Gender Violence: We need Collective Action

16dlogo.jpgThis is a guest post by Nandini Shanmugam and Sweta Narayan, Volunteers with the Prajnya Trust, a Chennai-based non-profit centre for research, public education and networking on issues relating to peace, justice and security. Go here to know more about their campaign to end Gender Violence

The deathly silence observed by a family next to her made our friend anxious to say the least. Already in labour, she feared something had gone terribly wrong. However, the woman beside her, who had just given birth, appeared fine and so did the baby. Then why was celebration replaced with gloom? It didn t take long for our friend to realise the reason the lady had just given birth to a baby girl.

It was as if they were mourning, our friend would recall later; she herself incidentally gave birth to a baby boy, Dhruv.

The reactions say it all. At the same time, the incident reveals a glimpse, albeit indirect, into one of the most pervasive and ignored forms of violence that exists across societies in the world even today.

The contrast is striking, the reality shocking. Even in modern, urban, ‘liberated’ India. What we just read about is not something that happened way back in the past, but violence that raises its ugly head day in and day out, all around us. From sex-selective abortions to gender discrimination and violence against women, the cycle is vicious and rooted in the very culture and traditions we seem to revere. This makes it all the more insidious, more difficult to fight against. 

It is no surprise then that “women and children are often in great danger in the place where they should be the safest”.  This safe place that a UNICEF report on Gender Violence spoke about as giving rise to and protracting violence against women is the home. A home is meant to be a sanctuary of comfort, safety and security. Family is but a circle of love, trust and support. Or so we would like to believe. And yet, in India, a case of cruelty by husband and relatives is recorded every nine minutes. 75% of the rapists are known to their victims.

Statistics point out that 85% of women who have experienced sexual violence have never told anyone about it. One would wonder why. Is there a complete lack of protection measures for women? Or are we just a very passive society?  These are just some questions which the Prajnya 16 Days Campaign seeks to explore.

We don t deny the fact that there are acts, guidelines, government bodies and NGOs to help women who are victims of heinous acts of violence. Yet, one question continues to bother us: why haven t we witnessed a drastic reduction in crimes against women despite the involvement of numerous stakeholders and their concerted efforts?

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Speaking at a conference on domestic violence recently, National Commission for Women (NCW) member Wansuk Syiem brought to light chilling facts on violence against women. A case of violence against a woman is registered in India every three minutes. Citing data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) Syiem further went on to say Over 7,600 women are killed each year because their in-laws consider the dowry inadequate and a very small percentage of their murderers are brought to justice.

These are not just mere numbers but a grim reality of the continued violence that numerous women are vulnerable to and face as a part of their everyday lives. Gender violence is no longer a dark secret. But the fact that it is socially tolerated and still largely ignored makes combating it a veritable challenge.

The paradox is striking. At a day and age when Indian women seem to be scaling the heights of excellence in all fields, they often find themselves defenceless against the drastic forms of violence perpetrated against them at home and in the public sphere. The safest havens are most often the arenas that imperil women’s lives and breed alarming crimes against them.

So what is it that needs to be done to tackle acts of violence against women? Measures like the Domestic Violence Act, guidelines against sexual harassment at the workplace, for example, are all stepping stones in paving the way to ensure a safer environment for women. But what is equally imperative is creating awareness and addressing such violations of human rights through collective action. There is a need to adopt a multi-pronged strategy which will see the involvement of different stakeholders – women, family, immediate society, civil society and the State – at various levels.

A few days ago, our friend s bonny boy Dhruv turned one. The birthday was celebrated with great gusto, surrounded by friends and family. We couldn t help but think of the little girl who would have turned a year old. Would her family have celebrated her birthday at all? Will her presence ever be celebrated or will every birthday be greeted with melancholy? And we know that as we see Dhruv grow-up, we will inadvertently think of the little girl and her future. Or will she have one at all?


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