Men can have respectful, equal relations with women and still be masculine
FOR anti-rape proponents, the conviction of four men in India this week over the gang rape and brutal beating of a 23-year-old woman, of which she died two weeks later, and their subsequent death sentence can be considered a resounding victory. The trial was completed in seven months (as compared with the more usual eight years) and made use of a new law reform, introduced in March as a result of public outcry over the rape, which allows for the death penalty to be applied in extreme rape cases.
That the death sentence had to be used is unfortunate, but nonetheless, it is the strongest expression of public condemnation. For, unfortunately, rape in India is not rare at all. A woman is raped in India every 20 minutes. The number of rape cases still pending is reportedly estimated at 23,000, while the conviction rate stands at less than 25 per cent. On the same day of that sentencing, in Pakistan, a 5-year-old girl was found brutally raped, and remains in critical condition. The day before, here in Malaysia, a policeman was sentenced to 100 months' imprisonment (but not a single stroke of the rotan) for the digital rape of a 6-year-old girl.
The plus-point of the Indian case is that more Indian women are speaking out against rape, more are coming out about being raped and more families and communities are standing by these women and supporting their demand for justice. But, proponents say that it is also important to send out the message that justice will be swift and rapists will be convicted. The latter is certainly important, in light of findings, released earlier in the week, of a six-country United Nations survey on men and violence in Asia and the Pacific, which found that 24.1 per cent of the 10,178 men surveyed said they had committed rape, and of this, 67.1 per cent experienced no legal consequences.
However, conviction and punishment is not the be-all and end-all to the fight against rape. In looking at long-term solutions, the UN study also looked at gender norms, working on the hypothesis that violence was a manifestation of unequal gender relations. For instance, 71 per cent of those who had raped said the motivation for the rape was sense of sexual entitlement -- the men believed they had a right to sex, regardless of consent. Violence and dominance over women were used as an expression of masculinity. And, unfortunately, these norms were also reinforced by women's acceptance of violence. So, among the concluding recommendations were the need to "change norms related to acceptability of violence", and to "promote non-violent masculinities". If society wants to reduce or end rape and violence against women, it has to send the message that it is possible for men to have respectful and equal relationships with women and still be masculine.
The New Straits Times Editorial 15 September 2013