A few months ago in Nepal, a 25-year-old Rihana Sheikh Dafali was doused by kerosene and set on fire by her husband and mother-in-law because she did not bring them a motorcycle and buffalo as dowry. Her husband claimed it was an accident. Rihana was seven months pregnant and suffered a miscarriage from the trauma. Notably, this was not the first abuse she faced; her husband had subjected her to continuous violence by lighting her private parts with a cigarette.
When her parents found out much later about the incident, they took her to a hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal. Through the help of a Non Profit Organisation, Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC), they reported the case to the police. The police have not been able to arrest Rihana’s husband yet since he has fled to India. Even if there is an arrest, it could take months for Rihana’s case to be heard and even then, she may never see compensation.
Every day, leading newspapers in Nepal report at least one case of violence against women. Violence like the women being murdered because they’ve been accused of witchcraft and the rapes of girls who are forced to stay in cow sheds during menstruation (called Chaupadi) because they are considered impure. But the stories in the news just touch on the surface of the problem since these crimes are often under-reported. The Nepal Demographic and Health Survey of 2011 found that more than one in five women aged 15-49 years (22%) had experienced physical violence at some point. 1473 cases of Violence Against Women has been recorded by Women Rehabilitation Center (WOREC) from January to December 2012; 3048 cases of Violence Against Women and children and 178 cases of female murder was recorded by INSEC in 2013.
This trend of violence against women, both domestic and sexual violence, cannot be tolerated or accepted. Women should be respected anywhere and everywhere. We need safer environments at home, at the work place and on the streets so that all women are free from the fear of violence and we need better systems of justice to serve victims and deter future perpetrators.
The Government of Nepal agrees and declared 2010 as the Year to End Gender Based Violence. It created an inter-ministerial committee of 12 Ministries under the Chief Secretary to prepare and implement the National Action Plan focusing on prosecution, protection and prevention of violence against women. A Gender Empowerment and Coordination Unit has been established at the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers has been managing and monitoring reported cases of violence against women and acts as the Secretariat to implement the National Action Plan and offers a free hotline number -1111. Very recently in June 2014, due to extreme pressure from the civil society organizations, the time frame for filing a rape complaint increased to 90 days from 35 days.
While all this sounds good on paper, the truth is, it is often not implemented. First, very few women report the violence they face whether domestic or sexual, due to the stigma attached if they talk about it openly. If the perpetrators have connections with political parties, mafias or dons, then it makes it even more difficult and threatening for the victim to file a complaint. Additionally, sometimes it is the law enforcing institutions themselves that perpetrate the violence.
Second, there is a statute of limitation for reporting of just 35 days, precluding many people who may not be able to report it right away. Victims also may not see the point in reporting since they rarely receive any compensation or assistance even when the court awards it to them; nobody follows up.
What we need now is strict laws that extends the statute of limitation, punishes perpetrators immediately instead of lengthy court cases, and ensures victims receive what is due to them. Many civil society organizations are working to end violence against women, such as, Saathi, WOREC, Tewa, and INSEC. They have published research on the topic, helped victims with reporting cases, and pressured the Government to fulfill their commitment to punish the perpetrators.
Their work paid off. While there is not a new law, on July 14, the Government of Nepal aired their speech about the budget for 2014-2015 and it includes a fast-track judicial service at courts at all tiers for the victims of violence against women. “The logic behind introducing the fast track judicial service in such cases is to provide justice and reparation to the victims and mete out punishment to the perpetrators without delay,” according to Raju Man Singh Malla, secretary at the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers.
Now it is up to the Government officials to show their sincerity towards their commitment, clarity on the implementation of the fast track so that there is zero tolerance against any form of violence. Even if the Government does its part, Nepalese citizens need to do our part too by not placing stigma on survivors of violence, by creating awareness in our communities about how to make reports, and, of course, by not committing violence. These are our daughters, sisters, mothers, and wives. We must not remain silent.