace, a sitting member of parliament spewed toxic misogyny over a bill on rape and its punishment. This is disheartening to say the least.
As outrageous as the MP's words may be, it is a sad reality that many people in Bangladesh foster such opinions about women and rape.
If clothing can be the primary reason for rape, why were veiled women like Tanu raped and madrassah student Nusrat set on fire alive after exposing her harassers? Children as young as three-year-old get raped. Women as old as 90 years old get raped. What sort of revealing clothing were they wearing? Or was their attitude and behavior inviting untoward sexual attention?
As someone who was born and brought up in Dhaka, I have seldom seen any women wearing clothes that can be tagged as "revealing." While a large group of city-dwelling women wear fully covered clothing such as veils, niqabs and burqas, the other group is clad in salwar suits, sharis or western and western-fusion clothing that does not give anything away to the public.
Then why such hate and a tendency to blame the victim? This absurd excuse for diminishing the crimes of the rapist could have had an edge if the violence inflicted on a veiled and a non-veiled woman were to different degrees. But the crimes are the same. So, how can clothing be the primary reason for rape?
Whether or not a woman covers herself up, men will give her a stare down.
"I used to wear the hijab. I thought wearing it would protect me from male gaze but I was wrong. They would stare at me regardless of what I wore. So, I decided to stop wearing it because men will stare at me no matter what I wear. They will stare at me because I am a female-bodied person," a female friend of mine said.
While riding the bus, I experienced a hand coming in from between the seats just to touch me from the side. I was wearing a loosely-fitted salwar suit. Can the simple act of sitting on a bus seat be the reason for inviting sexual harassment?
If a person has the mindset to sexually molest someone, he will do it. Choice of clothing and personal beliefs have nothing to do with rape, other than the perpetrator's mindset itself. In reality, the problem lies in our social structure, schooling system and how we treat our sons and daughters.
And when people in positions of power strengthen these rotten ideologies, the rancidity of a patriarchal society can be felt across the nation.
Such misogynistic mindset is streaked with imprudent, biased and sexist perspectives over issues that greatly concern the country's female populace. It has contributed to the victim-blaming tendency, which ultimately discredits the victim's experience.
To debunk the myth that clothing influences rape, a group of students from the University of Kansas in the United States created a project titled "What Were You Wearing?" to display what victims of rape wore when the attack took place. It may come as a surprise but the victims were clad in regular clothes – something we may refer to as "decent clothing."
Irrespective of how much skin was showing or whether the victim was wearing a nun's gown, the degree of violence inflicted was the same.
If we look back on the numerous rape incidents over the years, we can see that most victims were clad in salwar suits, sharis, school uniforms; or were little girls wearing frocks, elderly women in burqas, men in jeans and shirts, little boys in madrasas wearing Islamic attire, and the list goes on.
Most recently, the MC College gang rape incident victim was clad in a burqa, accompanied by her husband. Despite having two of what the society deems as safekeepers of women - covered clothing and a man – the woman was not spared.
While social media, news channels and papers keep being filled with stories of rape – of children and adults alike – stories of young boys in madrasas and adult males being raped by other men have also surfaced.
What was he wearing, then?
The only thing that provokes a rapist is their preconditioned mindset to rape – not a person's gender and definitely not their choice of clothing.