Why We Fight

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By Tamanna Hossain

Society loves reminding us time and time again, that our situation has improved vastly over the past century. Many women are now allowed to have an existence beyond their homes and their men, be it through education, a career, independent friend-circles or non-domestic hobbies. So with a hint of impatience and unguarded rebuke we are asked – what more do we want? Why can’t we be content with the scraps patriarchy has thrown our way?

Why indeed.

Because despite the concessions we have so magnanimously been granted, we are still being harassed, beaten, and raped in the streets, in our homes, and in our bedrooms. Because assaulting us is still seen as a bad habit men have rather than a conscious, violent choice punishable by law.

Because we are still blamed when we are raped, violated, and our bodily integrity torn to shreds. Because we are still called sluts and whores who “asked for it” instead of being given the justice we deserve and often need in order to heal. Because we are told to shut up and suck it up in the name of vague notions like “family honour” and “social reputation”.

Because our moral integrity is tied to the status of our hymen. Because, we are hyper-sexualized but not allowed to be sexual.  Because, our sexuality is presented as being either passive or destructive. Because,we are not allowed healthy acknowledgments, let alone expressions, of our sexuality without losing our value as a human being.

Because, we are defined by the color of our skin and the number on our weighing machines. Because, virtual strangers feel entitled to provide unsolicited judgment and advice regarding our bodies. Because, we are expected to smile politely, while publicly evaluated and found wanting. Because we live in a white-washed, post-colonial nightmare where being dark skinned is ugly.

Because we can’t earn more than our husbands without emasculating him. Because it’s considered ridiculous to expect our husbands to cook, clean and be supportive. Because wife-beating is seen as an embarrassing habit rather than a crime. Because marital rape is still an oxymoron.

Because we are expected to laugh at rape jokes that act as violent reminders of violent crimes. Because we are seen as nit-picking shrews when we complain about degrading, gendered language that normalizes and perpetuates patriarchal roles. Because “being a pussy” represents weakness and “having balls” conveys strength, even though pussies can take a pounding and balls hurt easy.

Because women fighting for their rights are painted as paranoid, malcontent home-wreckers who are either man-hating prudes or uncontrolled sluts out to make sluts of everyone.

Because double standards, misogyny, and gender violence are a part of the very fabric of human society, not just in Bangladesh, but everywhere.

Because the list of reasons why we fight can’t possibly end here.

Tamanna graduated from Lawrence University with a degree in Mathematics and Philosophy. She is the former president of the Lawrence University chapter of V-Day and is a lifetime member of Kappa Alpha Theta. She is now a part of VDAY Dhaka and One Billion Rising Campaign in Bangladesh. 

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In the name of Honour

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Tahmina Shafique

Our lives, as women, in Bangladesh, are founded on a twisted interpretation of “Honour”. This concept is based not on honesty, integrity and fairness, but rather on some perceived “worthiness” and “respectability”. In this light, the Bangladeshi family is viewed as a unit of honour, and the family affects a woman’s identity and social standing; simultaneously, there exists a mutual feedback loop wherein a woman’s conduct, and how it is perceived by others and the society at large, has an impact on the family.

Therefore, it becomes important for us to fulfil the expectations held by family and society in order to be accepted and to experience feelings of belonging to this central institution that we are tied to through birth or marriage.

Unfortunately, the reality of maintaining this honour in our lives is often at odds with our own individual freedom, choice, will or achievement. Our lives are not based on “freedom”, on “liberty” or on the ability to live within a free spirited space. Yet, as a nation, as a society, collectively, we pride ourselves on values such as freedom and democracy.

