Letters from TZ

Tell them not to rape

A Saudi Arabian cleric has issued a fatwa (Islamic religious ruling) that all female newborns in the Kingdom should wear a full-face veil. Speaking to al-Majd TV last year, Sheikh Addullah Daoud said that the burkas would stop incidences of baby molestation. In the interview that has just come to light, the cleric supported his views by claiming that babies in the Kingdom were being sexually assaulted.

So, babies are inciting men to sexual violence now? Babies, who can’t walk or talk, are somehow stirring up uncontrollable feelings of lust in adult males? Someone stand up and hand me a bunch of breaks. The idea that men must be protected from the allure of the female form has been officially pushed to its limits.

It is that kind of thinking that has lead to some of the most heinous crimes against women – the idea that a woman’s body is an object that must be shielded from the roving eyes of men, or else. It is an impossible task to prevent the mind of a man from contemplating a violent sexual act and yet, when we ‘fail’ to do that, somehow it becomes our fault. For a man to attack a woman sexually, she must have done something to provoke him, because in the face her sexuality, he is defenceless you understand. Consequently, men are absolved of blame and we are burdened with shame.

The memory of the 23-year-old Indian med student, who died after being gang raped on a New Delhi bus, is still fresh. Her story focused the spotlight on a city that has been called the rape capital of the world. In Delhi, the idea of women as chattel is not a theoretical one. It is living and breathing.

In the aftermath of the gruesome attack, an Indian spiritual leader quickly played the ‘women-must-take-responsibility’ card. “Guilt is not one-sided,” guru Asaram Bapu told followers. He argued that the girl was culpable for the viciousness of the attack because she resisted instead of asking for mercy. “She should have chanted God’s name and fallen at the feet of the attackers,” he said.

The defence lawyer who is representing three of the men who have been charged with gang rape and murder also took an accusatory stance, saying that he had never heard of a “respected lady” being raped in India. “I have not seen a single incident or example of rape with a respected lady,” Manohar Lal Sharma said in an interview at a café outside the Supreme Court in Delhi. “Even an underworld don would not like to touch a girl with respect.”

A 1996 survey of Indian judges revealed that 68 per cent of them believed that “provocative attire was an invitation to rape” and 55 per cent felt that the “moral character of the victim” was relevant. In 2013, India’s rape conviction rate is just 26 per cent and only 7 per cent of police officers are women.

Last year at about the same time when the Delhi rape occurred, Swaziland applied a law that is more than 100-years old to ban Swazi women from wearing clothes that revealed either their stomachs, or other “sexually explicit parts” of the female body. Speaking to journalists in Mbabane, police spokeswoman Wendy Hleta said she was clamping down on “immoral” dressing. “The act of the rapist is made easy because it would be easy to remove the half-cloth worn by the women. Women who wear skimpy clothing draw unnecessary attention to themselves. We are not encouraging the harming of women. However, people should not accept such conduct of behaviour,” the spokeswoman said, adding that women who broke the law would face up to six months in jail.

It is unsettling that some women have bought into this blatant male propaganda that men cannot control their sexual impulses and therefore, women must protect them from themselves.

It will be a sad day for women when their baby girls are forced to wear protective clothing to hide themselves from the gaze of men who would attack them. The idea might be to blame women for being immoral, but when men attack babies, what does that make them? If we refuse to assign blame, it makes them weak. And if we do, it makes them monsters. At the end of the day, it has little to do with women themselves. As one of placards held by protestors in India read: “Don’t tell me how to dress. Tell them not to rape.”