International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, on November 25, should result in more action
Recently the National Crime Records Bureau Report (NCRB) 2021 revealed more than 15 per cent rise in crime against women. The year witnessed a spike in the rate of crimes against women (number of incidents per one lakh population), which rose from 56.5 per cent in 2020 to 64.5 per cent in 2021. A majority of the cases (nearly 32 per cent) pertained to “cruelty by husband or his relatives” and almost 21 per cent pertained to “assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty”, followed by kidnapping and abduction (17.6 per cent) and rapes (7.4 per cent). Are these just figures? Or a reflection of the safety and status of women in Indian society?
The northern belt, which worships the goddess twice every year with a lot of fanfare, topped the list of crimes against women, with Uttar Pradesh holding the first rank followed by Rajasthan and Maharashtra. On the other hand, the northeastern state of Nagaland reported the lowest number of crimes against women in 2021. Among the metropolitan cities, Delhi, the capital remains the most unsafe city for women with the number of cases surging over the past three years, from 13,395 in 2019 to 14,277 in 2021 which amounts to more than 32 per cent of total crimes in the 19 metropolitan cities in the country. The sexual harassment at workplace continues unabated.
What perpetuates the violence has been much discussed over the years, be it the result of many systems of sexism and patriarchy within Indian culture, gender-based inequality from early childhood, lack of education opportunities for the girl child and complexity of social and cultural beliefs where girls and women are at the receiving end, irrespective of their age.
Women remain the custodians of family honour and any action on their part to break the norms or traditions meet with a violent response from family and community.
The Covid-19 pandemic witnesses sudden and acute rise in cases of violence against women. The pandemic led to the loss of jobs of men and women. The men vented out their stress and frustration on the women. The women who lost their jobs became more dependent on abusive partners. The lockdown phase obstructed women seeking help when facing violence.
The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is yet another day marked by the notional activities and promises to act against this menace plaguing the Indian society. While the traditional causes of violence such as dowry deaths, sexual assaults, acid attacks and honour-killings continue, there have been rising cases of intimate partner violence, including heinous crimes such as most foul murders.
Besides the legal solutions available, which are mostly not sought or remain outside the purview of most victims/survivors, the focus on change of basic mindset and conduct at the societal level is crucial. More work for gender sensitisation, education, employment opportunities, safe workplaces, strict enforcement of existing laws, creating women-friendly environments for reporting the crimes, follow-ups, facilitative judicial procedures, new laws with enhanced punishment, and timely justice will go a long way in securing safe environments for women at home and outside. Rehabilitation of the survivors, acceptance and community support are crucial to instill confidence to regain and sustain normal life for the victims of all forms of violence.
To date, most efforts to eliminate violence against women and girls have mainly focused on responding to and providing services for survivors of violence. Prevention—i.e., addressing the structural causes, as well as the risk and protective factors associated with violence—is pivotal to eliminating violence against women and girls. Prevention requires political commitment, implementing laws that promote gender equality, investing in women’s organisations, and addressing the multiple forms of discrimination women face daily.
The prevention strategy should focus on equal education opportunities for the girl child, respectful family and work relationships with men and boys, and promoting equality and equity through media, job-opportunities, sports, and other fields.
Every individual has a role to play in eliminating violence against women. We all can contribute by being sensitive to the issue, listening to and believing survivors, increasing visibility of women in matters and decisions related to their safety, standing up against normalization of all forms of violence against women, educating ourselves on gender-based issues, challenging gender-norms leading to inequality, holding ourselves and other people accountable, supporting each other and condemning violence against women at all platforms.
The time to act is TODAY! Speak up and join the moment!
Writer is President, Women’s Initiative for Liberation, Growth & Action