I first met Rumana Monzur in the fall of last year. We were in the same graduate-level political science course focused on, in the most tragic of ironies, gender and violence.
My first impression was that she is incredibly kind. Unlike the rest of us - loquacious, often aggressively so - Rumana is soft-spoken, thoughtful and contemplative. When she does share them, her observations are particularly insightful. Rumana has a knack for picking up on the nuances, the unexplored details. A skill that eludes me, it would seem.
I saw the news stories. A woman brutally attacked, allegedly by her husband, in Dhaka, Bangladesh. With each new story it got closer to home: a graduate student, at the University of British Columbia no less. But each time the story was accompanied by a photo of a battered, bruised, blinded woman, unrecognizable to me. Another woman victimized at the hands of her male partner, I'm ashamed to say I remember thinking.
It wasn't until her name was printed that I realized it was Rumana. Kind, soft-spoken, insightful Rumana.
I can only imagine the pain my fellow classmate is in, both literally, as she endures the results of a vicious attack on her person, and emotionally, as she grapples with the fact that she may never see her five-year-old daughter grow up.
The pain I know all too well, however, is the feeling I share with Rumana's friends and colleagues here in Vancouver, and with anyone who dedicates her life's work to ending violence against women: the sinking feeling that this assault, while heartbreakingly personal, is a part of the global crisis that is systemic violence against women.
Reports will likely continue to cloak the assault in racist moral hand wringing and cultural stereotyping. "She got a taste of the good life when she came to Canada to study," reporters dance around saying, "but back in Bangladesh, it was back to terror as usual." It's true that the nature of her assault and how it is treated by authorities must be analyzed within the context of South Asian gender relations. But terror as usual, as so many in great power and privilege are loath to admit, is the norm for millions of women around the world, including those living in Canada. It's the same day-to-day cruelty endured by women trapped in abusive relationships with power-obsessed husbands, just like Rumana's.
It's the everyday brutality inflicted upon First Nations women across this country, hundreds of whom have gone murdered and missing for decades.
It's the widely-accepted, commonplace anxiety that leaves female students like myself afraid to conduct research on campus, lest we end up staying there after dark and putting ourselves in danger of being groped, or worse. And yes, this is the same campus Rumana called her academic home here in Vancouver. In wonderful, "that-never-happens-here" Canada.
As Doug Saunders so articulately phrased it last week, violence against women does not stem from one nation, one culture, or one religion. Rather, "it is something that emerges in its own right, a poison that takes over and paralyzes nations."
Fortunately this paralysis is not permanent, as long as we continue to stand, side by side, and fight against the powerful force bent on resisting gender equality and a world free from gender-based violence. That's exactly what Rumana's friends in Vancouver are asking us to do on Sunday, when they host a rally at the Vancouver Art Gallery for anyone who wants justice for Rumana and peace for women and girls everywhere.
I will be there. Will you?
The rally for Rumana - "No More Violence Against Women: Justice for Rumana Monzur" will be held on Sunday, June 26 at 3 p.m., on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery.
Natalie Hill is a graduate student at the Centre for Women's and Gender Studies at the University of British Columbia, and member of the We Can End All Violence Against Women B.C. campaign.
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