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The focus has to shift to the causes which make it unsafe for woman - the perpetrators and the infrastructure that are the problem.
“Keeping our daughters safe has become a herculean task. It was not this bad when we were younger.”
This is a statement we hear often- on social media (I have quoted directly from someone who said it on Twitter), on television, and even when people get together and chat at a party or in the office cafeteria.
The statement is wrong on several counts. Let’s break it up-
The moment we utter these words, we are focussing on the ‘victim’ of sexual harassment/ abuse. And as long as we continue doing that, we will not find a solution to the problem.
Shouldn’t we move beyond “keeping our daughters safe”, now?
The focus has to shift to the causes which make it unsafe for woman. There can be no solution till we acknowledge the perpetrators, and focus on reforming them so it is safer for women.
This may seem like nit picking but it is not.
If we focus on the victim, we are looking at enabling conditions to keep them safe. That would include telling them what to do, how to dress, where not to go, and when to return home.
But restricting the freedom of women is not the solution.
The world needs to be made safer for women. And to do that, the focus has to shift to the causes which make it unsafe for woman.
We need to create conditions that make it difficult for the perpetrators through awareness, better vigilance, and a more accessible legal system. Till we acknowledge the perpetrators and work on the causes, there can be no long-term solution.
This is the obvious one.
Do only ‘our’ daughters, ‘our’ sisters, ‘our’ wives, ‘our’ mothers, ‘our’ friends deserve to be safe? Shouldn’t we be concerned about the safety of every woman? Why should there be an ownership or relationship with victims?
This feeling of ‘ownership’ itself is a contributing cause for the lack of safety for women. Since men feel compelled to guard the chastity of ‘their’ women, others have sought to assert their superiority by establishing their dominance over the women.
When we stop looking at women in terms of their relationship, and recognise them as individuals who make up roughly half the population, we will move beyond keeping individuals safe and towards making society safer.
Yes, ‘keeping’ women safe is a herculean task- it is attempted by policing women, by curtailing their freedom, by telling her what and how she should do.
But do you remember how did Hercules cleaned the Augean Stables?
Hercules didn’t use brooms and shovels to remove the muck. He diverted a river to flow through the stables so all the muck was flushed away. The same solution can be applied here.
Instead of “keeping” women safe, if we focus on creating a safer environment, it would be far more effective.
Both statistics and anecdotal data may give the impression that women were safer earlier, but were they really?
Have crimes against women really gone up, or are they being reported more because of greater awareness?
Statistics show that states like Goa and Kerala have a higher incidence of reported crimes against women. What is more likely is that these states have better systems for women to come forward to report a crime, in which case, the growth in reported crimes is welcome.
There is also greater awareness among women about what constitutes sexual harassment/ abuse. Till the #MeToo movement gained momentum a few years back, women ignored a lot of inappropriate behaviour because we lacked the vocabulary to articulate the harassment.
Also, women are going out of the house more, which increases the probability of them being sexually harassed/ abused in public. This gives the impression that women are more unsafe today than earlier.
However, this is not the case.
Women (and children) have always been vulnerable to harassment and abuse. However, when the perpetrators are family or close friends, there is a greater chance of the crimes being ignored.
It is only when the perpetrator is a stranger that families recognise that women are unsafe.
Instead of worrying about “keeping our daughters” safe, we should work on creating a safer environment for women.
This can be done by- generating awareness on appropriate behaviour, incentivising calling out harassment and creating an environment for reporting crime. It cannot be done by locking up “our daughters” and mourning about how the world has become unsafe.
Image source: a still from the film Pink.
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Natasha works in the development sector, where most of her experience has been in Education and Livelihoods. She is passionate about working towards gender equity, sustainability and positive climate action. And avid reader and occasional read more...
Women's Web is an open platform that publishes a diversity of views, individual posts do not necessarily represent the platform's views and opinions at all times.
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