This year, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (November 25) is particularly significant as violence against women, especially domestic violence, intensified during the pandemic. There is an urgent need to moblilise support to fight against this ‘shadow’ pandemic
Movements to protect women from men’s violence and sexual assault under the banner of Global Feminism/International Women’s Movement paved the way for breaking the ‘culture of silence’ associated with violence against women and generated a tremendous outrage against it across the globe. Be it Argentina’s demand for legalisation of abortion, voice to end to institutionalised sexism in Chile, #NousToutes movement in France or the demand for greater women’s rights in Istanbul, every such movement was an awakening for many to talk about and wipe the dust off the unreported and invisible cases of violence against women and girls. Millions of women have turned up the heat and called for more attention to sexist and sexual violence against women.
Know violence, educate self and others
According to data by the World Health Organization, one-third of women globally experience violence at least once in their lifetime. Physical violence, rape, sexual assault, acid attacks and forced prostitution are the kind of violence we usually consider. But violence goes far beyond that. Isolation from family and friends, continual humiliation, threats against children or being threatened with injury or death, being forced to watch or engage in pornography, stalking, inappropriate advances on social networking sites, offensive sexually explicit messages and many other such acts, that are mostly ignored, also constitute violence. 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 private life, constitutes violence against women.
Apart from general legislation such as Indian Penal Code, 1860, there are several special laws to address and punish assault and criminal force, sexual harassment, voyeurism, stalking, human trafficking, dowry death, domestic violence and rape. Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, protects women from physical, emotional, verbal, sexual and economic abuse within the family and the home. The POSH Act, 2013, addresses cases of sexual harassment at the workplace. The indecent representation of women through advertisements, paintings, figures, writings and other similar displays is prohibited under Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986. Acts such as sending offensive messages, false information, hatred, criminal intimidation through communication services, violation of privacy, spreading obscene and sexually explicit materials electronically are made punishable under the Information Technology Act, 2000. The POCSO Act aims to protect children from offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography.
Despite having legislative, administrative and institutional measures, we still fail to prevent the violence because it is the result of structural, deep-rooted discrimination. There is an imperative need to banish gender stereotypes which condone or perpetuate gender-based violence against women and underpin the structural inequality of women with men.
Building a society that is gender blind, morally strong and stable and organising sensitisation programmes for women and girls for identifying violence, protecting self and others and raising their voice against violence are just some of the steps that need to be actioned in order to tackle misogynistic mindsets and dismantle the patriarchal systems of oppression.
(Dr. Juhi Garg is Deputy Director, Project Shakti, at University of Petroleum and Energy Studies and Jasmeen Kaur is a student at University of Petroleum and Energy Studies)