Sexual violence is a tactic of war – a means to push the underdog out of the ambit of usual stream of life. Any population that has been living under the shadow of a majoritarian rule in a conflict zone, is subject to such inhuman treatment.
Of the minority groups often the girls and women are the first victims since they are the most vulnerable. If in the past it was the Pakistan junta who used rape as a weapon of genocide, at present it is the Myanmar military who are continuing with this age-old vice.
A trend analysis of 2018 by the UN confirms that sexual violence continues as a part of the broader strategy of conflict where women and girls are significantly affected.
Pakistani military raped between 200,000 to 400,000 Bangladeshi women and girls in a systematic campaign of genocidal rape during the Bangladesh war for independence in 1971.
In the independence war of South Sudan in 2011, allied militias raped women and girls as a campaign to drive opponents out of southern Unity State.
The main challenge to address in the violence is that the survivors of rape victims related to war face societal humiliation, and many a time their families abandon them. Therefore, victims prevent themselves to be spoken for in the legal procedure. It is, however, a less concerning issue which calls for urgent attention.
"Inside a hut around a deserted place we were more than 50 women. They raped us and locked us inside. Among the victims were my sister-in-law, my sister, and I along with other women. They also set us on fire after the torture. I am the only woman alive from my family," says Tayeba Begum, now a Rohingya refugee living in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.
According to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA), from 25 August 2017, around 18,000 Rohingya Muslim women and girls were victims of mass rape in Myanmar.
Sexual violence is used as a means of repression, harm, trauma, terror and control over 'enemy forces'. It is customarily used on a large scale against women to humiliate the men to send a message that they are "unable to protect their women." Though men and boys are also targeted for sexual violence, but that is less in number.
Why women and girls are targeted and victimised in sexual violence?
"Women are considered subordinate and play the role of the 'other' in a society. Dignity and honour of a society are made to reside in women's body. Patriarchal society subjugates women in all means and thus men use rape as a tool to humiliate women," says Nomita Halder, an acid attack survivor and a teacher at BMIF, Mirpur.
But it is not only the war zone where women are being victims of rape and assault. The violence against women, especially rape, has increased in number in Bangladesh and elsewhere in the world. However, Bnagaldesh's situation seem alarming due to the fact that the rise was dramatic – about 942 women were raped from January to December of 2018.
A report of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad in July this year says that the number of rape incidents reached to 731 from January to June of the current year.
On top of that 6,570 women were raped from 2001 to 2018, according to Odhikar's report.
Male violence is targeted to women majorly because of their gender and social position, again, owing to patriarchy. The state often fails to protect rape victims and treat them as equal citizens.
"When punishment is not ensured, violence against women increases in society. It has been said that reports of rape cases to the police, on electronic and print media, have increased as the incidents did. But often it is proven that justice delayed is justice denied.
"Study says, survivors go through another level of harassment during the trial process. The state has a sensitive role to play here. It can sensitise people on the issue of violence against women and take strict action against those who are adverse to women. Therefore, support survivors by all means," says Khushi Kabir, social activist.
Ending violent extremism is not a short-term endeavour. Therefore, preventing sexual violence requires the advancement of functional gender equality through policymaking. All in all, women's equal and active participation in politics, policymaking, education, economy and social life would contribute to preventing sexual violence.