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#metoo, unsafe too

#metoo, unsafe too

As the world marks the first anniversary of the #metoo campaign this month, the topic of sexual harassment of women could not be more relevant for Nepal. In a recent APEX poll, 93 of the 100 Nepali women who were surveyed reported having experienced some form of sexual harassment. The finding was hardly a surprise. Even though there have been efforts to ‘empower’ Nepali women since the 2006 political changes, including by ensuring their greater representation in vital deci­sion-making bodies, ours is still a predominantly patri­archal society where the dice continues to be heavily loaded in favor of men.

The built-in social bias against ‘weaker and less capa­ble’ women can often lead to horrendous consequenc­es. Incidents of rapes in Nepal have rocketed: there have been more rapes in the past two months than in the previous two years, combined.

It would be hard to call Nepal an equal country so long as its women and girls continue to feel unsafe in public space. True, there are some legal measures for their protection. For instance, someone convicted of sexual harassment at workplace can be jailed for up to six months and/or fined Rs 50,000. Yet most women who have been harassed at work remain quiet fearing stigmatization and curtailment of their career pros­pects. That would not be the case if sex offense was taken more seriously and sexual offenders were seen to be harshly punished.

So there is little for Nepali women to cheer on the first anniversary of the #metoo movement. They con­tinue to be constantly abused at home. Heckled by rowdy men out on the street. And sexually harassed at workplace. And yet, there is also a ray of hope. The whole country has rallied around the bereaved parents of Nirmala Pant, the 13-year-old girl who was brutally raped and murdered on July 26, and whose killers are still at large. Awareness of sexual crimes has increased and, increasingly, so has the realization among women that keeping quiet is not the only option. As a result, more and more women are coming out with their per­sonal stories of harassment and discrimination. Start­ing of these difficult conversations is a rare silver-lining in an otherwise gloomy climate of fear and anger.