A few days ago two horrific incidents took place – one in India and the other in Pakistan.
A 21-year-old woman in Haryana who was gang-raped three years ago was gang-raped by the very same perpetrators. They were out on bail. She was targeted because of her caste, she is a Dalit, and for not succumbing to pressure for an out-of-court settlement of the first gang-rape.
Qandeel Baloch in Pakistan was strangled to death by her own brother on July 15th. He had been threatening to harm her for a while as he did not like her posting videos and pictures on social media that challenged gender stereotypes.
Both of these incidents serve to remind us that violence against women and girls is very real in the subcontinent. According to UN Women, globally 1 in 3 women are likely to face some form of sexual assault at least once in their lifetimes. In India, a study conducted in New Delhi in 2012 found that 92 per cent of women reported having experienced some form of sexual violence in public spaces in their lifetime, and 88 per cent of women reported having experienced some form of verbal sexual harassment (including unwelcome comments of a sexual nature, whistling, leering or making obscene gestures) in their lifetime.
Whilst this is a reality and a gross violation of human rights, it is also a fundamental obstacle to achieving gender equality and eradicating global poverty. However, violence can be prevented.
- To begin with, all kinds of violence against women and girls must be deemed unacceptable and severely punished. This must include the entire spectrum of non-verbal, verbal, physical, sexual and emotional abuse and violence.
- Every effort must be made to make people aware of what these different kinds of violence constitute so that there is no excuse for being ignorant about the definition.
- Infrastructure must be put in place to ensure that such violence is reported without fear and dealt with in a speedy manner. This would include reform of the police and judicial processes, sensitisation of all stakeholders and personnel involved in dealing with such cases and support systems like safe houses, one stop crisis centres and medico legal facilities.
- Communities must take an active role in finding local neighbourhood solutions to prevent violence against women and girls and also providing support to the victims.
- Men and boys must take an active role in this issue. Most men may not be perpetrators, but they are often passive bystanders who need to take a stand and be role models of change.
- Education for all women and girls should be made mandatory so that they are given an equal start with their male counterparts.
- Finally, women and girls must be given an equal opportunity to achieve their potential. This would include but not be limited to safe public spaces, safe transportation options, involved decision making at all levels and equal representation.
Eradicating violence against women and girls must be a priority for us if we wish to tap into the huge potential of this group as contributing members of society.
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