There is a great deal of research on-going on women across the world, and specifically in South Asia. Increasingly, there are cold hard statistics that clearly indicate escalating levels of violence against women. Missing in these numbers are numerous unreported nightmares faced by women in trying to reconcile with their place in society. No amount of progress in terms of education, class, and development has resulted in the evolution of our society.

obrbd-logoEvery move, every decision that a woman takes must ensure that this honour is restored. So, when a girl is raped or sexually abused by family members, it becomes a secret that must be kept forever, because it will hurt the “honour” or the social standing of the family. Honour, then, is far more important than any damage created within the daughters of families. So, the daughters of these numerous honourable families go through abuse thrice in their lifetime- first, when the actual event occurs; second, in the aftermath of dealing with trauma for a lifetime, and third, dealing with the silence and ignorance of her family.

Even outside of the family boundaries, if a woman is sexually harassed, abused or raped, it is still her duty to keep the honour of her family intact. If she does stand up and fight it, which entails breaking away from silence and talking about it, will invariably hurt the honour of the family, of the acquaintances, of the greater society. Starting from families and the greater society, everyone will continue to use their combined forces to “justify” rape or any form sexual assault- “she was not honourable enough”, she was not dressed appropriately”, “It must have been her fault” and more.

The streets tell women that sexual harassment is all right and honour has a different meaning than we think. Being grabbed, being pinched, being verbally abused is normal. ‘A little bit of sexual abuse is all right and it is common’, that’s what they will tell you. Silence is the “key”. Who would appreciate a woman standing up in the street and creating a chaos? This is definitely not respectful or honourable in the eyes of our society.

Even in a marriage, it must be the woman who must keep that honour intact. Once you sign up, no amount of violence or emotional abuse is justified enough for a decision for walking away. It is the woman’s duty to maintain the honour of her family and her in-laws. Being pushed or thrown by your husband, in the middle of a fight, is simply a moment of anger and nothing more. It in no way indicates violent tendencies. Leaving is often not the first choice a woman is able to take, because walking out leads to series of battles with their own families and the entire society.

Honour even extends to our achievements as women. How can you, as a woman, achieve so much in your work place or in your career? How can an honourable woman put her career first? There must have been something wrong. It is not about intelligence or efficiency or anything more.

It does not end. Honour extends to how we, as women carry ourselves. From what we wear, to what we do, to whom we mingle with, and what we say, is constantly under scrutiny. If you are a daughter of an honourable family, if you are the wife of an honourable husband, if you are a mother, you must maintain the norms that this society has created for you and live up to the expectations that the society has carefully designed for you.

It never ends, really. Not from birth; not even till our very last breath.

Many men, and unfortunately women themselves, too, believe that the well-being of the entire society lies on the shoulders of a woman and, more importantly, in her ability to suffer every wrong, in utter and submissive silence. This means that, while there will be many legal and technical arguments, the actual arena in which all cases of violence against women may be won or lost are the hearts and minds of the ordinary men and women of our society. Because it is really not the law alone that has failed to prevent violence against women; it is the collective, colossal force of prejudice, chauvinism and insensitivity of this very society that has brought us where we are. Unless we change this mindset, unless we change the fundamentals through which we shape a woman’s place in this society, we will continue the twisted legacy of imposing our perverse sense of honour on our daughters, and on women for decades to come.

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Tahmina Shafique works in an international development agency in Bangladesh. She is a part of VDAY Dhaka and a member of the core organizing group of One Billion Rising Campaign Bangladesh.

published: http://opinion.bdnews24.com/2013/01/15/in-the-name-of-honour/

Silent Screams: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

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Tamanna Hossain

We live in a culture where sexual violence is only addressed obscurely, through so many layers of euphemisms that one is hard pressed to convey any useful information at all. However, while we’re nursing our delicate sensibilities there are real people being abused across the country, silently suffering, without a platform to seek help, a means to understand what is happening to them, or any guidance as to how to heal.It is time to break the silence.

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Survivors of rape or sexual assault have had their personal space profoundly violated, which often leaves them feeling helpless, not entitled to their own bodies or their own lives.

Today we will start by speaking out about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD, a common, often debilitating, anxiety disorder that many trauma survivors suffer from. Due to the stigma attached to both sexual assault and psychotherapy in Bangladesh, PTSD often goes undiagnosed and untreated. To make matters worse, survivors who suffer from PTSD often face the additional trauma of being mislabeled as “weak” or “hysteric”.

