March 8, 2015 is celebrated as International Women’s Day (#IWD).
As women go for strength to strength in all sectors, and women everywhere seek their place in the sun two recurrent themes are Gender Equality and what some see as the backlash to it in Violence Against Women (#VAW).
‘Violence against women’, as defined in the 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women refers to ‘any act of gender-based 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 in private life’
Yes women are achieving a lot everywhere but they are facing a lot more as well both at home, on the streets, in the commute, in the work place and many public and privatespaces. In India in spite of the ‘Arab Spring’–like response to the December 2012 Delhi gangrape case all supporting the safety of women in India, three years on despite the Verma Commission’s recommendation and amendments to the law protecting women the notion of ‘shame the woman, blame the woman’ continues. As the writer of the article “No Country For Women” in The Hindu’s IWD edition puts it
Law is merely an instrumentality of justice, to deliver it remains in the hands of those vested with the responsibility of implementing them — the police, the courts and the lawyers.
The continued lack of trust between police and public, the public and the giant snail-like judicial system, as well as the pressure brought on the victim when the perpetrator is known to, well-connected, or part of the family or community all tally up to the low figures of reported instances of crimes against women. But these low figures are still horrifying.
The Indian Government may launch a “Beti Bachao, Beti Padao” (Save the Daughter, Educate the Daughter) campaign but when they cut back on the number of much needed Rape Crises Centres and ban a documentary about the horrific rape that ignited the national conscience on the treatment of women … the message sent is, ‘Women’s issues and safety is not a priority.’
Serving MPs and MLAs with charges of VAW and rape still continue to hold positions of power. Public figures and politicians come out with horrific statements dishonouring women … yet the ones killed in “honour killings” are women, the men who dared to love them, and those who tried to help – and these killings are at the hand of the victim’s own kith and kin.
The problem is a pandemic as patriarchal norms pressurize women the world over. The wage-gap exists. The glass ceiling persists. And the power to make a pivotal change to gender equality remains maddeningly elusive. Acid attacks abound. Street harassment is made to seem playful with a moniker like ‘eve-teasing.’ Criminals are left unchecked to escalate their crimes against women. Rapists are defended by valorising their lifestyle (See the article “Where Minotaurs Roam Freely” by Ingrid Therwath), young people in the clutches of predators are ignored, dismissed and even punished for decades before someone realized hundreds and even thousands were victimized (Operation Bullfinch in Oxford), and US colleges become the hunting grounds for sexual predators (1 in 5 women in college are attacked).
As a friend of mine said on Facebook, “This day is not like father's day, mother's day, friendship day etc. It is to mark the many decades of feminist struggles and resistance because of which women worldwide are able to continue the fight for gender justice and equality. We have a long way to go.”
There are some great campaigns to empower women and bring about gender equality. Yet real change can gain momentum if each and every one of us – man, woman and child stand up for the rights and safety of women so that we in turn can stand up for yours – one for all and all for one. Happy Women's Day!