Field Report by: Sirjana Tamang
Gender discrimination and violence against women and girls is a global stain on humanity. However, there are many organizations around the world working to improve the situation for women and children. Every year many programs are organized for 16 days starting on November 25 to spread awareness and to demand stronger punishments for crimes that harm women and children. This date was chosen to honor the three women activists killed in the Dominican Republic on November 25, 1960. The campaign runs until the December 10th. In December 10, 1990, UN recognized that violence against women is a human rights violation. First 16 Days of Activism campaign started in 1991.
Rukmini Foundation led this year’s campaign by organizing an awareness program on gender violence at Champadevi School. The theme of the program was “Gender Equality, Stand against Rape”. Being an organization focused on improving the lives of girls and women through education, it was an opportunity to utilize education to provide critical information to society.
However, when words like abuse, rape and gender-based violence are used, there is a sense of discomfort and even taboo. We knew that we would have to break that taboo and that we also needed experts who can talk intelligently about these topics. We were very grateful to have Ms. Madhuwanti Tuladhar come as our chief spokesperson, who as an expert on this topic has earned a Masters Degree in Gender Studies in the UK and worked at Plan International for over 20 years. She was able to bring the knowledge, experience, and practical advice that the community needed. We were so happy to see that close to 300 participants: students, teachers, parents, and local leaders attended the event.
The objective of the program was to educate the audience about the prevailing gender discrimination, violence against women and girls and the rape epidemic in the society, as well as to discuss ways to prevent it. Most importantly, we knew that we had to make the community feel comfortable enough to discuss these topics. Without talking about it, we cannot overcome it. Ms. Tuladhar did a great job in discussing the nature of gender violence and also provided a brief history of the very important 16 Days of Activism campaign.
Many students engaged with her as she explained gender violence committed on girls as torture of girls. This is both physical as well as mental torture for them and it could lead to many problems for them down the road. She discussed with children that touching their private parts as a violation of them. Students were eager to learn as well as listen to the problems that they may face or have already faced. She highlighted the need for teaching about gender violence and its solutions to all communities. Ms. Tuladhar believes that changing minds through education and better understanding proper conduct in society could change what is happening to women and girls.
Gender violence, especially rape, is a very prevalent problem globally, and it is no exception in Nepal. In 2019 there were more than 100,000 rape cases recorded and six cases are recorded every day. We also know that many cases go unreported. Not reporting cases can be tied to shame, the taboo of the topic, or lack of education on victims’ rights. However, efforts are being made to educate and account for these various acts committed against girls, women and sometimes boys as well. The government has also recently setup numbers, similar to 911 in the US (1145 and 1623) to report cases of rape and other violence.
Many parents were eager to find out more about what they can do to protect their children and some wanted to know more about what the government has been doing to combat these issues. Ms. Tuladhar informed the audience that national government has adopted a five year strategy to deal with violence committed against women. The provincial government is running a program to inform citizens on issues of violence and rape and its impact on women and children, especially girls.
Providing educational sessions like this one to inform the public on this sensitive topic where people of all groups are able to participate and learn can also transform society.
In many instances, lack of education has caused these issues to continue to impact women and girls. Many cultural groups still suffer from some deeply held values that prevent proper discussion on these topics thus keeping these issues prevalent yet hidden from general view. Therefore, educational outreach that targets educating all the members in the community can make a difference in curtailing these crimes.
In the program, Deputy Mayor Ms. Basanti Dangol Tamang, urged the audience to seek help and report cases of abuses at the municipality. She also explained that the government has strict laws to protect women and children from becoming victims of sexual crimes and the Municipality has authority to enforce them. She also assured that she will take personal initiative in helping the victims of such crimes.
We know that this type of program is very helpful to raise awareness in the community. Most importantly, we believe that it encourages victims to come forward to seek help. As a result of freely exchanging ideas and learning from an expert, the audience was able to become aware of topics not often discussed at home and they understood the laws and rights better. Education is the cornerstone of tackling any topics even if that requires discussing things not always easy to talk about. We owe a debt of gratitude to the three women, the Mirabel sisters (Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa), whose tragic death started a movement so we can all reduce the number of women and girls and boys that have to be victimized.