As part of the Zonta International and Zonta Club of Greater Dhaka's 16 Days of Activism campaign from November 25 to December 10, a webinar was arranged on Monday where the speakers called for unified, gender-neutral actions to stop violence against women.

The webinar, titled "He for She", virtually took place on Sunday evening, in co-partnership with University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB). Imran Rahman, former vice-chancellor and currently a special advisor to the board of trustees and Dean of ULAB Business School, alongside Akhter Matin Chaudhury, renowned industrialist and philanthropist, joined the webinar as panellists.

President of Zonta Club of Greater Dhaka, Ztn Dr Simeen M Akhtar was present at the webinar moderated by Advocacy Chairperson Ztn Tootli Rahman.

"To quote Stalin, 'A single death is a tragedy, but when ten thousand people die, it is a statistic' - and violence against women in history has been so massive that incidents have been lost as statistics. In most cases in history, rape has not even been counted as a crime. Unfortunately, we see the reflection of history is still present even these days, though the narratives started to getting changed," Akhter Matin Chaudhury said addressing the history of violence against women in the webinar.

When Dr Simeen asked if is there any cultural context of violence against women, he described: "The inferiority and lack of worth for women were actually formalised by the law as we see in history. Men, of course, believed in it, unfortunately, a large group of women also did the same. Over the period of the time, the perception of thinking women as 'inferior' has been embedded in the male psychic as well as for the women; and surprisingly, women have also thought that the nobility of their gender depends through submitting to this inferiority as a 'noble gesture'.

"This notion of male superiority leads to rape, which is the ultimate form of violence where women are not only assaulted but also stripped of their dignity. Laws are easy to make, but attitudes take generations after generations to change."

When asked about the necessity of the death penalty as punishment against the crime of violence and rape, he said, "Death penalties are not the ultimate solution to this problem. However, a quick legal process must be applied in these cases and as for the offenders, I suggest that they should be chemically castrated before imprisonment as they deprived the victim's dignity. That would be the ultimate punishment for the rapists."

The second panellist, Imran Rahman, focused on providing adequate justice to the victims when asked about his perspectives regarding the rape violence. "I remember there was a so-called student, also a political leader at the Jahangirnagar University who boasted about his hundred rapes - and the harshest punishment he got is only suspension of his studentship. Even so-called educated and young people still blame the rape victims, which resulted in many victims believing that they have done something wrong, thus they got raped. The media, in many cases, are objectifying and exposing the privacy of the victims describing the gory details, not caring about the victim's sensitivity. Also, there is marital rape, which is not even being considered as rape to many men and women. These issues need to be brought to justice."

Adding that many parents and families often do not get sided with the victims molested by relatives, Imran said, "We have to learn to parent, we have to read books on good parenting, we have to know about child psychology. Parents need to speak out against the molesters, no matter how dearest they are."

When asked on what the religious leaders can do regarding the situation of violence against women in Bangladesh, Imran said, "Many religious leaders are getting away with all kind of things such as spilling out medieval concepts on relationships and not believing the rights of marriages. They have a huge influence and I wonder how they get away with almost sanctifying rape and objectifying women. They have a huge role to play and somebody from the leaders need to step up and say that this is not what Islam says."

News agency United News of Bangladesh (UNB) is the media partner and Cosmos Foundation was the technology partner of the webinar, which was broadcast live on UNB's Facebook page and YouTube channel.

The webinar was part of the Zonta Club of Greater Dhaka's three webinars and a TV talk show and radio programme from November 25, celebrating the 16 Days of Activism campaign. The TV talk show will be held on December 5 (Saturday) on Channel 71 on gender equality which will be participated by Ztn Dr Zareen Delawar.

The third webinar "Strokes against Violence" in partnership with Gallery Cosmos will take place at 8pm on December 9 (Wednesday) which will showcase three prominent artists. "Their artworks will speak for them, and viewers will get an insight into how art can be used as a powerful tool for the expression of violence suffered by so many," according to Gallery Cosmos Director Tehmina Enayet.

The campaign of 'Zonta Says NO to Violence Against Women' was launched in 2012 to raise awareness of Zonta's efforts to end violence against girls and women, and also has been focused on child marriage. The 2020 campaign cycle encourages Zonta clubs and individual members to engage with their communities with new ideas for a wide variety of actions.

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