UNESCO observes the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women every year on 25th November. This day was observed for the first time in 1999, following a proclamation by the UN General Assembly.    

As per the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women of the UN General Assembly in 1993, violence against women is defined as-

“any act of genderbased violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life”…………“physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, including battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry related violence, marital rape, female genital mutilation and other traditional practices harmful to women, nonspousal violence and violence related to exploitation; physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring within the general community, including rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in educational institutions and elsewhere; trafficking in women and forced prostitution; and physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetrated or condoned by the state, wherever it occurs.”

Although, irrespective of the gender a person identifies with, every human being  has  the right to live and work in a society free from violence and harassment, such things are painfully prevalent. Although violence against men is not any less a matter of concern, the data regarding the repeated and continuous abuse of women in our society is far too glaring.

Just because your gender is different that does not mean that you should be treated differently.           

-Malala Yousafzai

The 2019 Report of the National Crime Record Bureau is a siren bell, recording 4,05,861 cases of crimes against women across India.  94.2% of the reported rape cases showed the offenders were either known, or were kin of the victim. If that wasn’t terrifyingly morbid enough, these numbers are gleaned only from the reported cases. The real number could be much worse. Globally, 35.6% of women have encountered either harassment by people who are not their partners, or physical or sexual assault at the hands of an intimate partner, or both, as per a report by WHO

(Source: https://www.un.org/en/events/endviolenceday/)

As much as India as a country is known to celebrate the achievements of women in various spheres and walks of life, it is an irrefutable fact that we have some of the highest numbers in crimes perpetrated against women.

The figures mentioned above are humiliating to India’s global reputation. A variety of factors such as social complexity, economic dependence, archaic cultural norms and lack of vigilance to protect women’s interests, may be the key reasons behind these disasters. Is it difficult to wipe violence against women completely off the face of our nation? Yes, of course it is. It is difficult to do so for any crime, regardless of its nature.  But does that mean that India, in the 21st century, does not lend support to those who make up about 48 % of the population ?

Making policies alone does not help resolve violence against women. Vigilant implementation along with increased awareness is just as essential, if not more, as is passing laws and schemes and empowerment policies. The matter of violence against women has been discussed on the international agenda through the Sustainable Development Goals.  In terms of policy initiatives, India has implemented various empowerment and security schemes and policies for women,  such as National Women’s Empowerment Policy among others, and laws to prevent and criminilaize and workplace harrasment, dowry practices, and female infanticide are also in place to combat unjust and heinous treatment meted out to women. However, the essence of taking women to the forefront of the national and international development agenda has not manifested into practice.The policies and laws are brilliant, but we must realise that merely launching such schemes will not help address the crisis. 

We are all perfectly aware of the importance of education in all and every sphere of life. However, it must be noted that higher education levels or income levels, by themselves, do nothing in safeguarding women’s rights and interests.They simply reinforce the point that women can lead independent lives, and thus are not inferior in any way. It is the need of the hour, as it has been for too many hours now, to educate the public about women’s interests and rights that are fundamental to the very foundation of any country. In educational institutes, of all levels, awareness concerning women and their safety has become important, and should continue to do so. 

There are a few things that are equally important. First, the awareness needs to start at home. Gender equality starts at home, with families at the forefront of progress. The examples set at home by parents, care-givers and extended family form the way they think about gender and equality for the next generation. Breaking down gender roles and educating children on gender equality and women’s rights, talking to children about gender equality and what needs to be done to create a gender-equal society sets them up to lead the way for all to have a better future. Encourage children to accept diversity and illustrate role models from various genders, ethnicities and colours. Remind them that gender never comes between what they want to achieve.

Second, we need to remember that being rich, powerful or affluent does not grant anyone a get-out-of-jail card. It is our moral duty to actively speak out when we witness acts that undermine equality, regardless of who the perpetrator is and how powerful they are. Being Switzerland in such circumstances has two effects- one, it lets the perpetrator think that they can get away with their wrongdoings by virtue of who they are. Second, it leaves the victim feeling even more helpless, which might lead them to not reporting the crime at all. Underreporting has many consequences: it reduces the deterrent capability of the criminal justice system, distorts the true image of crime and compromises the quality of information used by police at the national, regional and local levels to prepare crime fighting and prevention operations. If someone, anyone reaches out saying that they have been victim to such gross wrongdoings, hear them out, and support them to the best of your abilities. Some of India’s organisations and NGOs offer victims of abuse, rape, sexual assault, and child sexual abuse a helping hand. If you are the victim or are aware of or know someone who needs help, do not think twice before contacting any of these online or phone hotlines.

Next, we need to have open conversations. We actively avoid conversations about physical relationships, and  by extension, the concept of consent and respect never comes into the picture. Consent is not necessarily something that one asks for and the other gives specifically during intercourse. It is more of transparent and continuous dialogue in which preferences, dislikes, comfort levels and limitations can be voiced. This understanding spreads and embeds itself into the general mindset when we stop treating sex as a taboo topic. 

Having conversations about physical relationships  and consent is especially important when it comes to younger people. With the vast entirety of the internet at their fingertips, children and adolescents are bound to come across these things. Add the inevitable and insatiable curiosity of that age, and you could very well have someone growing up with a horribly skewed understanding of relationships and boundaries. 

Equality, or more specifically, gender equality is not a ‘women’s problem’-: it’s important regardless of what gender one recognises with. It is high time we shed the age-old ‘gender roles’ that we have assigned. Gender is not about biological distinctions, but rather a social construct. People define what it means to be a male or a female, and these social conditions also require children from a young age to adhere to particular and restrictive gender roles and expectations.These are roles that we have internalised based on the established norms of our culture about how men and women should dress, act and present themselves, and what kind of work they should do in certain instances. It is in our hands, whether in the media, on the street or at school, to become aware of these prejudices and question the assumptions that we regularly experience. By affirming and respecting everyone’s choices, especially when it comes to identity, and fostering a culture of acceptance, we build a better world for everyone.

Devangee Halder

S.Y B.Sc. Economics

Viren Khandare

F.Y B.Sc. Economics

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