Last week, CNN.com and The New York Times posted an alarming story of a fourteen-year-old girl named Hena Akhter, from Bangladesh. Hena was accused of having an affair with a married man and died after being lashed in public as punishment.
According to Hena’s Sister, Hena was being pursued by her cousin, a man three times her age. Hena dismissed her cousin’s advances. But one evening while she was walking to an outdoor toilet, the cousin allegedly “gagged her with cloth, forced her behind nearby shrubbery and beat and raped her.” (CNN.com) Rather than being treated as a victim of a crime, Hena was accused of adultery. She was sentenced to 110 lashes, and her cousin was to receive 201 lashes and pay the family $1,000. The cousin escaped after a few whippings; Hena dropped to the ground after receiving 70. She was taken to the hospital, where she died a week later. Doctors reported that Hena committed suicide, a common occurrence among girls who have brought “shame to their family.” A public outcry spurred authorities to exhume her body and conduct a second autopsy, which found that Hena had died of internal bleeding that resulted from her injuries. The doctors who conducted the first autopsy will stand trial for submitting a false report.
This story is atrocious and shocking, and it illustrates the injustices that women and girls face as a result of harmful gender norms. For females, gender norms in many cultures include submissiveness, deference to male authority, dependence, virginity until marriage, and faithfulness during marriage. Norms for men, in contrast, are built around power and control, independence, not showing emotions, risk-taking, early sexual activity, and having multiple sexual partners. Such inequality limits young people’s control over their sexual and reproductive lives. That the perpetrator in this story might only have to pay $1,000 while Hena paid with her life is a tragic demonstration of how young women suffer as a result of deeply held gender norms.
To read more about this story see:
To learn about programming to challenge harmful gender norms, visit the IYWG program area page: Gender Norms.