The case of Nusrat and our “rape culture”

At first, when I was told to write about Nusrat, I was very keen on doing it. I was very eager to voice a wave of scream towards all the men and women who are defending the rapist. I was excited to talk about the girl who, with a body 80% covered in burns, wanted justice. She used what little breath she had left to demand justice.

Justice for all the time she’s been molested. Justice for all the time that pervert Siraj-Ud-Doula got away with it, not just with her, but with plenty other people before her as well. Justice against all those puny perverts who grew to power under his careful guidance. Justice for all the blatant abuse of power for personal gain and coverage.

How many of us can say the same for ourselves? How many of us stayed strong in the face of adversary, threats and in the end, literally death?

The culture of denial

Remember how I said, just a few moments ago, that I “was” keen on writing about Nusrat? I am not anymore.

Because even now, there are marches going on demanding the release of a man who’s been accused of sexual harassment multiple times (by multiple I mean countless times) throughout many years. Because there are still people everywhere, who are defending a system that’s producing generations after generations of repressed youth. Because even after this gruesome death, there are people who think she deserved it. Because she had to be burnt alive to have her allegations be taken seriously.

What exactly is wrong with us?

We are straight-up denying the rape culture that’s been nurtured within our society for as long as I can remember, or for as long as my mother can remember, or even for as long as my grandmother can remember. We think marriage is a ceremony where the father hands over his autonomy upon his daughter to another man. We believe women owe men their body whenever, however, wherever they ask for it.

So we end up getting triggered over something as basic as a t-shirt that says “don’t stand too close”– because who’s a woman to tell a man where he can or can’t stand? Isn’t a molester’s freedom to let their body parts roam far greater than the discomfort and molestation of a woman?

The blame game

Then comes the part where we are blaming “no-orna” for rape, then we are blaming not wearing hijab for rape, afterwards, we are blaming not wearing burqa, and then lastly, we are blaming Bollywood for rape.

Seems like we are blaming everyone and everything but the rapist for the rape.

This is rape culture.

When we are victimizing the criminal and criminalizing the victim, that’s rape culture.

When we are presenting reasons behind a rapist’s intention, we are stating the rapist’s action as reasonable- and that’s rape culture.

When we try to demean a man for stepping up to his peers against their sexism by calling him gay, impotent, trans. pussy, not a man– that’s rape culture.

Well, think about owning an alpha male cat. He will litter on your bed, or on your study place (wherever you spend the most time in) to prove he’s the number one of the house, not the other way around. Not because he couldn’t find any other place to litter, not because he had sudden diarrhoea- because he needed to assert dominance.

It’s the same with rape, or as we educated people like to call it “non-consensual sex”.

A toxic society

When someone has to force themselves onto someone else (usually vulnerable individuals of the society- females, or young boys), it means they’ve been denied their dominance over their prey at first. And in a patriarchal society, where dominance equals to power and strength, being denied means being weak, being defected (ladies, that’s why all the men you said no to think there must be something wrong with you or them to be rejected, not because you have free will).

Sometimes when I’m talking about this (who am I kidding, most times) I feel so tired as if I’ve been battling the Hydra for centuries, like two heads are sprouting from where I slayed one a moment ago. That’s not even completely metaphorical- you’ll know what I’m talking about if you just give the comment sections of these news a go. Or if you talk to any stranger on the road. The number of people saying “not all men” is far greater than the number of those actual men.

But then again, we think non-consensual sex and rape is different. Maybe we deserve this toxic, dying out society after all.

The cost of being a female consumer: ‘Pink Tax’

The term pink tax may sound harmless to many. But it is the root of all the discrimination existing in the system that is alone a barrier to the progress we think our society has made towards establishing equality. But what exactly is a pink tax? A generic definition would say:

“The pink tax is a phenomenon often attributed as a form of gender-based price discrimination, with the name stemming from the observation that many of the affected products are pink” – Wikipedia

For people who have little or no idea about this weird tax that weirdly connects to gender discrimination, it can be a little too much to take in.

Pink tax is basically an unfair price hike for products that are used by women.

We all know how the wage gap is still a thing worldwide and how women are perceived as the ‘less efficient’ gender. And then capitalism says hi as it always does in crisis and suggests an illogical pricing strategy for corporations to wipe off their bank accounts with products that have the same utility as men’s.

The actual scenario

There has been a lot of research on the pink tax that found that overall, women were paying more than men 42% of the time. How much more? About $1,351 more a year in extra costs. This may sound a bit weird but we have all been paying this pink tax to sanitary napkins as well. Even some years ago, sanitary napkins were considered as ‘luxury items’ and a handsome amount of tax was imposed on it. Later, word went out and the tax was said to be removed from it but companies still sell it with higher prices with no logic behind it.

Why are we paying more?

It is found from multiple research that products for women are priced higher even though it serves a very neutral purpose. From makeup to hygiene to clothes and even toys, anything pink or feminine is pricey. Companies are known to have a phrase for justifying their price on a product that goes like ‘Shrink it and pink it’ – which implies the product can have a higher price if it is pink and small. Research and development, following trends, meeting trends, advertising products on television and in magazines are not cheap. Companies are willing to spend more money advertising to women than they are toward men, contributing to the price discrepancies.

