Intimate partner violenceLack of laws and weak implementation forces young people to suffer in silence
In 2012, the World Health Organisation (WHO) defined intimate partner violence (IPV), one of the most common instances of violence among girls and women globally, as ‘any behavior within an intimate relationship that causes physical, psychological or sexual harm to those in the relationship’. IPV remains a widely silent issue among most in Nepal. Although we seem to be moving forward at the policy level by enacting domestic laws and simultaneously ratifying international conventions protecting Nepali women, the question remains whether our youths are able to progress adequately in terms of gender equality.
Studies have reported that women and girls of the new generation are definitely in a position of advantage compared to their predecessors. Rural Nepal is witnessing an increase in the number of girls going to school. With the increase in mobility and independence of young Nepali women, it is of no doubt that relationships between adolescents and young adults are also a common instance among many. The Nepali legal system does not explicitly define IPV. When contentious issues remain undefined and unrecognised at certain levels by the legal system, the issue fails to infiltrate the masses to be questioned and reasoned out. When the term is not defined by our legal system, we cannot adequately protect our youth. Failure to protect the youth against such acts of violence against the backdrop of gender norms within our patriarchal structure only reinforces the idea of normalcy of such acts.
Although the feminist movement has seen a significant rise, we must question whether it has adequately been able to change the mindsets and ideologies over the course of generations of Nepali individuals. Another important question to ponder while determining the status of women and girls in Nepal is whether the movement has been able to educate our youths about the gender norms that society aims to reinforce. The idea that men ought to be masculine while encompassing characteristics of violence and strength while women ought to be demure and compliant are all aspects of our patriarchal system that give rise to instances of IPV.
A study conducted on IPV in Nepal by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) stresses the fact that young boys in relationships with girls feel the need to protect their partners from other men—whether by limiting their mobility or communication with other people or even using verbal and physical forms of violence to control their female counterparts. Such acts of violence go unnoticed and unquestioned because they have either been normalised or the victim does not know whom to seek help from. Further, lack of laws and regulations along with a weak implementation system forces young people to suffer in silence.
As a society, we must question why acts of violence are becoming so common among our youth, and why we are not able to speak out against them or prevent them. Studies have concluded that one of the key factors causing such violence is toxic gender norms. The fact that we are not able to rid ourselves of the stereotypical mindsets surrounding qualities and virtues attached to each gender is a massive setback to achieving equality. Nepali individuals still aim to maintain a virtuous image of their daughters; as a result, many young girls remain silent about their intimate relationships causing a vicious cycle of silence with respect to violence in such relationships.
Nepal is sufficiently progressive on the policy front—criminalising domestic violence and making it a punishable act. However, there is an extremely urgent need for our laws to clearly define IPV and ensure prevention besides making it a clearly defined and punishable crime. It is certain that with the advancement of technology and knowledge, our youths will be able to achieve much more than their forefathers; but such privileges will be hindered if they are not legally protected from vulnerable situations. Without state laws and mechanisms protecting them from IPV, we fail to move ahead with the international gender sensitive framework that our country so enthusiastically ratifies from time to time.
The current practice of not enabling discourse on IPV or not mainstreaming laws around this urgent issue allows our youth to undergo such violence, normalising it and accepting it as part of their social life. What is more dangerous is that at a time when we are constantly and actively fighting for gender equality, we seem to be focusing only on married women surviving conditions of violence while ignoring our youths who will grow up normalising and tolerating violence as a normal outcome of intimate relationships.
Rana is a law graduate from National Law University, Delhi.