By Features Editor, Meghna Pant
It is difficult to start a constructive and proactive dialogue on sexual violence because our country makes it nearly impossible for women to speak out. A woman who does speak out is subject to harassment, criticism and, sometimes even, disbelief. She leaves herself open to public scrutiny: she is called names, she is judged for the clothes she wears, the job she does, and the boyfriend she has. Her family is also drawn into this fracas. No wonder then that there’s always been this cloak of silence surrounding sexual molestation. How can we make women talk about sexual violence when it is neither welcome nor pleasant?
Firstly, we need to stop blaming the victim and start shaming the perpetrator. Perhaps the best protection against rape, stalking, and domestic violence is to raise men who both understand that women are different, and would never dare take advantage of this difference. Concerted campaigns that shift the emphasis to address male behaviour rather than female behaviour, like the Vogue Empower series, are crucial. Even if such a shift in mental state does not seem feasible, we have to try.
Technology can be appropriated as a means to ensure greater safety for women, assuming they can access them. There are many sexual harassment apps that help women map abuse, like Safecity and Mapping Sexual Violence. For example, on Mapping Sexual Violence. women can narrate their personal accounts of sexual violence, which they faced at any point in their lives.
Naming culprits on a nationwide database is also a step in the right direction. Location and links to NGOs, lawyers, counselors, etc. can be added on the database, so as to help victims of sexual violence. It would also help to teach people to recognise sexual harassment because many don’t know what constitutes it as such. It is important to educate ourselves about laws and rights and available resources, while understanding how they work and can help.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report for 2013, crimes against women have gone up as compared to total crimes committed during a five-year period – 9.2 percent in 2009 to 11.2 percent in 2013 in Delhi alone. Does this mean that the crime rate against women has gone up or are women reporting crimes much more than they used to? It is the classic chicken and egg debate.
It also throws into light a very simple question: are we women in India ever going to be safe? Can we walk where we want, can we wear what we want, can we afford to take our safety as a fundamental right, as it should be, but is not? Or should we make our peace with the fact that we will always be in danger? That we cannot change our men, our boys? We cannot expect the police or the government to grant us justice? The onus rests with us, within us, and therefore we need to do everything we can to protect ourselves.
Preventing sexual violence. Ending rape culture. Shaping cultural change. It may be over-ambitious and naive. But perhaps it is time for women in India to dream big.
Picture by: Advocate Art