By Amit Sengupta:
Which place is supposed to be the safest? Many would instantly say- it’s our homes. Yes, absolutely. Which place can be more safe and secure than our homes! But for millions of women and girls in India, this is not true. They face one of the most pervasive forms of abuse within the precincts of their homes.
You may not like to believe this, but facts and figures prove otherwise.
Oxfam publication ‘Ending Violence Against Women: Case for a comprehensive international action plan’ says: “The home is often the most dangerous place for women and many live in daily fear of violence. One in three women will experience physical or sexual violence from men, usually someone known to them, in their lifetime.”
Here are some eye-opening and shocking facts about this silent killer, from the publication.
• Every year, 60 million girls are sexually assaulted either at, or going to and from school.
• Domestic violence is now outlawed in 125 countries but globally, 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not considered a crime.
• Globally, up to 70 % women experience violence in their lifetime.
In India, violence at homes is endemic. Most often it roots from the deeply entrenched patriarchal mindsets, attitudes and beliefs.
“Widespread tolerance towards domestic violence adds to the challenge. The sex ratio, one of the lowest worldwide at 933 girls per 1000 boys in 2011 census, highlights the levels of systemic violence that characterize gender relations in India. In a recent survey across five states, a majority of women and men (72 and 68 percent respectively) felt that a husband was justified in beating his wife for at least one of the following reasons – she refuses to have sex, does not cook properly, is unfaithful or is disrespectful towards her in-laws,” cites the Oxfam India policy brief ‘Protecting Women From Domestic Violence’.
Why does a man hit his wife? Perhaps, the reasons are not too difficult to fathom.
Is it to assert power? Is it to express masculinity? Is it due to the mindset that it is fine for a husband to hit or beat his wife? Or is it because of our patriarchal society that makes it normal for men to think that women are not equal to them? In fact, other than the husband, often the mother-in-law, sister-in-law or other in-laws are also responsible for such cruel and hostile behaviour.
In the month of July this year, I went on a visit to one of India’s centrally located states – Chhattisgarh. Oxfam began its operations in this state in 2013. I accompanied a photographer friend, Srikanth Kolari, to a couple of women’s rights partners’ project areas in a district located not too far from the capital city of Raipur. We were there to hear voices of survivors of gender-based violence. Listening to those experiences shook me, to say the least. I was hearing survivors narrating their stories of how they faced those crimes like witch hunting and a husband beating his wife who was a school teacher.
Why does violence on women and girls take place?
I think the reasons are many and may be one or all of them. While we may know the reason that’s causing violence against women and girls, and more particularly, violence within homes, we are collectively failing to check the menace. Oxfam believes that the elimination of violence against women and girls is essential for realizing gender justice.
This is one of the major reasons why Oxfam is joining hands with the global, national and sub-national community in an effort to reduce the social acceptance of violence against women and girls. Over 2000 organisations in nearly 137 countries have taken part in the ‘16 Days of Activism’ campaign since 1991. Every year, Oxfam and its partners, allies and networks, mark the ‘16 Days of Activism’ with a groundswell of active campaigning in an effort to advocate for ‘ending violence against women’.
For 2014, the international theme for the 16 Days of Activism is “From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Gender-Based Violence!”. While Oxfam recognises that violence against women has many forms, for 2014, we have chosen to focus on ‘violence at homes’.
By the time this blog is published, I will be working with colleagues and campaign partners, similar to previous year, building on our past and existing work in institutions and communities; generating awareness and action throughout these ‘16 days’ to create a demand as a part of our ongoing campaign on gender. During this fortnight, we will work to influence men and women, boys and girls, and take them along in this journey. My colleagues are also campaigning in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha and Chhattisgarh and this is a unique effort to amplify the local and national voices on a globally connected issue.
Let’s break the silence on violence against women and girls!
The author works with policy, research and campaigns, Oxfam India