RASHMI OBEROI | 22 AUGUST, 2019
The Silent Sufferers
Violence against women
The mute victims… Accepting… Longsuffering… Plodding on… They are all around us and if you notice long and hard enough, you’ll be horrified to see quite a few.
It equally disturbs me to see that those targeted are unable to deal with this kind of subjugation and put an end to it. The signs are always there and you can feel those piercing eyes pleading for help and yet they don’t have the strength to put a stop or the courage to fight back.
One third of women and more than two-thirds in some countries have experienced physical or sexual violence inflicted by an intimate partner or sexual violence inflicted by a non-partner at some point. Some break out of it but there are others who hesitate to reach out for help. A global phenomenon - violence against women and girls affects all societies and cuts across boundaries of age, socioeconomic status, education and geography.
It is indeed a very sensitive issue but how does one tackle such a complex problem. The need to understand it from a human development perspective is obvious. I know these are all based on individual and random acts but in a broader outlook it stems from gendered social structures. Firmly rooted in cultural norms and religious and patriarchal value systems, violence is often justified and internalized by both men and women, who often legitimize it as ‘natural’ and ‘right’. Such patterns of violence cut deep into many societies and if they are not tackled there is little doubt they will be perpetuated across generations. Much needs to be done to tackle these barriers.
In everyday situations where women are unequal and unsafe, they cannot fully participate in society. Violence against women affects everyone and those undergoing it long-term, the results are terrifying. Violence takes countless forms, from domestic abuse and dating violence to online and street harassment, sexual harassment at work, rape as a weapon of war, bullying, reproductive coercion, forced and early marriage, stalking, and more. The list is endless.
The underlying causes against women are inequality and discrimination. A life free of violence and discrimination is a basic human right, one that every person and child deserves. No one should be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Violence is one expression of women’s unequal status. It varies in form and degree across cultures and countries, but persists worldwide. Witnessing violence in one’s home is the strongest predictor of violence in one’s adult and intimate relationships.
Violence against women is staggering in scale. It is also one of the easiest things to stop. All it needs is for us to act. We can start in our homes and our schools by teaching kids to respect boys and girls. We can demand enforcement of laws that protect women and punish offenders. We can speak up in our workplaces, groups, audiences, and schools. We can use social media to challenge bullying and promote human rights. The power to change the world for women, for girls, for everyone is in our hands.
India’s attitudes towards women reflect apathy and an acceptance of sexual harassment. The tendency to judge and police what women do and wear is inseparable from the normalization of sexual harassment: both reflect a broader pattern of social control over women’s bodies.
The police are held most responsible for ensuring women’s safety. They undoubtedly have an important role to play; and could do a better job. However, a better solution may be to target gender norms that lead to such behaviour in the first place. Education can be powerful, in schools, families and society at large. Gender-sensitization efforts need to be expansive, targeting children and adults.
The effects of violence can remain with women and children for a lifetime, and can pass from one generation to another. Studies show that children who have witnessed, or been subjected to, violence are more likely to become victims or abusers themselves. Violence against women and girls is an extreme manifestation of gender inequality and systemic gender-based discrimination. The right of women and children to live free of violence depends on the protection of their human rights and a strong chain of justice.
For an effective response to this violence, different sectors in society must work together. A rape survivor must have rapid access to a health clinic that can administer emergency medical care, including treatment to prevent HIV and unintended pregnancies and counselling. A woman who is beaten by her husband must have someplace to go with her children to enjoy safety, sanity and shelter. A victim of violence must have confidence that when she files a police report, she will receive justice and the perpetrator will be punished. And an adolescent boy in school who learns about health and sexuality must be taught that coercion, violence and discrimination against girls are unacceptable.
Courts and the justice system must be accessible and responsive to criminal and civil matters relating to violence against women. Women must be informed of their legal rights and supported to navigate the legal system. This means that we need to take a long-term, systemic and comprehensive approach that recognizes and protects women’s and children’s full and equal human rights.
We must promote a culture of equality between men and women through institutional and legal reform, education, awareness-raising and the full engagement of men and boys. Ending violence against women should be one of our key priorities and a critical part of a mission to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment.
I think we can all agree that the time for complacency is long gone, has passed and belongs to another era. The silence on violence against women and children has been broken and this is the time for stronger action.
~ While waiting for change, Enduring and long-suffering… ~
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