On March 27th, 2019, Nusrat Jahan Rafi reported her headmaster for sexual harassment. She wasn’t taken seriously by the police. They recorded her even though she was trying to hide her face.
Then the video was leaked.
Five days later, she was burned death. Her last words were, “The teacher touched me, I will fight this crime till my last breath.”
Ms. Rafi was only 19. She was studying in an Islamic School in her native home of Bangladesh. She was fearless in her determination to right a wrong, regardless of the consequences. When the teacher in question was initially jailed, two male students started a rally to free him, and blamed Nusrat for the charges, in a standard display of misogyny.
Consequently, Nusrat’s brother told a reporter that he had tried to walk her to school one day, but they were stopped by a group. One of Nusrat’s classmates told her that her friend was being bullied and beaten up on a rooftop. With the desire to help, Nusrat made her way to the rooftop, but instead of what she was expecting to see, Nusrat found herself surrounded by five people in niqabs. They asked her to give up the charges, but she refused. As punishment for her resistance, they set her on fire. She later passed away in an ambulance but was able to record her final statements, using her last few breaths to identify some of her attackers. Police reported that the individuals who attacked her were hoping to make it seem like a suicide, but Nusrat’s last recording changed the game.
Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, met with Nusrat’s family and assured them that everyone involved in this horrible crime will be punished under the law. In 2009, Bangladesh’s Supreme Court established a law to ensure students felt safe enough to report cases like sexual harassment. But very few schools upheld the law.
Nusrat isn’t the first, and unfortunately, probably won’t be the last. And it hurts more and more every time we hear these kinds of stories. Yet some people are STILL blindfolded.
“Why do we even need feminism?”
“Women have the right to vote! What else do they want?”
“Why didn’t they report it?”
“They’re just doing it for attention.”
“How do you know she’s not lying?”
“Women act so irrationally.”
“Women this, women that. She should this, she shouldn’t that. It’s for attention, its for money, it’s not true.”
But you know what? We call BS! Ask those inconsiderate, ignorant questions again so I show you a picture of Nusrat. Ask, so I list the women who have died for reporting their abusers. Ask, so I may reveal the vast numbers of silenced women. Ask, so that I can tell you, “you’re either with us or are one of the abusers who shouldn’t be walking in society freely.”
The worldwide statistics on this matter are horrifying. Bangladesh Mahila Parishad (BMP), a women’s right group, reported 980 cases of rape in Bangladesh for 2018. The researchers say that the number is probably higher than that. In the United states, 1 in 5 women have been raped in their lifetime. Globally, 1 in 10 women have experienced “forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts.”
Something needs to change. And that “something” isn’t the way that women and girls present themselves. Internalized misogyny is what has to change. It is not about our skirts or our underwear. It’s about the people that harass and violate us. By taking up space, or by existing, we aren’t doing anything wrong. We don’t need to change and it isn’t our fault.
To all the women reading this right now: stay strong. We’re going to stick by each other. We believe you. We back you. Thanks for surviving. 🖤