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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Violence Against Women : The Ture Fact

It would be extremely naïve to say that violence against women does not exist. Despite the ostensible acceptance of women being equal to men, and a plethora of laws and human rights guarantees, violence against women (VAW), which is also referred to as gender-based violence (GBV), is a reality that has assumed huge proportions. Not only does violence against women exist, in our vocabulary of progress it has taken on insidious forms that are justified in the name of faith, community, even development.

A quick look through the daily newspapers will give us an idea of the epic proportions the phenomenon has taken. Sample some of these facts from around the world:

* At least one out of three women has been beaten, forced into sex, or abused during her lifetime, according to a study based on 50 surveys from around the world. On most occasions, the abuser was a member of the woman’s family or someone known to her.
* One woman in four has been abused during pregnancy.
* More than 60 million women worldwide are considered ‘missing’ as a result of sex-selective abortions and female infanticide, according to an estimate by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen.
* The World Health Organisation has reported that up to 70% of female murder victims are killed by their male partners.
* Interpersonal violence was the 10th leading cause of death among women between the ages of 15 and 44, in 1998.
* Population-based studies report that between 12 and 25% of women have experienced attempted or completed forced sex by an intimate partner or ex-partner at some point in their lives.

And, in India, according to the National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) 2005 Crime Clock, there is:

* 1 crime committed against women every three minutes
* 1 molestation case every 15 minutes
* 1 sexual harassment case every 53 minutes
* 1 kidnapping and abduction case every 23 minutes
* 1 rape case every 29 minutes

And those are only the reported and recorded statistics. What’s more:

* Four out of 10 women in India have experienced violence in the home.
* 45% of women have suffered at least one incident of physical or psychological violence in their life.
* 26% have experienced at least one moderate form of physical violence.
* More than 50% of pregnant women have experienced severe violent physical injuries.
* According to the NCRB, approximately 6,000 women are killed in India every year because of dowry. Unofficial estimates are as high as 15,000 deaths a year. In other words, between 16 and 40 women die every day because of dowry.

Shocking as these figures are, they are actually a gross underestimation of the actual situation, because crimes against women are highly under-reported. In India, there are 496,514,346 (2001 Census of India) girls and women. If all of them experience sexual harassment just once a year, and report it, the figure would be staggering.

Among the crimes listed by the NCRB, rape, molestation, sexual harassment, murder and dowry deaths are reported more frequently than dacoity, arson or counterfeiting. The frequency and intensity with which VAW is perpetuated is no less than the ‘terrorist’ attacks India is experiencing. What makes VAW more dangerous is the fact that the State, on several occasions, chooses to ignore VAW as something that happens within the ‘private’ sphere of the family, something not of ‘public’ significance, and thus non-deserving of State intervention.

So what do these figures really tell us? Why is it that so many women and girls are at the receiving end of violence? Is it because women ask for it, when they dress ‘provocatively’, or if they are out alone at night? In our outrage against VAW do we end up looking for reasons to blame the victim, or do we look for lapses on the part of the State, the police or other authorities that are ‘responsible’ for the violence? Even worse, do we say that the scandalous statistics quoted above are things that don’t happen to ‘our’ women -- it only happens to women ‘out there’? If VAW is ‘out there’, how do we explain what happened to the women who were publicly groped and molested on new year’s eve at a 5-star hotel in Mumbai in 2007?

That brings us to another pressing question: How do we recognise what constitutes VAW in the first place? Boys tease girls and girls tease boys; men flirt with women and women flirt with men -- isn’t it natural? If a man slaps a woman, that’s violence for sure. But does it qualify as GBV? Can there be VAW when there are no visible signs of beating/molesting/groping on the woman’s body? What is it about VAW that is different from violence in general?

What is VAW?

An act of violence amounts to GBV/VAW when:

* A woman is violated because of being a woman, which means her gender is the reason why she is being violated. For example, if a woman faces domestic violence because she does not follow the ‘traditional’ role of a wife.
* A woman is being violated as a woman; it is the form of violation that is sex/gender-specific. For example, being raped is very gender-specific. Although men also get raped, it is primarily women who are at the receiving end of sexually-penetrative violence.
* When gender can be considered to be a risk factor that makes a woman’s fear of being violated more acute than that of a man in similar circumstances. For example, being a Muslim woman in Gujarat during the 2002 riots made one more vulnerable to certain kinds of violence. Thus, being both Muslim and a woman heightens the incidence of violence.

It is necessary to note that not all victims of GBV are female. Men are victims of GBV as well, for example gay men who are harassed, beaten and killed because they do not conform to socially acceptable norms of being a man.

