Violent acts against women and children are not always being committed by strangers, or happening in strange places. They are being carried out by the people we know and trust, often in our own homes.
One woman experiences violence every 50 minutes.
One woman is physically tortured every 65 minutes.
One woman commits suicide every 6 hours.
One woman is raped every 12 hours.
One woman is murdered every day.
Bangladesh. Our motherland. No place for women.
The most recent statistics from BRAC’s Community Empowerment Programme show a 41% rise in violence against women and children. 77% of the perpetrators are family members – husbands, fathers, father-in-laws, brothers, uncles.
The acts are increasingly brutal and violent. Gang rape has doubled in the last year.
Cyber bullying is continuing to play a big role. Perpetrators either circulate videos of what they have done via the internet or threaten the survivors and families with the videos.
Violence against women divides society. As soon as women speak up the questions start, and it is one topic that everyone has an opinion on. What remains indisputable, however, is that violence is increasing.
It was a cousin early last week who raped and murdered a college student in Dhaka, dumping her lifeless body at the railway station. He was her guardian in the city. He had put her dead body in a bag and left it on a train, planning to accuse her male friends. It would have gone off without a hitch if the bag had not torn. It was a shocking breach of trust in those who are meant to be our protectors when security forces raped and sexually assaulted two sisters in Rangamati. Go further back and you would have read about bus driver Habibur and his three helpers who raped and murdered a law student in a moving bus.
The local grocery story, madrassah, classroom, home – these incidents are happening in familiar locations. Cousins, brothers, uncles, teachers – the perpetrators are familiar faces. People and places where safety, of all things, should never be a concern.
The alarming rise in gender-based violence in Bangladesh has been normalised to the point that the news fails to garner our attention or take us by surprise. Almost always, it is by people in positions of trust and power who are able to ensure silence. Physical abuse and harassment is about vulnerability and power, and marginalised populations are always more likely to be shamed and silenced by it.
And this is only the tip of the dirty iceberg.
Most cases go unreported. A study conducted by BRAC in collaboration with UNDP found that 68% of occurrences of violence against women and children go unreported. A large percentage of survivors never file a complaint. BRAC’s data shows that only 19% of the cases reported are ever filed.
What can we do about it?
1 – Let’s move beyond asking whether it is an issue. The data is there. We have a problem, let’s focus on fixing it.
2 – Let’s stop hiding it. Let’s talk about it, in our families, listen to when survivors might be trying to reach out, watch for suspicious behaviour. This is happening behind our doors.
3 – Let’s stop asking questions of survivors and start asking questions of perpetrators. Let’s make sure that it does not become more okay to rape than to be raped. Every time we question survivors instead of perpetrators, that is what we are doing. Survivors, not rapists, need our support. Violence is never okay, but the silence and the silencing after every incident of violence continue to protect perpetrators. As long as we continue the culture of silence and apathy, all the progress that we have made as a nation will remain under threat.
Data collected by BRAC’s community empowerment programme, through its network of 12,800 ward level, women-led organisations called polli shomaj, operating across 56 out of 64 districts of Bangladesh.
Salina Shahnaz Shilpi is a communications manager at BRAC’s community empowerment programme. Sameeha Suraiya is a content strategist at BRAC Communications.