Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Gender Violence & Policy: A Conversation with Policy Makers

One of our aims going into the 2014 Edition of the Prajnya 16 Days Campaign was to facilitate sustainable conversations about Gender Violence that focus on processes over events. For those of us who work in the social sector, this is a common refrain. What it takes to engage in public education and networking to raise awareness and initiate change is a constant and evolving debate and at the face of it, there might not be anything particularly novel about it. However, this year, coupled with our emphasis on individual actions, we have initiated new channels of communication in different spheres and have seen some truly remarkable dialogues emerge. 

Today we organized and took part in an informal forum on Gender Violence and Policy with 12 senior members of the civil services from state and central departments ranging from Land Administration, Forestry, Police, Sarva Siksha Abhiyan and the Pudhu Vaazhvu (New Life) Project to name a few. Career civil servants with immense experience, they had important insights to share about the challenges in policy implementation and the way forward in terms of developing a comprehensive action plan to combat Gender Violence. 

Before the session began, we had emailed the attendees with 4 questions that we thought would be important to reflect on to take the conversation forward.

Q1: In your career as civil servants, have you come across any policy/practice that you feel was particularly effective in tackling gender-based violence? 

Q2: What obstacles and challenges have you encountered in implementing gender-based violence related policies/programmes? 

Q3: Imagine you were asked to draw up a wish-list of steps to tackle gender-based violence at the policy level. What would be the top 3 things on that list? 

Q4: What do you think are the most useful points of intervention between civil society groups and policy?

What emerged was a free wheeling conversation that touched upon everything from workplace sexual harassment and the Vishaka guidelines to harassment, violence and abuse within the home, in educational institutions and in public spaces.

The following are some of the comments, suggestions and ideas that arose:

  • It was placed on record that while India has terrific laws to counter almost every kind of violence (the only serious exceptions to this being marital rape and honour killings) problems with implementation remain. A discussion on how compliance can be ensured followed.
  • Child sexual abuse was an issue that was discussed in detail. It was pointed out that Tamil Nadu is one of the only States to have issued an Executive Order calling for the immediate suspension and dismissal of offenders. If the offender happens to be a teacher, the Order also mandates the withdrawal of the B.Ed qualification. Sexual Violence programmes have been held with teachers across the state and a compendium has been released.
  • It was pointed out that while schools had some kind of monitoring and evaluation mechanism, higher education institutions still largely remain outside the realm of serious scrutiny.
  • The unregulated nature of private sector organizations in terms of women's safety was also raised
  • Many of the speakers pointed out that they often find it difficult to confront acts of Gender-based violence due to the larger politics involved. Almost all of them found it easier to deal with such incidents as individuals and find indirect ways of addressing it  rather than confront them head-on as policy makers.
  • Economic empowerment and poverty alleviation projects such as the Pudhu Vaazhvu Project were seen to have given women decision making abilities within the home and greater financial independence. The need to capitalize on small, incremental changes was stressed.
  • However, the entrenched nature of patriarchal, communal and caste structures were recognized as a serious impediment to progress.
  • It was also noted that the increase in decision making abilities has also left women with a greater responsibility within and outside of the home with little support. Additionally, it was pointed out that when both men and women earn, women's earnings are controlled and audited to a higher extent. 
  • Important questions were raised regarding state-run shelters in terms of both quantity and quality and the need for a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation survey was raised. It was felt that small things such as getting a ration card in one's own name without being hassled or mired in needless bureaucracy would go a long way in easing the barriers that a woman who has chosen to leave her abusive husband might face.
  • The arduous process of deciding to file a complaint and the attached social, economic and emotional consequences for a woman were discussed in detail. Victim blaming was highlighted as an important problem to address.
  • The speakers felt that, at present, there is a lack of clarity on how to tackle GV, what kind of support to provide and how to provide that support.
  • The differences in outlining an individual/departmental implementation of GV policy as opposed to a national, government-wide policy were discussed.
  • Despite the acts and laws that exist, the serious need for sensitization programmes and community engagement to foster a change in attitude was recognized and remained a recurring theme that was reinforced all through the meeting.
  • A suggestion was made that policies should be devised to provide individual and work-place based solutions as well as community based solutions. And the importance of  long-term engagement in sensitization programmes while immediately setting in place systems of prevention, response and deterrence was emphasized. 
  • The meeting concluded with the idea of an ECR Model - 'Educate - Counsel - Reprimand', that would allow attitude changes to go hand in hand with mandatory systems.
We hope that this is the first of many conversations on the long road to an effective national and individual policy for Gender Violence.

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