Violence Against Women – How much have we changed “culturally”? [Part 1]

Posted on July 22, 2010 in Society

Part 1 By Avani Bansal:

“After considering the historic page and viewing the living world with anxious solicitude, the most melancholic emotions of sorrowful indignation have depressed my spirits, and I have sighed when obliged to confess that either nature has made a great difference between man and man or that the civilization which has hitherto taken place in the world has been very partial”

These words of Mary Wollstonecraft truly represent my feelings on the topic.

From prehistoric times of reigning queens to the modern day Parliamentarians, women have travelled a long way. But leaving apart a very handful of the city-dwellers, life continues to be a trauma for most of the women till date. Everything possible is being done, but things do not seem to be changing fundamentally, or even if it does, at an abysmal pace. This naturally forces me to question — whether violence against women has becomes quintessential to our culture. My inquiry is only limited to yes or no and does not at this point dwelve into the whys and hows.

Existence has been kind enough to me for I am one of those privileged few, who are standing at a very crucial juncture – for when I look back I see the struggle of all those women who came before me and fought for women’s right to self-expression and a dignified human life and there is  a feeling of exuberance and thankfulness that has engulfed my heart for had they  not been I would not have been here.

But I choose to fix my eyes at the colossal task that lies ahead for the baton has been passed and now it lies in my hands and all the women of my generation to regain the lost human status of womankind.

So dear friends I start with posing  a question – Is woman human? Absurd as it might sound, it would be childish to relegate it to that status without pondering enough. Why this basic question? When turning the pages of  innumerable books for preparing for this article, I went through what is called an information overload….of the laws and treaties that have existed for years heralding equal status of women in the society. This was followed by those figures that screamed of the ground reality and the gross violation of these laws and spoke of the unimaginable violence that is thrust on women all across the globe without an exception. And then I thought perhaps even after years of women’s movement their condition is deplorable and the reason perhaps is that this male-dominated society never in its true sense considered woman as human. Beginning with Eve who is considered to have originated from Adam’s ribs, women have been considered as creatures who can loiter life away merely employed to adorn her person, that she may amuse the languid hours, and soften the cares of a fellow-creature who is willing to be enlivened by her smiles and tricks, when the serious business of life is over.

So before we can begin any discussion a realisation of her indispensable human nature is the first step. Does any intellectual present there holds a different view?

Well then we proceed..

Meaning of ‘violence against women’ and various legal protections-

Being a law student I am expected to first apprise you of  human rights and various laws and that exist for protection of the ‘fair sex’ from the clutches of not so fair sex!! And even more importantly the meaning of the term ‘violence against women’.

The UN Commission on the Status of Women defines ‘violence against women’ as “ any act of gender based violence that results in, or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether in public or private life.”

The acts of violence range from battering assault, rape, female infanticide, female foeticide, dowry deaths, prostitution, trafficking, women being beaten in the suburbs, arrest of women searching their husbands and children, sexual assault of refugee and displaced women, abuses against women in custody, domestic violence, abuses against women workers and the list goes on..

The human rights can be traced back to the Magna Carta (1215 AD), the petition of rights (1627 AD) and the Bill of Rights (1688) in the UK. The Declaration of Rights of Man (1789) by the French national Assembly influenced the framing of the constitution of the USA and in the 19th century these rights became the basic principles of the Constitutional Law of modern civilized states.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights created in 1948 as an international body of laws, was meant to protect the integrity and and dignity of human beings. Those laws together with the 1979 Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against   Women have been pivotal in the affirmation and implementation of human rights. Article 5 of this convention seeks to eliminate stereotyped roles for men and women and to ensure that family education teaches that both men and women share a common role in raising children. Article 10, dealing with education, reiterates the same idea. Article 11 calls for maternity leave and “social services to enable parents to combine family obligations with work responsibilities.”

The Indian Constitution not only prohibits the State from discrimination against any citizen on grounds of sex but it at the same time empowers the State to make special provisions for the well being of women . Art. 15 provides that there shall be no discrimination on grounds of religion, race, sex, place of birth, caste. Art 16 deals with equality of opportunity in ‘public employment’. Further the Indian Constitution lays down Directive Principles of State Policy, wherein specific provisions to ensure the rights of women have been incorporated. Articles 38, 39, 42 and 44 have  a bearing on this aspect. Then there is a host of Acts passed for the benefit of women- Maternity Benefit Act ( 1961), equal renumeration act (1976), The immoral traffic ( prevention) act (1956), the dowry prohibition act (1961) etc to name a few.

A cursory glance of these laws fill my heart with exuberance but just a glance outside the window and the happiness melts away giving way to deep rage. These laws have proved themselves as ineffective in fighting the menace. I can go on to cite  various suggestions in order to improve the situation  that adorn the books and finish the task allocated to me. But I was surprised to see that most of the writers who have written on this topic ended up reiterating the dismal picture, citing figures giving credibility to what they were saying, mentioning various legal provisions provided for women’s protection and giving  a juicy conclusion. But in my view it is our reluctance to go to further depths in order to find out the roots of the problem that even today half of the world population suffers in silence. Hence it is time to explore those underlying assumptions of the society that work to develop this chasm between the two genders and have become so ingrained in the system that they are very rarely brought under scrutiny.

Read part 2 here.