Wednesday, November 25, 2009

In denial about gender violence

Swarna Rajagopalan, Gender violence at denial's end, New Indian Express, November 25, 2009

First Published : 25 Nov 2009 12:27:00 AM IST
Last Updated : 25 Nov 2009 01:27:15 AM IST
Today is International Day for Elimination of All Forms of Violence against Women and the beginning of a global fortnight-long period of activism and advocacy for this cause. In spite of the global and policy-level attention to gender violence, at the community level where solutions are to be sought, found and implemented, we are constantly asked: Is this really a problem?
Yes, it is. A very serious problem with very serious consequences.
One-third of the world’s women have experienced battery, coerced sex and other abuse in their lifetime and a frightening 85 per cent of the women, who have experienced sexual violence, have never talked about it. In India, gender violence begins at conception, with the misuse of diagnostic techniques for sex selection. As in other parts of the world, it continues through every life-stage, as child sexual abuse; as human trafficking; as street sexual harassment; as intimate partner violence; as domestic violence and elder abuse.
The silence about gender violence obscures its pervasiveness, and leaves us instead with a society full of traumatised individuals who learn to see violence as acceptable and justifiable. They grow up to hurt others and to accept hurt. They see abuse and sexual violence as punishment, not as violence.
The experience of gender violence cuts across class, caste and community. Yes, poverty and displacement in particular make women, girls and boys singularly vulnerable to exploitation. However, education and economic empowerment alone will not eliminate violence. If this was the case, affluent, educated individuals would neither inflict violence on others, nor would they suffer it silently.
Examples abound. Giving and taking dowry are markers of improved social status. Dowry persecution persists well beyond the wedding to the many life-cycle rituals that dot Indian life. Workplace sexual harassment is experienced both by domestic workers and by senior executives. Domestic violence recognises no income barriers.
When we mention Prajnya’s 16 Days campaign, a lot of women and men feel moved to recount instances of women mistreating men and misusing existing laws. Yes, this happens but perhaps, it is important on this day to restore perspective. How many women, children and sexual minorities suffer when compared to men? The scales are tipped against the former — culturally, economically, socially and politically. How can we disregard the multiple disadvantages they face because of a much smaller number of reverse instances?
‘Gender violence’ takes cognisance of the fact that anyone can experience violence on the basis of gender. It politicises this experience. Violence expresses not desire but the power that one person or group of people have or wish to have over another. It therefore renders irrelevant the ‘these days men are more oppressed’ objection, insisting on a nuanced and thoughtful acceptance that such violence is not episodic and personal but structural and enabled by systemic inequities.
This international observance day and the 16 days of activism that follow it worldwide underscore that it is time to end denial and say ‘no’ to violence.
(The author is managing trustee, Prajnya. The Prajnya 16 Days Campaign against Gender Violence begins today and culminates December 10, 2009.

No comments:

Post a Comment