What is PTSD?

PTSD is an anxiety disorder many people develop after surviving a traumatic event, such as, rape, torture, war, or a natural disaster.

When faced with danger the body undergoes many biochemical changes to protect itself through a fight-or-flight response. Ideally, the body should revert back to a neutral state once the danger passes. However, this does not happen for trauma survivors with PTSD. They continue to be frightened, stressed, and hyper-aroused even when there is no longer any danger. Untreated, their condition may persist for years, decades, or even a lifetime.

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

–          Re-experiencing: Survivors with PTSD often re-experience the traumatic event through flashbacks and nightmares. Flashbacks are usually triggered by reminders of the assault, such as, the smell of their rapist’ cologne, rape jokes, sexually violent scenes on TV etc.

–          Panic attacks: Reminders of the trauma often trigger panic attacks in survivors. These are episodes of intense anxiety characterized by hyper-ventilation, trembling, nausea, sweating, dizziness, light headedness, or chest pain. Re-experiencing and panic attacks often occur together.

 –          Avoidance: Survivors often stay away from triggering places, objects, or people, feel emotionally numb, disassociate from their surroundings, distance themselves from friends, lose interest in activities they found enjoyable in the past, or have trouble remembering details of their trauma.

 –          Hyper-arousal: Survivors with PTSD usually exhibit symptoms of hyper-arousal, or being in a state of constant vigilance. This is characterized by being easily startled, always feeling stressed, havingregular headaches, suffering from insomnia, sudden weeping, or having angry outbursts. Being in a state of perpetual hyper-arousal can significantly change the survivor’s lifestyle, personality, and relationships with people in their lives.

How can you help someone with PTSD?

Given the patriarchal nature of Bangladeshi society, survivors with PTSD are not only denied treatment but are also faced with secondary traumas, such as, victim-blaming and slut-shaming, which exacerbate their condition. As a friend or relative of a sexual assault survivor you can buffer them from these harmful societal values and guide them towards recovery in the following ways,

–          Encourage them to seek psychiatric help. Professional therapy coupled with medication can go a long way to assuage the effects of PTSD.

–          Listen. Survivors with PTSD  need sympathetic ears since they have to re-experience their trauma on a regular basis via flashbacks and nightmares. However, do not force them to talk. Offer yourself as a compassionate resource, remind them intermittently that you are available, but wait for them to come to you on their own terms.

–          Do not judge. Most survivors of sexual assault suffer from a lot of guilt and shame, which hinder their recovery. It is important that you do not add to this in anyway. In fact, you should actively work to dissipate their guilt by assuring them that, irrespective of what society says, they are not to blame for the assault on them. The full responsibility of sexual assault is always on the perpetrator; even if it is someone they have been sexually involved in the past.

–          During panic attacks, try to give them physical space (unless explicitly told otherwise), so as to not further trigger a reliving of the experience through touch. Offer them cold water, encourage them to take steady breaths and, most importantly, listen. Let them cry, let them talk, let them yell. Wait to give advice till after the attack passes.

–          Help them regain control. Survivors of rape or sexual assault have had their personal space profoundly violated, which often leaves them feeling helpless, not entitled to their own bodies or their own lives. Offer advice, give suggestions, guide them towards healing in the way you think best, but always assure them that, ultimately, what they choose to do is up to them.

This post merely scratches the surface of what Post Traumatic Stress is and how it can be treated but I hope it helps someone somewhere help a loved one who has been hurt. There will be many more posts in the future regarding rape, its ramifications, how it is systematically perpetuated, and what we can do to help. The silence ends here!

Tamanna graduated from Lawrence University with a degree in Mathematics and Philosophy. She is the former president of the Lawrence University chapter of V-Day and is a lifetime member of Kappa Alpha Theta. Tamanna can be contacted at tamanna.thossain@gmail.com