The average expenditure of a girl will always be higher than that of a man not because girls are always high maintenance, but they are charged more than they should have and there’s not much they can do about it.

Old Navy got busted for charging more for women’s plus-sized clothing but not for men’s. The plus-sized women’s jeans were $12-15 more than the standard sized ones. But there was no such difference between the prices of men’s plus and regular sized jeans.

Pink tax in Bangladesh

Till date sanitary napkin is considered a luxury cosmetic item in many parts of Bangladesh. Majority of the sanitary napkin prices range from BDT 70-145/pack. It is difficult for a girl to spend this amount of money for sanitary napkins each month especially where the average income of the family is below BDT 10,000/month. Apart from sanitary napkins, from shampoos to cosmetics to clothes, men’s shopping isn’t as expensive as women’s shopping. Even female oriented services e.g beauty parlors, salons are taxed differently than male oriented services. Recently, there have been some active discussions about this tax issue and people have demanded to demolish the ‘luxury item’ tag on sanitary napkins for start. When will it be implemented, or will it ever be? We don’t ‘pink’ so.

The real cost of Pink Tax

In general, even though women pay 13% more than men, but paying more for sanitary napkins and daily hygiene products doesn’t seem fair to many, because obviously it isn’t. For a country like Bangladesh, girls will have to resort to sanitary napkins for better hygiene and convenience but if the price remains as it is with the purpose being taxed, they may or may not consider their right to get basic hygiene as ‘luxury’. So, even if our country will be progressing nevertheless, a major portion of the contributors to our national GDP won’t be able to enjoy empowerment at a basic level.

So what could be done?

We can raise awareness among shoppers. The advice we could give women is to think outside of the aisle. In so many instances, there are equivalent products being sold for significantly less in the boys’ or men’s section. The onus should be on manufacturers to price goods fairly—but consumers should know that they have a choice: The red scooter is just as good as the pink. And if consumers find a case of gender pricing disparity, it is always possible to start a dialogue with the retailer.

Rubana Huq: breaking glass ceilings

Rubana Huq, the managing director of Mohammadi group, is the new president of Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA). She is the first female in the history of Bangladesh to attain this position. Her panel secured a sliding victory at the biennial election.

Landslide victory

Among the 35 available posts for directors, Rubana Huq’s panel, Sammilata Forum, filled all the spots.

1492 out of 1956 voters had cast their votes in this election. Voters were from both Dhaka and Chittagong. The position is a two-year long tenure, resulting in relatively high turnout.

Her agenda

Huq addressed some of the major issues that the garments industry of Bangladesh faces in her victory speech. She stated “all the time people continue saying that Bangladesh is the country of cheap labor. Cheap is not good, but competition is good. We need to change this narrative of Bangladesh.”

Moreover, she understands that several small factories face the threat of being shut down. She emphasized on the need to stand beside them during such times. She plans on tackling such problems in her tenure. The voters resonated with her powerful vision for Bangladesh.

Bangladesh’s garments sector is often under scrutiny by the Western media, especially around issues about low wage and abuse. However, Huq adds perspective and highlights inaccuracies in these negative campaigns. She aims to fix these issues and improve the image where the reality is better than it is being portrayed. She hopes to encourage better practices in pricing, introduce more innovation and policies for sustainability.

Huq, an exemplary person

Apart from being a celebrated entrepreneur, she is also a prolific writer, a poet and a philanthropist. In 2013 and 2014, she was in BBC’s list of 100 outstanding women. Her accolades include wining the SAARC literary award in 2006. She has also launched a literary magazine called Monsoon letters along other Bangladeshi writers.

Rubana Huq has actively worked towards empowering women– advocating for women’s economic independence, voicing challenges regarding female garment workers rights. She hopes to bring her perspective and provide solutions to improve women’s conditions. Over 5000 women work in factories managed by Rubana Huq; and believes that these women are slowly changing their own narrative through their work. Always humble, she acknowledges that there is still a long way to go. Most of these women are still not truly emancipated in their own lives, but the work continues.

Striding forward in a male-dominated industry

More often than not, women have lived in the shadows of men. We can see glimmers of hope in moments like these. Bangladesh’s cultural norm and practices continue to limit the capabilities of our women-especially when it comes to advancing to positions of authority. Rubana Huq has often spoken at length about the challenges in being a woman and paving her way in this industry. Often, she has felt alone and powerless in her journey, but we are very fortunate that she managed to cross the hurdles that she encountered.

Women like her are gradually changing the narrative for working women in Bangladesh.

each and every woman in Bangladesh is fighting in some way or the other to move forward. As more women are in positions of power, attitudes both at home and the workplace will shift.

She is truly an inspiration for all of us. Here’s to more women being in positions of power and striving to improve women’s lives collectively. We look forward to a day where a woman attaining a leadership position in Bangladesh won’t be the reason behind headlines everywhere, but rather it would be the norm.