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Stop This War

It's shameful that violence against women, particularly within the home, is a burning issue even now

By Kamla Bhasin  

 

According to the World Health Organization, one out of every three women in the world is subjected to violence. This means over a billion women and girls suffer violence even after almost 70 years of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Violence against women is the biggest war in the world.

Domestic violence, of course, is the most painful of them all because you are being violated by those who are meant to love, cherish and protect you. This is revealing because it lifts the veil on the ugly side of families, the most revered of institutions, which socializes us and instills values in us. In order to be safe, women are advised not to go out, but the reality is that the family is the most dangerous place for women and girls. In India, 30 to 50 per cent women experience violence at the hands of the men they are married to; this is where sex-selective abortions of girls are planned by son-loving families and greedy clinics, before they can be born, leading to ever-declining sex ratios. Various studies estimate that 40-65 million women and girls are "missing" in India because of neglect, violence, abuse, sex-selective abortions, all of which take place within our families. The maximum number of sex-selective abortions take place among the economically better off states, such as Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Gujarat and Maharashtra, in educated middle-class families.

The main reason for this is the existence of the social system called patriarchy where men are defined as superior to women and given more control over resources, decision-making and ideology. It is supported by most religions. In popular understanding, God is male. If God is He, then automatically he (man) is God.

Marriage as Ownership

The notion of marriage in most societies is that of ownership, not partnership. Hence the use of words like pati, swami, majazi khuda or pati parmeshwar for the man you marry, in South Asia. Even the English word 'husband' does not connote equality. It means controller, manager and domesticator. Remember the word animal husbandry?

Many of our marriage rituals promote the same notion of ownership; hence kanyadaan in the Hindu tradition or 'giving away the bride' amongst Christians. Hindu women touch their husbands' feet immediately after the marriage ritual; many wear signs of marriage like mangal sutra and sindoor, and change their last names and residence. Husbands do none of this. If the man you marry owns you, then he can do what he deems fit.

Another big reason for domestic violence is the fact that most women do not inherit property despite laws that give them this right. Because they do not own property, women are property themselves -- of their father, husband or son. Propertyless and homeless daughters grow up without self-confidence and self-esteem. Therefore, violence against women is not a accident; it is structural or systemic in patriarchal societies.

Daughters are educated and forced to make their marriage work at any cost, even at the cost of their dignity, self-respect and safety. Both natal and marital families are therefore responsible for dowry deaths.

The March of Patriarchy

Campaigns by women's movements and laws opposed to violence against women have encouraged women to talk about and report cases of brutality, even within the home. However, despite these positive changes, violence against women seems to be on the rise. Rapes are becoming more brutal, new forms of atrocities against women such as acid attacks and cyber crimes are increasing, and sex-selective abortions are entering areas and communities where they did not exist. One of the reasons for this, we think, is the omnipresence of capitalist patriarchy. Today, adult and child pornography, Hollywood and Bollywood, TV serials, the beauty and toy industries are billion-dollar businesses. They are all around us 24x7. Most of them promote patriarchal stereotypes of boys and girls, men and women: Women are depicted merely as bodies and objects of sex. Men and boys are shown as aggressive, dabang, badtameez, supermen.

Women and their organizations have been challenging patriarchy and violence for decades, because they know how damaging these are for families, children and societies. It is time for boys and men to understand the damage patriarchy is doing to them. They need to realize that it is shoving them into tight male stereotypes, pushing them into certain roles, attitudes and behavioural patterns, depriving them of freedom and choices. By saying 'boys don't cry', patriarchy is depriving them of emotional intelligence. By saying 'boys will be boys', patriarchy is giving them the licence to commit all sorts of crimes.

Of course, no man is born violent. Patriarchy socializes them to be aggressive, violent, self-centred and macho. Boys are given toy guns to play with almost as soon as they are born. With this kind of socialization, even male political leaders, judges and the police have the same mindset and they are not able to protect and promote gender equality.

Men as Fellow Travellers

The good news is that in many countries of the world, including India, men have started organizing themselves to talk about these issues, to accept that violence against women and gender equality are also men's issues and they need to take responsibility. Networks and campaigns like the White Ribbon Campaign, MenEngage and Ek Saath are urging men to not remain bystanders but to take action to challenge violent men.

If the institution of marriage is to be saved and the family made safer for women and children, this scourge of domestic and public violence needs to be stopped. Patriarchy, which is against every tenet of equality, must be challenged and removed by both men and women. Only then will we have families that are democratic and loving, where every member feels safe and blossoms with dignity and self-esteem.

One of India's foremost feminist activists, Kamla Bhasin is also a social scientist, poet and author. She has worked extensively with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and is currently advisor, Sangat, co-president of PeaceWomen Across the Globe, and South Asia coordinator, One Billion Rising.

A Blinding Spectrum of Violence
Crimes against women in India in 2015. Do remember, there are vast numbers of unreported cases.

 

  • 3,27,394: Reported cases of crimes against women
  • 1,30,195 Reported cases of sexual offences
  • 34,651: Rape; in 95.5% cases the offenders knew the victims
  • 557: Incest rape; 54.5% were children
  • 7,634: Dowry deaths
  • 1,13,403: Cruelty by husband or his relatives
  • 59,277: Kidnapping and abduction
  • 82,422: Cases of assault on women with intent to outrage their modesty
  • 4,060: Abetment of suicide
  • 461: Cases of Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005
  • 97: Foeticide
  • 3,087: Procuration of minor girls
  • 8,390: Assault on women (girl children) with intent to outrage their modesty
Source: Crime in India 2015, National Crime Records Bureau

 

 

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