The incident at the Ratnapura Bus Stand where an alleged sex worker named Batti was beaten by an police officer a few months ago is one that created headlines in Sri Lankan media. The officer was discharged from duty, but a protest was organized condemning the removal. At the protest, a mother was quoted saying;
““I have two sons. How can they be brought up if we have these prostitutes everywhere?”
The following blog post was written on hearing this statement.
” She should know how to dress”
“They can’t help themselves…what to do…they are men”
“She should know how to keep him happy…can he be blamed? “
We have been socialized into a culture where female children are controlled and instructed repeatedly to act like a lady. Daughters here are taught to dress, but boys aren’t taught how values of respect. Women are still harassed upon the issue of virginity, but men aren’t blamed for their pre- marital sexual relations. When women are faced with street harassment, it becomes a issue of “what she wore” instead of how he acted. When a man visits a sex worker, society is quick to blame the wife and the sex worker, instead of focusing on the client.
Noticed a pattern? That maybe the blame game seems to be focused on women?
When the notion of holding women as the only responsible party is ingrained in the mindsets of people, it paves the path towards a culture of abuse. In schools, young men who aren’t taught to be responsible or have respect for women cat-call and verbally abuse the girls, without thinking much of it. This lack of responsibility continues, where lovers post intimate photos of their girlfriends on networking sites and circulate it amongst their friends, because “she should have known” and pictures of unsuspecting women are taken at bus stands, in schools, universities, pictures from personal accounts are stolen and used as pornographic material, slandering women saying that they “asked for it”.
When women are made to responsible for the lack of control by men, it further creates a world in which men abuse women and they are forced to tolerate it, like they have tolerated throughout history. It creates social problems like domestic abuse people are blinded by the stupidity of the blame game- where no one can see the real issue at hand to do anything productive about it.
So who’s really at fault, and what can be done about it ?
We, as citizens are all equally accountable for social issues to crop up. It’s not about saying that one party is responsible, but saying that we are all responsible. How can we promote the idea of citizen responsibility in terms of Gender Based Violence?
Better decision making, a greater promotion of rights and responsibilities is possible if people are fed the correct information via formal and informal education channels.
Attention needs to focus on developing an education system that is positive towards women and their rights, where men and women are held as equally accountable for the social issues that revolve around sexuality- be it gender based violence, sex work, abortion or street harassment.
Inculcating the rights attitudes towards sexuality and gender start from the home. Values of equality, respect and value for human life regardless of gender and sexual orientation begin here. Male children should be taught these values of control and respect as much as female children.
The veil of taboo on sex and sexuality should be lifted, because that is what promotes the blame game. Introducing Comprehensive, Age- Appropriate, Gender Sensitive Education On Sex should be an achievable goal for the state, for then we can imagine a country in which men identify themselves as responsible parties. Efforts at this are currently underway as a pilot projects in private capacities. Furthermore, the laws of the country need to be upgraded to support activists to change attitudes, for many people hold the legislation of the country as a moral compass.
Taking the blame away from women for societal issues which revolve around sexuality is a long journey in which Sri Lanka is well ahead in comparison to its South Asian neighbors. The first step is taking off our glasses stained by so- called cultural norms and addressing the issue head on without judgments or bias. With some good thought at the policy level and action at the grassroots we can see a day when we don’t have to blame it on the girl.
Sachintha blogs at purplenoonblog.wordpress.com