As I reflect on 2019 in the last month of the year, I have mixed feelings. On one hand, there were a few wins in terms of women sparkling in different roles but on the other hand, it seems like we have a lot of work to do.

Our leaders continue to objectify and demean women, relegating them to second-class citizenry. This cannot continue if we want to live in an inclusive world. Since it is that time of the year where we reflect on our achievements in the past year and make plans for the New Year, we must make a combined effort to see how every person and institution can be the driver of change when it comes to the safety of women. It must first start at home and continue via education.

Since the brutal rape and subsequent death of the young veterinarian and prior to that rapes and abuse taking place on a daily basis, thousands of women in India, who are increasingly working and studying, have repeatedly taken to the streets to express anger over attitudes towards women, calling for major change.

It is imperative to note that there has been no action on the part of the government at all… In fact, the silence is deafening. How can you respect a leader of a country and all his henchmen/women when issues like rape are brushed under the carpet and no action is taken? These issues call for swift decisions, stringent laws and harsh punishments.

A woman is raped in Delhi, the country’s capital city, every 18 hours, according to official figures, and when you start considering collective figures across the country, it is ghastly and deplorable. Women across India say they are often subjected to sexual intimidation and violence - the picture is grim and depressing. Women from all walks of life — urban and rural, poor and privileged, across all generations – believe the time has come to take measures to stop the seemingly unabated violence against women.

But one of the major obstacles is the political culture across party lines that openly reflect the archaic patriarchal attitudes in India today. Politicians have earlier stated that women demonstrating are ‘painted, dented women’, women must wear traditional saris and salwar-kameez and be stopped from wearing skirts as their clothes attract rapists to them.

As women in India are becoming more educated, finding jobs outside the home, and starting their own businesses, they are doing so in the face of a culture where sexual harassment is widely accepted and personal security is a major concern. Women’s safety is taken for granted. Corruption and a dismissive attitude by police toward crimes against women leave many with little faith in those meant to protect them.

The ascension of the role of women in India is an outright threat to our patriarchal society. Women are proving to be better than men in all fields and are becoming educated and know their rights. That is in stark contrast to a culture of female oppression, built over centuries, where women are treated as inferior beings suited for housework, raising children and taking care of their husbands and families.

It is apparent that a certain class of men are deeply uncomfortable with women displaying their independence, receiving education and joining the work force. Rape becomes a form of subduing women and establishing their male superiority.

Changing that culture may very well prove to be the most difficult challenge in India but it is heartening to see young people ready for change. They are ready to accept a girl be looked upon as an equal human being and not as some subservient object for the male to treat as he wishes. At the same time, there is pessimism that underlies what the professional Indian women believe can realistically happen to change long entrenched views.

Changing attitudes toward sexual crimes will be difficult: The nexus between politicians, judicial system, popular and influential personalities is so deep rooted that it will take a marathon and an era of effort on the part of the Indian public to make positive changes. Many studies reveal that both professional and non-professional women experience heavy stress due to gender bias. Although women have proved the best of their abilities in various fields of work at par with men, they still continue to be given second importance in their field of work.

Patriarchy and gender inequality in society is the main cause of women’s deprivation by way of health, food and nutrition, more susceptible to mortality and contributing to unbalanced male female ratio as well as in the sphere of education, employment, wages and that of political representation. Women are treated by men only as consumers, sex objects or reproductive machines as a result of which their status in the family and society has been demoted. Subsequently this has led to increasing violence and denial of human rights, liberty, equality, justice.

Women safety: what can you and I do? Every citizen has the right to be safe. Our constitution states that every single person is equal before the law. So why should it not be reflected in practice? Women and girls must be allowed to exercise their rights and be given the respect they deserve. They cannot be subjugated because of the choices they make.

Education in this regard is the need of the hour to dispel taboos around the issue, and also help men in the country understand about respect, boundaries, and consent so that they do not violate women’s rights. As individuals, each of us must be active in preventing sexual violence and intervene when we see it happening and most importantly report it.

The government must ensure that the legislation in effect is enforced. What is the point in having laws for the protection of women if the system is restrictive and inhibiting? Clearly, there has to be an upgrade of infrastructure to protect the rights of women. It has been reported that half the Nirbhaya fund is lying unutilised despite the desperate need for effective helplines, fast-track courts, sensitive justice officials, widespread and quality one-stop crisis centres and shelter homes, and funding for programmes to educate and advocate on women’s rights.

The police must ensure police stations are welcoming places for women to make complaints. It does not serve anyone well that official statistics on crime against women are severely under-reported. Suppressing these complaints only weakens the system and encourages perpetrators.

Effective policies at work can play their part by ensuring there is a system in place to deal with sexual harassment. Representation of women on screen needs to change at once - Bollywood must stop the culture of objectifying women. The item girl has to be passé. Instead they should focus on strong lead roles for women and portray them in real, everyday roles that is the norm.

Let’s face it – the masses are influenced by Bollywood and most often than not in a derogatory way. If we have to shift the mind-set of society at large, the film industry can play an influencing role.

If the ruling government wants to “be the change you wish to see”, as said by Mahatma Gandhi, then they need to wake up and end the horrific violence against women and girls by taking action. My fear is that the government is silent, indecisive and reticent in passing laws as more than half of their merry band of scoundrels would be behind bars! So then who are the tainted ones I ask?