Gender inequality remains a big concern
Women make up half of the population of the world, but from the poor nutrition to poor education to low-paying jobs compared to men, they always face gender-based inequality and discrimination at all steps of the life. The discrimination and violence starts even before they are born through the selective female foeticide so very unacceptable but widely prevalent and practised in our society. According to the World Health Organisation, one in three women (35%) experiences either physical or sexual violence during their lifetime around the world. Violence often negatively affects women physically, mentally, socially and sexually.
The United Nations Women, which works as a global champion for gender equality and human rights for women, has aptly started a worldwide campaign called ‘16 days of activism against gender based violence’ from November 25, 2017 (International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women) to December 10, 2017.
According to the 2011 Indian Census, the child sex ratio which is used to describe the number of girls per 1,000 boys from 0 to 6 years is at an alarming low of 919 per 1,000 boys. The major reason of the low number of females per males is considered to be the violent treatment meted to unborn girl child at the time of birth or even before through the illegal sex determination during pregnancy and killing the unborn girl child through abortion. The almost universal belief in some sections of the society that a girl child is a financial burden on the family is a huge contributing factor of gender inequality, often resulting in selective sex determination and female foeticide or discarding the newborn girl child to die in the wilderness.
The gangrape and later thet death of a physiotherapy student (Nirbhaya) in Delhi in 2012 and the subsequent protests by the civil society in the country led to stringent laws and wider focus on issues of women safety. However, according the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), in 2016 there were reports of 38,947 rapes in the country with almost more than 100 incidents on an average every day. It is highly shameful and disgusting that despite making many advances and economic progress, we are failing miserably to provide the basic safety to our mothers, sisters and daughters. Odisha is not far behind the national numbers in terms of crime rate, which recorded a staggering 1983 rapes in the same year.
Similarly, the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) Data 2015-2016 show that in our country, married women who have ever experienced domestic violence constitute 28.8%. But in Odisha, the total number of married women who experienced domestic violence is 35.2%, much higher than the national average. The domestic violence is much more common in the rural areas than in the urban areas both at the State and national levels.
The Indian societal system is based on patriarchy, whereby men are placed above women. The resultant cultural and social practices are, thus, based on oppression and exploitation of women. The cultural expectation of men is that as the primary economic provider of the family they are allowed to exercise their privileges freely as compared to women who are expected to stay indoors to look after the young and be obedient. Women have over the years not only accepted the proscribed gender roles, they have also been reared up to rationalise this behaviour by their parents. It is not uncommon in certain sections of the society where women have justified the beatings by the husbands in some situations related to family such as not respecting the in-laws or failing to cook properly.
Due to the regressive mindset based on patriarchy, some of our leaders and public figures, in the aftermath of a serious sexual assault, often misguidedly blame the victim while addressing the safety issues. Statements such as a certain ways of women dressing (read provocative) and venturing out at night without any escort is a pattern of blaming the poor victim further establishing the gender hierarchy in the society. A lame excuse though, which falls flat on face when children as young as 3 or 4 and elderly women in their late seventies are being sexually assaulted. In 2016 alone, according to the NCRB, there have been over 36,000 crimes against children reported under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act including rape.
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