Let us start with two imaginary characters - Mila and Rakib from two separate families of the same town. They grew up in the same environment but with different instructions for men and women. Mila learned that cooking and cleaning is a woman's work and that education was not mandatory for her. As a result, she helped other women with their household work in her free time.
On the other hand, Rakib learnt that it was mandatory to go to school because he will have a career in future, he would have to become the breadwinner of his family and take care of his parents. After returning from school, he has free time to play outside, stay physically fit, develop good communication skills and friendly relationships with other people of the community, and come back home to watch TV while his mother or sister or other female family members made his meals.
Mila was told to concentrate more on caregiving if she is to become a good wife and a mother in future. Rakib is teased and bullied if he is interested in household chores or tries to help his mother. He is titled as feminine if he plays poorly or cannot use slang. From this Rakib learns that anything related to femininity is a sign of weakness, that girls are valued less and boys are better than girls.
As Mila grows up, she is asked to cover herself, not to go out of the home without any family members. She is also held responsible for preventing men's behaviour! Her 'can't do' list keeps on growing. Rakib sees his friends and older brothers teasing women, badmouthing girls - which influences Rakib to do the same as they portrayed it to be cool, an act of gaining respect among boys. His first act of violence against women has already started.
Now let us imagine that Mila and Rakib got married to each other after a few years. Mila's parents got her married way before her legal age as she was perceived as a burden in the poor family and they thought that women should get married before something 'bad' happens.
A UNICEF State of the World's Children 2017 report mentioned that nearly 59% of the girls in Bangladesh are married before their 18th birthday with 22% being married before the age of 15. On the other hand, Rakib graduated and got a job. This makes Mila a housewife and Rakib a breadwinner. Mila is completely dependent on Rakib for financial reasons. If Mila wants to take up a small job, she is not allowed to do so as her family thinks that a 'woman's place is at home'.
Mila is underaged and lacks the biological maturity of a grown-up woman. Thus Rakib and his family often get angry because she is not prepared to fulfil her wifely duties. On the very night of the wedding, Mila was carried to a local hospital due to excessive bleeding. Marital rape or sexual violence on women is a very common form of gender-based violence.
Some Milas return home after treatment while others have died on the hospital bed. Now let us say Mila returned home alive, but she was forced to conceive a baby at a young age. The maternal and child mortality rate is still high in Bangladesh due to malnourished women and child brides. Moreover, there continues to be 25.6 child deaths per 1,000 live births.
As Mila is completely dependent on Rakib, he often lashes out for very small reasons such as – why the food was not served on time or the food was a bit salty. Wife beating is a very common scenario in the subcontinent. In some cases, the spirit of a woman becomes so fragile that they end up accepting the regular beatings.
Though caregiving is a 24/7 job, and even an ILO report has mentioned that if we add up all the household chores including child caring, cooking and cleaning, then a woman works 4.1% times higher than men. These exhausted women often have to face the wrath of a social pathology called dowry and husband's polygamous decisions.
Rakib makes major decisions for the family which Mila has to accept. And if Mila does not agree she is a ready punching bag for Rakib. Mila goes to the local elderly people and town heads for remedy but everyone tells her to adjust. They say – 'men are like this.' Even if she files a case - the lawyers try to send her back home through compromised arrangements. Family and society keep pressuring Mila to go back to Rakib as they believe – 'without a husband, a woman has no worth.' They 'normalized' the violent activities of men on women.
This was but a small and hypothetical example of what actually happens in society on a larger scale. Like this – uncountable women are harassed, teased, beaten, raped, murdered after rape, burnt - because Milas and Rakibs were taught - they are not equals.
Inequality between the sexes is the basis for Gender-Based Violence (GBV). One of the prime themes behind Women's Day and almost every women's movement is - gender equality, the belief in full social, economic, and political equality for men, women and other genders. Thus, equality is the basis of ending gender-based violence too.
In our culture, gender equality is not taken as synonymous with 'equal human rights'. The operationalisation of equality also did not have the sameness of gender in mainstream development. We surely know about domination theory where the dominant is the core and dominated are in the periphery. The world is still a male-dominated hub where males are in the core and other genders are in the periphery.
This periphery also has stages depending on the closeness to the core's standard. The women who are decision-makers, policymakers, earners, vocal, practice their own rights and enjoy them too – are steadily breaking into the peripheral distance and getting into the core.
What happens to those who cannot break into the core? What about the women who cannot make any contribution to decision making and are often dependent on male breadwinners? Most of the time they are the victims of physical, social, psychological, sexual violence. The GBV again pulls women back towards inequality because - the fear of becoming a victim, women tend to back out from their rights. Gender-based violence is deep-rooted in gender inequality and continues to create an opportunity for the exploitation of women's basic human rights.
Now let us reverse the vicious cycle with equality –
To understand, let us get back to Mila and Rakib with a sense of equality. Mila and Rakib, both go to school, prepare themselves for future careers and knowledge. Both learn household work, play outside and experience a discrimination-free childhood. Rakib and other boys never tease other women as they know boys and girls are equal.
Both Mila and Rakib become graduates and make contributions to society. Mila knows her sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) and would carry healthy children at the proper age. Both earn and jointly run the household, teaching the next generation about equality and the coexistence of sexes. They are not interested in dowry or violence because they have mutual respect embedded in their thought process by a gender-equal society.
This might sound completely utopian now, but the coexistence of all genders is the ultimate remedy of eradicating gender-based violence. A society believing in equality normalises harmonious coexistence where violence cannot reside. The resistance against gender equality and feminism are the biggest obstacles, on the other hand, this resistance is getting eroded with the help of activism, education, and awareness.
Violence against women and children are common headlines in our daily news feed. Ask any government doctor posted in rural areas -how many blood-covered child brides visit them each month on average. You can find thousands of reported cases of physical violence on women, let alone unreported ones. Women are tortured for seeking property rights, refusing to pay dowry, or demanding the right to education/work. Women risk losing their lives for exercising their basic human rights.
These are not mere criminal cases; these are by-products of an unequal gender pattern. This pattern raised our men to be 'dominant' and women to be 'dominated'. Educated women to 'ask' for everything, where men will 'get' everything. It is time for a change. Women and men are equal partners in development, equal actors in the societal cycle. Each phenomenon of society is interlinked. The prevention of GBV is only possible when we can turn down the vicious cycle of Gender-Based Violence with gender equality.
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