WOMEN’S security continues to remain a serious concern as the number of rape doubled in 2019 than it was in 2018. An Ain O Salish Kendra report says that 1,413 women were raped in 2019. The rape of a student of the University of Dhaka near a busy street in the evening of January 5 indicates how unsafe the city has been for women. Ten days later on January 15, an apparel worker was raped by her landlord allegedly for her inability to pay the rent on time. Both the incidents of rape sparked fierce protest in the capital and protesters demanded an immediate end to the culture of impunity that perpetrators of sexual violence enjoy. It is in this context the High Court on Sunday asked the government to form a commission to identify the reasons for the shocking increase of rape in society.
While violence against women has taken an epidemic turn, the conviction rate in rape trials remain at a worrying 2 per cent. Women’s rights activists have for long been drawing attention to the procedural loopholes in the justice delivery system that stop the survivor-victim from getting justice. There are also cases when the police try to convince the complainant to pursue an out-of-court settlement than filing a case. The justice system needs to address the pre-trial barriers — from filing the first information report to collecting medical evidence and various obstacles in trial stages — when victims and witnesses fear social stigmatisation and receive threats from perpetrators not to given deposition in court. The High Court ordered that barriers in trial of sexual violence and barriers before trial should be attended to. It asked the government to set up a special court for a speedy disposal of rape cases, enact a witness protection law for victim-survivors’ families and to provide free legal assistance for victims-survivors of rape. The elaborate directives of the High Court could bring significant changes in the justice delivery system if they are implemented.
The government must realise that its story of women’s empowerment will continue to remain a myth until issues of women’s security are addressed. It must, therefore, ensure that the court order is complied with in time and the procedural loopholes in sexual violence cases are immediately addressed. The prevention of sexual violence cannot, however, be simply a matter of systematic conduction of trial. When mainstream political parties use masculine aggression and violence as a means to remain in power, it takes the risk of encouraging gender violence. The demand for a radical change in the mainstream political culture, therefore, comes into focus. There is also a general lack of societal commitment to end sexual violence as it tends to blame the victims. Women’s rights organisations and civic groups must challenge the culture of victim blaming.
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