While in the Philippines we are all (it seems) up in arms over jokes about rape and lesbianism, in other countries the issues are as real as the latest news and grist for banner headlines.
In India the public is not yet done with the story of the female medical student who was gang-raped in a moving bus while her male companion was viciously beaten. The incident, met with furious demonstrations, has resulted in new, more stringent laws and penalties against rape, and even a proposed ban on privately-operated buses. But it also raked up many years’ worth of stories about rape, some of them committed against young village girls, and raised the issue of the widespread “tolerance” of rape and sexual harassment (which goes by the term “Eve teasing” in South Asia) by a largely male establishment in India.
But India is not alone. The outcry has also cropped up in Brazil, currently in the world’s eye because it is hosting the World Cup, especially the “stunning” rise in the number of rapes in Rio de Janeiro. Some stories, as reported in the New York Times, sound eerily like the rape in India: a 30-year-old woman raped in front of passengers in a bus winding down the main road, others raped in smaller private vans that are common in the city.
In another case, reports the NYT, “men abducted and raped a working-class woman in a transit van as it wended through densely populated areas.” The woman reported the rape but was ignored by authorities. And then a week later, the same rapists pounced upon a 21-year-old American student in the same van and beat her male companion with a metal bar. Only then were police moved enough to investigate. “Could this have been avoided if they had paid attention to my case?” was the earlier victim’s plaintive query.
Brazil, it has been pointed out, has “a woman as president, a woman as a powerful police commander, and a woman as the head of its national oil company—and yet, it was not until an American was raped that the authorities got fully involved and arrested suspects in the case.”
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AND THE outrage moves on.
In Egypt women activists are sounding off on the rapes that occurred and are still occurring in Tahrir Square and its side streets in Cairo, the site of the public protests that caused the collapse of the Mubarak regime, and of still continuing protests against the new government that took over. With conservative Islamists playing an influential role in government, their statements publicly blaming the women victims, saying they put themselves in harm’s way, have raised the hackles of activists.
Mona Eltahawy, an award-winning journalist on Islam and Muslim issues, was arrested while covering the unrest on Tahrir Square, and then assaulted while in police custody. A “new element” in the volatile situation in Egypt, she says, “are organized gangs of men targeting women in Tahrir Square.” And their goal, she says is obvious: “to get women out of public spaces.”
If so, says Mona, it is all in step with what seems to be the overarching goal of the Islamists who play a powerful role in the “new” Egypt: “to create a revisionist version of women’s role in the revolution.” They want to create the impression, she says, that Egyptian women were just “nurses, caregivers, sandwich makers” in the struggle to oust the Mubarak regime, when in fact “women were there, side by side with the men” and running the same risks when confronting authorities.
“We must all unite to fight misogyny all over the world,” she declares.
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FILIPINO women have not been remiss in doing battle against rape and rapists for more than two decades now.
Women’s groups waged a pitched battle for all of three Congresses to have the progressive antirape bill passed into law. And yet the struggle continued, such as in the Subic rape case in which, it seemed, politics and foreign relations trumped human rights and national dignity. And all this under a woman president.
But now the struggle has shifted from “actual” rape to rape in words, thought and intent. Much has been said about the “joke” made at the expense of award-winning broadcaster Jessica
Soho that was supposedly about her weight but moved on to speculate how she would fare if she had been raped. She would need to be “gang-raped,” went the joke.
The joke, performed at a major concert venue and eliciting laughter from the woman head of the entertainer’s home studio, was replete with a live demonstration. And while the entertainer has apologized on live TV, can you blame us women if we don’t find it funny at all?
Rape is not a laughing matter. That much is obvious. Women and girls all over the world live with the daily fear of rape—by members of their family, including their fathers; by neighbors and friends of the family; by strangers in dark corners (or in buses); or even by their husbands, boyfriends, dates.
It is a fear that women have tried to dispel by learning self-defense tactics, moving about in groups, dressing so as not to attract undue attention (even, in some cultures, covering themselves in robes and veils), or just staying home. But many more women choose to live in defiance of the unspoken but ever-present threat. We cannot live our lives forever cowering in fear of potential rapists. We cannot and should not allow the full flowering of ourselves to be nipped in the bud by social constraints and male malevolence. And we should not laugh when people joke about rape. It is not funny, full stop.
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