Women across the World are better positioned in enjoying great opportunities and freedom in life ever before, thanks to the United Nations (UN) initiated adoption of the Convention of the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) nearly 38 years ago, as well as the Beijing and Cairo conferences and the review of the Millennium Development Goals. It is a peaceful revolution underpinned by an extraordinary transformation of legal rights. Almost every country has signed international conventions signaling their commitment to outlawing discrimination against women. Today, nearly 140 national constitutions specifically guarantee gender equality.
But promising equality, of course, is not the same as delivering it on the ground. Despite numerous strides that women have made in all walks of life and despite universal promises made at the highest levels of government, gender equality largely remains an unfinished agenda for the 21st century. There sadly remains an immense gap between the welcome legal guarantee and everyday life for women. Many girls and women in several countries across the globe still do not have equal opportunities to realise rights and dignity recognised by law, and as a result, they continue to suffer discrimination and all sorts of atrocities in their society.
Take for instance, India continues to be the world’s most dangerous place for women due to high risk of molestation, sexual violence and being forced into slave labour; this is primarily happening because women don’t enjoy equal social status with men in our society, of which tradition and culture consider a woman as a secondary being. Government statistics show reported cases of crime against women rising by 83 per cent between 2007 and 2017, when on an average 106 cases of rape, including gang-rape, were recorded each day. This, despite India signing international conventions and regularly reiterating its commitment to outlawing all sorts of atrocities and discrimination against women.
Every year, thousands of incidents of molestation and sexual assault, including rape of minor girls and even of infants – very often by their own kin and neighbours, go on taking place unabated. Rape of young married women by their fathers-in-law is much more frequent occurrence of late, but for obvious reason, fails to be reported and make the headlines. A large number of incidents of domestic violence and marital rape routinely go unreported and unregistered. Incidents of molestation and rape of housemaids are invariably hushed up through bullying and blackmailing. As a society, Indians choose to not only ignore, but also often actively connive in the perpetration of these crimes.
Lately, cases of molestation and sexual abuse of women and young girls in shelter-homes and even at places of religious worship are shockingly on the rise. The atrocities against women and children are an indicator of the social degeneration of the society that we live in. Such incidents show the true picture of our society’s moral decadence. Disgustingly, urge for sex in some men seems to be so uncontrollably violent that it reduces them to their bestial, animalistic self. How else would one explain the brutality a man inflicts on a woman, or worse, a child he rapes?
Workplace sexual harassment is yet another instance of subtly belittling and causing worst injustice against women. It is a well established fact that sexual harassment at workplace has more to do with a man’s chauvinistic tendency to deliberately humiliate a woman through display of power and control, rather than with his need of sex. Such a situation is evident, at least to a certain extent, in our own families – in the relationship of husband and wife, and even in the relationship of siblings. Indeed, demeaning of women has become a vice in our social life. It conveys superiority men have over women, and thereby perpetuate imbalance of power in the society. He demands what he wants because he thinks he can get it, and more importantly, because he thinks he can get away with it. Such cases, therefore, need to be tackled stringently.
The fact is, incidents of sexual violence against women in India have exceeded all parameters of civilised living. Offenders have become so brazen that they are unmindful of the reprisals. Hence more than anything else, sexual violence against women needs to be seen as psychological problem. The issue is extremely serious and so extremely severe measures are required to be taken in the matter. The imbalance of power is deeply ingrained in our society’s tradition and culture – that’s where the crux of the matter lies: Can the government do something in creating a climate conducive to safety and security of women in the country?
Definitely! In order to give women the social status they deserve, safety and security should be their birthright. The Union government must take a radically different approach by bringing onboard various stakeholders like State Governments and Civil Society organisations in ridding us of the national stigma. The agenda for rooting out atrocities against women must also include police and judicial reforms – crimes against women don’t happen without the active connivance or abject disregard of some basic norms by the police and the judiciary.
Meanwhile, men, who want to step away from being part of the problem, then need to become part of the solution by speaking up, shaming and punishing the pernicious members of our gender. Indeed, men must speak up against those amongst us who are mentally agonising and sexually brutalising women, in order to ensure a better and more equitable tomorrow in our society. The problem needs to be tackled at all levels. Unless this is done, countless innocent girls and women will continue to be discriminated, tormented, molested, raped, tortured and murdered in our country.
(The writer is a freelance journalist)