By Nisha Agrawal:
Today, November 25th, is the International Day for Elimination of Violence against Women and it is time to get serious about ending violence against women and girls. Well, to tell you the truth, many of us are already very serious about this issue and ready to take huge strides towards ending it. But, what is really worrisome, is that this is not a feeling shared by the majority. Global statistics have shown that one in three women worldwide, face violence in some form or the other. In India, according to official data in the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), an alarming 37 percent of married women have faced violence at the hands of their husbands, and this is the data from the year 2005-06. In a recent study done by United National Population Fund (UNFPA) and International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW), six out of ten men have acted violently against their wives or partners at some point of time. These figures are enough to alarm even the ordinary person on the street to actively contribute towards ending violence against women and girls.
Violence against women and girls is a pandemic; let us begin to treat it like one – in political will and actions. That is the starting point.
All of this boils down to the deep-rooted patriarchal perceptions, attitudes and behaviours of men and women alike. Changing this, then, is the ultimate challenge which definitely needs concerted and continuous questioning about existing social norms, again and again over a period of time. The process of change would be slow, given that perceptions have to change before attitudes can. And the most difficult would be behavioural changes, which come spontaneously, in a gender sensitive manner.
The significant gains in the last two years have shown that the picture out there is not so dismal. The media has played a crucial role in highlighting this issue, and continues to do so. Violence against women was identified during the recently held elections as the second biggest issue. The Prime Minister also included it in his speech on the 68th Independence Day this year, questioning parents whether they dare to “ask their son where he is going, why he is going and who are his friends”. He is right – every rapist is somebody’s son, and parents have a role to play in shaping perceptions and attitudes from early childhood. We will have to wait and see how this push is put into action by the government in the months to come.
But at the same time, there is an urgent need for each one of us to have open discussions with our children and young adults, as well as with the established norm setters like religious leaders, on the root causes of violence against women and girls. The change has to happen within us. We really do not need to wait for somebody else to change the situation. It has to be a collaborative effort by all stakeholders – government, civil society, private sector, media, and the ordinary person on the street – to keep the momentum going on this issue.
The dream for me, personally, and for all of us at Oxfam India, is that the 16 Days of Activism (which starts today and goes on till 10th December) will change to 365 Days of Activism for one and all, and this activism will eventually lead to a society where every woman and girl can dream of living a life free of violence.
The author is the CEO of Oxfam India