No means no

There is a rage against rape and of late people are strongly speaking about sexual violence. That is absolutely necessary. Recent reports on incidents of rape in different parts of the country, including the Capital, and the shenanigans in play to bury cover up such incidents have created furor. It is high time people united to fight against this heinous crime.

One of the forms of rape, however, usually goes unreported in Nepal — on most of the occasions. That’s marital rape. Marital rape is a non-consensual act of sexual violence in which the perpetrator is the victim’s spouse.

Marriage in our country is often perceived not as a union between two individuals but as “wives obeying husbands — no matter what”. Marriage does not mean a woman losing a say over her body or sexuality. Marriage does not mean an unwarranted license to a man to do whatever he wants to with his wife or her body. The Supreme Court of Nepal in 2006 declared sex without consent of the spouse as rape and a criminal offence. Again in 2017, the Criminal Code Bill was passed by then Parliament defined marital rape as a criminal offence. The Bill says: “Having sexual intercourse with any woman without her consent or any girl under 18 years of age with or without her consent by using force or showing threat shall be considered rape.”

Countless women in Nepal still continue to suffer from sexual violence at the hands of their husbands. Sex still remains a taboo in our society and women are often forced into believing sex in a marriage is an obligation. Women suffering from marital rape are often forced to keep mum, and families in most cases pressure them to do so on the ground of what they call “social prestige”.  Some victims do not report the cases of marital rape because of the fear that their husbands might leave them. There is also a lack of awareness among many women about the laws on rape and marital rape.

The society as a whole, first needs to recognise that rape within a marriage is a heinous crime. Laws only are not enough, their effective implementation is a must. And for effective implementation of laws, awareness is needed — awareness about women’s health, education and sexual and productive rights. Many women still shy away from speaking against abuse for the fear of retribution. The voice against rape and marital rape must continue to grow until such abuses are stopped. No means no.