VAW includes, but is not limited to:

* Psychological violence: Encompasses various tactics to undermine a woman’s self-confidence such as yelling, insults, mockery, threats, abusive language, humiliation, harassment, contempt and deliberate deprivation of emotional care or isolation.
* Physical violence: The most obvious ranges from pushing and shoving to hitting, beating, physical abuse with a weapon, torture, mutilation and murder.
* Sexual violence: Any form of non-consensual sexual activity (ie, forced on a person) ranging from harassment, unwanted sexual touching, to rape. This form of violence also includes incest.
* Financial violence: Encompasses various tactics for total or partial control of a couple’s finances, inheritance or employment income. May also include preventing a partner from taking employment outside the home or engaging in other activities that would lead to financial independence.
* Spiritual abuse: Works to destroy an individual’s cultural or religious beliefs through ridicule or punishment, forbidding practise of a personal religion or forcing women or children to adhere to religious practices that are not their own, etc.

All violence does not have to be blood and gore. It can also be very subtle. A person can make a contemptuous gesture, swear or pass a lewd remark, make an obscene gesture with the hands, whistle or leer at another. Even if such exchanges are fleeting, they leave their mark. VAW can take physical, psychological as well as sexual forms -- thus the above categories overlap and are not mutually exclusive. It needn’t always take the form of overt acts of bodily violence but can also be manifested through deprivation, neglect or discrimination. For example, physical violence by an intimate partner is often accompanied by sexual violence, deprivation, isolation, neglect as well as psychological abuse.

Defining VAW

The United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (DEVAW) defines VAW as:

“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.” (DEVAW, Article 1)

Reasons that sustain and escalate GBV are:

Cultural Gender-specific socialisation
Culturally demarcated roles for men and women
Expectations of performing fixed roles in familial relationships

Economic Women’s economic dependence on men
Limited rights over land and property
Limited employment opportunities and adverse employment conditions

Legal Discriminatory laws on marriage, divorce, property and violence
Low levels of legal literacy
Insensitive treatment of women and girls by the police and judiciary

Political Under-representation of women in positions of power in politics
VAW not considered as a serious political issue
Notions of the family being private, beyond State intervention

The UN has identified six underlying causes of VAW:

* Historically unequal power relations: The political, economic and social processes that have evolved over many centuries have kept men in a position of power over women.
* Control of women’s sexuality: Many societies use violence as a way to control a woman’s sexuality, and likewise in many societies violence is used to punish women who exhibit sexual behaviour, preferences and attitudes that violate cultural norms.
* Cultural ideology: Culture defines gender roles and some customs, traditions and religions are used to justify VAW when women transgress these culturally assigned roles.
* Doctrines of privacy: The persistent belief in many societies that VAW is a private issue seriously impedes attempts to eradicate this violence.
* Patterns of conflict resolution: Links have been identified between VAW in the home and community in areas that are in conflict or that are militarised. Often, heightened insecurity means that tensions within the home are more pronounced and can contribute to the perpetuation of VAW in the family. Equally, because eyes tend to be on the conflict, women’s suffering is often overshadowed. VAW is also frequently used as a formal military tactic.
* Government inaction: Government negligence in preventing and ending VAW establishes a tolerance of VAW throughout the community.

Globalisation, the State and VAW

Capitalist globalisation with its tools of development and progress, including some aspects of modern science and technology, free market, rational knowledge system and the militarised State seems to be intensifying existing violence and creating grotesque new forms against the already vulnerable -- particularly women. The growing number of dowry murders, that are a direct outcome of increasing consumerism and devaluation of women; female foeticide that is fostered by new forms of reproductive technology; the total destruction of women’s livelihoods in the process of industrialising agriculture; the absolute exploitation of women’s skills and labour in sweatshops of the corporate free market, are just some cases of the growing myriad forms of violence against women. Violence in its various forms is getting accentuated under the New Economic Policy being pursued by the State. Thus, the State far from being the protector and custodian of the rights of its people, has become its greatest violator -– both through commission of violence and through omission to stop or end violence. While on the one hand it is granting more rights to women, on the other it is also creating conditions where women are being rendered more vulnerable and increasingly violated. For example, while on the one hand globalisation has allowed a larger number of women to join the workforce, at the same time the State has not made enough effort to create enabling and safe working conditions for women at work.

What the law says

The Constitution of India guarantees equality and non-discrimination on the basis of gender, and there are several laws that address the issue of VAW. Knowledge of these laws, and their drawbacks, is extremely important for women facing violence, as well as for those who wish to use the law effectively to stop VAW.

Read this interesting article here:

Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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