Friday, December 28, 2012

What are you going to do?

Saraswati Subedi mysteriously dead in her home in Anamnagar! Sita raped and robbed off her hard earned money by a security personnel at the TIA! But these are just few recent incidences, there have been worst cases in the past.

WOREC reports 443 cases of rapes annually in Nepal ( i.e. roughly 3 girls in every 2 days) but this is a low number given that many girls do not report rape cases due to shame and humiliation. There is up to ten years of imprisonment given the severity of a rape case by the Nepalese law but most often this is not acted upon and rapists are running free secured by a meager fine amount.

The most hilarious part of our Muluki Ain 2020 BS is that if a prostitute is raped a fine of NRs 500 is enough. For marital rape only 3 months imprisonment. It is as though a prostitute and a wife are less affected by the same heinous act. However one exemplary part about our law is the Defense of Chastity where a rape victim has the right to defend her chastity against the assailant, in course of which she may even kill the assailant within one hour and wont be liable for his death.

It is about time we understand what kind of laws protect females of this national and whether these existing laws provide justice to the heinous crime called RAPE. Perhaps the laws need revisiting or perhaps the laws need to be acted upon severely. Either way, first we need to know what laws exist, so that we can stand up and speak about it!!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Non-Conformists

Sex is natural to all of us. It is in our being. However, in our culture discussing about it is a stigma. In the very words of Osho who approaches Sex as a science, ‘It is our life source. And the more we try to repress sex the more power it will have over us’. Not that I am propagating sex or Osho, however, one might argue as to why something so fundamental cannot be discussed out in open? 

The ‘social animals’ that humans are, we have our  habits, desires, beliefs as well as sexual attitudes and behaviours shaped by the very society into which we are born. This explains the reason as to why approach to sex in South Asia is different than in the Middle East and the West. While the West is more open about sex, the Middle East frowns and the Asian countries are tight-lipped about it. It exists but almost like a ghost. In our society whether you are a man or a woman, talking openly about sex brings disgrace. However, since our social and cultural norms endorse Men as the privileged gender in the normative sense, they do have the opportunity to get exposed to information and exchange opinions about sex. Women can undoubtedly do so as well but they would certainly be ostracized if they didn’t choose their audience wisely. 

Seema Pandey, 24, from Nepal blames the patriarchal structure for forbidding women to enjoy sex by categorizing those who show interest towards it as ‘bad or promiscuous’. Many times it is the notion of virginity before marriage that controls the expression of sexuality in women. The cultural and religious upbringing can stifle sexual explorations and even load people with feelings of shame and being impure. And many times this is how a young Nepali girl feels.  

Nouran Hassan from Egypt adds , “It is okay for men to have sex before marriage and they get away with it -- there is no hymen that breaks when they lose their virginity nor do they get pregnant should they end up having unprotected sex.”  Also, it is assumed that the women's appetite for sex is low because of which women remain silent about their sexual needs. They mostly submit to the desires of men instead of satisfying their own. Many do not even know what orgasm is and fewer know that they can even have multiple orgasms or are capable of female ejaculation. 

However, though this might stay true in wider sense, we have seen that things are changing especially in urban Nepal. The sexual revolution that had started in the west seems to be seeping slowly. Today in a married relationship, sex is discussed beyond procreation to something that is beautiful, something that gives both physical and emotional intimacy. We also see that the younger generation is being more open about their sexuality. There is even the realization among girls that having sex before marriage is not an act of eternal damnation. 

22–year-old student Sita (name changed) says, “I lost my virginity when I was 17. It was my first and so was my boy friends’, we struggled but we enjoyed the sex.” Like Sita there are many young couples in Kathmandu and major cities of Nepal who admit to having intimate relationship. Another 26-year- old girl adds, “Why should I have to wait? If guys can do it when they are unmarried why can’t I? Besides, I don’t think men care much these days if you are a virgin or not. It is my right to enjoy sex with the person I love - before or after marriage”. 

Much of the changes we see today have to be credited to education and exposure. Education can play a vital role in providing guidance and confidence to women as well as men regarding sexual behaviour and attitude.  Especially for women, sex education is very important, particularly because they have the risk of getting pregnant. Bipana (name changed), 24, says that she has many friends who are young and are sexually active. But when it comes to taking precaution, many of them know very little. She claims to have witnessed couple of her friends going through abortion and the entire psychological trauma. For this reason too, it is necessary for young people to have knowledge on safe sex before engaging  in sexual activities. Unprotected and unsafe sexual behaviour is neither good for an adult or a young person. 

