Violence against women

All people deserve to feel safe and respected at work, in education, in the home and in public space.
"Too often we forget that violence is a non-communicable disease that kills millions while effecting the physical and mental health of all those involved." [Representational Image]
"Too often we forget that violence is a non-communicable disease that kills millions while effecting the physical and mental health of all those involved." [Representational Image]File

The rising incidents of domestic violence and sexual harassment against women have received resurgence in attention. Hashtag and allied movements prompted, and in some places renewed awareness of issues, emphasizing the need for action.

While we have heard many things about the issue, it is hard to know what is true and what the broader data tell us about gender-based violence and wider forms of harassment and violence. What do we know? What don’t we know? What do we need to know?

While much of 2021 and 2022 has been spent dealing with COVID-19 around the world. It’s important to remember that violence against women is also a pandemic. Too often we forget that violence is a non-communicable disease that kills millions while effecting the physical and mental health of all those involved.

#MeToo showed us just how many people are affected by harassment, abuse, assault and rape. But what are these things? How do they manifest? Why are they so prevalent? You will have heard the phrase, gender-based violence.

This is an umbrella term that includes a range of behaviours, including sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment, violence and harassment that is psychological and/or physical, and financial abuse. It can happen as a one-off or as an ongoing pattern of behaviour.

It is rooted in gender inequality and unequal power. This means around the world, women are often vulnerable to gender based violence. While it can leave women in a position where they are disproportionately exposed to violence and harassment, including sexual exploitation and domestic abuse.

While men and non-binary individuals highlighted abuse and experiences of harassment, the disproportionate effect on women was a clear emergence in the social media space.

We know that around one third of all women worldwide report that they have experienced some form of gender-based violence in their lifetimes.

This number is likely an underestimation and notably there are significant variations in the data based on country, which links to social and cultural factors around reporting, as much as actual perceptions of violence and harassment themselves.

This is a global and pervasive problem which requires global solutions, not all victims of harassment, violence, and sex discrimination, are by any means those who identify as women. But those who do identify as women, experienced disproportionately the effects of the current culture. It’s time to address the culture, make changes and do something.

Domestic violence and sexual harassment is something that states are required to take seriously, as a matter of international law. These issues are explicitly referenced in the United Nations, Sustainable Development Goal 5 on achieving gender equality.

Sexual harassment in the workplace and educational settings are also firmly established in international human rights law as a form of violence against women that states, obligated to prevent address and eliminate.

We know not all of those who experience harassment and violence are women, as we’ve said about the disproportionate effect has made this human rights issue that has serious implications for gender equity.

A state that fails to address issues of violence against women, particularly in the workplace and domestic setting, may violate the person’s rights to non-discrimination, to personal security and bodily integrity, and to just and favourable conditions of work among other rights.

Notably obligations extend from the school room and not just to adults. The General Recommendations of UN CEDAW Convention states that  governments have an obligation to “respond to cases of violence against girls and women in educational institutions through confidential and independent reporting mechanisms, effective investigations, criminal prosecutions where appropriate and the adequate punishment of perpetrators and by providing services for victims and survivors”.

And what I think is critical to know is that being free from sexual harassment and discrimination on the basis of sex, gender-based violence are all supported by international law and international bodies. Human rights law demands cultural change as well as law reforms. This is action we can all support and there are things we can all do.

All people deserve to feel safe and respected at work, in education, in the home and in public space. A lot of past attempts to address domestic violence and sexual harassment, and discrimination focused on perpetrators and correcting their behaviour.

Bystander approaches, however, seek to move us forward from that approach. Increasing our sense of responsibility for intervening by making us feel more competent in responding and modelling good behaviour. We become allies, not just defenders.

Quite notably, we also help avoid victim-blaming and the responsibilisation of victims by taking some of that burden on for action. So what do we know about getting us to act, about overcoming the apathy and barriers to action we’ve just discussed?

By knowing more about gender-based violence, discrimination, and harassment more widely, we can spot that poor behaviour and know it’s an issue. One place where a lot of us do continue to struggle though, is the online environment.

The rapid proliferation of online social sites for interacting has given rise to several poor behaviours including new forms of stalking, abuse, harassment, bullying, micro-aggressions and even image-based sexual violence.

As we gain new technologies and new interactive spaces, social norms can sometimes be hard to work out and sometimes new activities we know feel wrong, we just don’t know what the norm is.

We don’t know how to respond yet. It’s very critical for us all to engage with good online social conduct and to identify online social spaces as intervention opportunities too.

It’s become a cliché, to point out that not all men treat women badly, and of course it’s true. That doesn’t mean that people who mean well would inadvertently cause harms and distress to others.

We hope you too see this as a learning journey, constantly updating your skills, reflecting on what you do and don’t do, and teaching others you encounter to be active bystanders themselves, modelling good behaviour more widely.

We hope to empower you, and for you to empower other everyday people to create safe and welcoming environments for all.

The data of NCRB Bureau shows that the violence against women is high in India. Dowry deaths are high in the states of UP, Bihar, Haryana, Jharkhnad and Orrisa.

Cruelty against women by husband and or by her other relatives are high in the states of Rajasthan, Telangana, West Bengal. Assam, and Andra Pradesh. In Jammu and Kashmir, only 5 cases per 100000 women in terms of dowry death and cruelty by husband have been reported.

The annual reports of National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) under four domestic violence crime-headings-cruelty by husband or his relatives, dowry death, abetment to suicide, and protection of women against domestic violence states that rate of reported cases of cruelty by husband or relatives in India was 28.3 in 2018, an increase of 53% from 2001. State-level variations in this rate ranged from 0.5 to 113.7 in 2018.

Shabir Ahmad is a UPSC aspirant from Raiyar Doodhpathri & writes regularly for GK.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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