Though things are changing in Nepal, we should understand that in each society the sexual norms are rooted in the complex network of its laws, traditions and norms. Similarly, a change in sexual behaviour can also affect these very cultural and social norms that we might have benefited from. Consequently, no sexual revolution will do much good if it does not take heed of the historic and cultural intricacies. 

On the other hand, if there are disparities imposed by these exact norms then certainly, as the pattern suggest, there will be resistance and change sought. Females from urban Nepal are coming out of their conventional shell. Many though shy to admit are involved in sexual acts before marriage and no matter how much we try to smother this reality it will prevail. They admit openly to loving and enjoying sex as much as men. The key now is to act less like a hypocrite and more like a human. By acknowledging this change and by educating them about sex, we keep our younger generation safe and less susceptible.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Normality of Subtle Discrimination

I have to admit I don’t like walking in the streets of Kathmandu at all. No I am not being snobbish; I have my reasons to feel precarious about the streets even in the daylight. As an adolescent I recall crying to my mother for all the eve-teasing I’ve had to endure. My self-esteem was broken and it took me a while to renew my confidence. I blamed my oddly tall Nepali height only to later learn that I was wrong. Yesterday, I thought I would go for a walk. I was rather positive given that this year I was not splashed with even one water balloon in Holi nor were any of my friends. And after months of stay in London and years of avoiding the streets of Kathmandu as a media person in Nepal, I thought things would have changed. To my dismay it is yet the same.

Even today while walking, a random person will dash close to compare his height and flaunt a reckless sexual remark. Such understated yet powerful discrimination that can have adverse impact on those affected is deep rooted in our society. It comes from the very way we are raised and educated and how we as a society fail to respond to these discriminatory incidents. Forgive me if I project that all men are like this. I’d be a stark fool if I say so. There are plenty of good men whose support cannot be understated. I have seen men respecting women as equals and fighting for their rights when needed and most importantly competing with them as contemporaries. We need men like this especially in our patriarchal society and I wish there were more of them. 

One might argue that things have changed and I agree. Overt and blatant discrimination is much reduced. Besides, such direct prejudices worry me far less than some more subtle, subconscious ones. Convert discrimination that are invisible on the surface is very prevalent. No matter how much we try to avoid, it propels in our work space, home, lifestyle and our culture. What disturbs me even more is the very fact that we women ourselves tend to promote this. For example, we sub-consciously equate “distinguished” with “men”. I realized myself that when I had to list prominent media personalities in Nepal, I ended up with a male list. Given that there are many talented female media professionals how did this happen? The same thing happened with many of my other female friends who are doctors, engineers and bankers. How can we get mad at men for not treating us as their counterparts when we ourselves don’t! Women in general should first stop judging other women as not equals and we ourselves should also not devalue our own potential and self-image.

I have learned, after being offensively groped in a street festival, physically molested on my way to school and verbally abused in front of my friends in a rafting trip that women in general especially in a society such as ours need to be smart and intense. This is not an exceptional story my friends and I would feel offended should you sympathize. If at all, let’s acknowledge and educate ourselves. Understand that it is our sisters and daughters who suffer and importantly through the behaviour of our own father and brother. These maliciously motivated occurrences are endless. A mid-aged man will sickeningly stare at your chest making you feel uneasy, a group of teenagers will throw an undignified statement, an onlooker will whistle or sing a cheesy song and a seemingly innocent man will try to fumble you as you pass by. And what do we do? The very fact that we in general have accepted such behaviour as mundane and natural makes me believe that we have internalized the culture of patriarchalism. Such ignorance reiterates the patriarchal system that creates and expects certain codes of behaviour that denies feminine identity—denies, the very fact, that such an identity might even exist. 

Benokraitis (1997) notes that subtle sex discrimination is what to many people are `normal', `natural', or `acceptable' behaviours and responses. For example we know women are eve-teased by men and this is something normal in our society. However, just because you are a man does not mean you have the right to tease a woman and just because you are a woman doesn’t mean you should tolerate it either. This subject of gender discrimination has been discussed on various lengths by many different experts and scholars. It is covered so much that we feel like it is overrated. But the fact is ‘gender discrimination’ subsists. We just need to open our eyes and see our surroundings in a different light. May be if we retake a second glance and question ourselves ‘perhaps I overlooked it in my first pass?’ possibly then we would see. Accordingly, the first thing to do as individuals either male or female would be to acknowledge that there is a problem and then only can we take the next step to solve it altogether.