By Ranjana Das:
As a part of the ‘16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence’ campaign in Odisha by Oxfam India, this year we planned to submit a memorandum to the Governor of Odisha in consultation with the partner organizations on the improper implementation of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA). 16 Days of Activism is a global campaign that started on 25th November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and will continue till 10th December, Human Rights Day. The campaign aims to raise awareness about gender-based violence as a human rights issue at the local, national, regional and international levels.
While we in the Odisha office were reflecting on what all would go into the memorandum as concrete demands, all of us realized that there has been no progress in the state of Odisha in terms of implementation of the PWDVA. Ironically, the memorandum submitted to the Women and Child Development Secretary in 2011 contained the same demands that we were planning to present to the governor this year. The key set of demands still relate to appointment of an independent protection officer, allocation of financial resources and spreading awareness through mass media about the act so that more and more women come to know about it. While the apathy of the government continues, women’s organizations continue to fight the battle in the state.
According to NFHS III, 37% of married women face domestic violence in India and this might be an under reported figure. The official figure is 42% for women in Odisha, however, dowry torture, abuse by alcoholic spouse, abuse due to the preference for a son, abandonment by spouses are some of the lived realities for women in the state. The PWDVA 2005 which came into enforcement in 2006 October came with a promise to ensure a violence free home for every woman in the country. It was radical in defining violence beyond the physical aspects and recognized emotional, economic and sexual violence as well. Not just the wife, but any woman within four walls of a household is assured with legal protection under this law.
Two years later, in 2008, when we at Oxfam India initiated our programme to end violence against women, one of our first interventions was establishing the Women Support Centres (WSC) within the police station to support women facing domestic violence. Today there are 6 Women Support Centres in Odisha relentlessly working to aid distressed women who come here. The centres apart from counselling and other linkage services have been effective in helping women to access the benefits of the PWDVA.
However, delayed and lengthy processes of justice delivery have only rendered disappointment apart from very few cases which received protection and residential orders. Years of efforts by Oxfam India and partners in Odisha, to dialogue with the Department of Women and Child, have yielded few orders to ensure quality services by service providers especially in shelter homes. The progressive piece of law today guarantees least safety to women within increasingly violent domestic sphere and calls for government attention for its proper implementation.
As we plan to knock the door of the State Governor and 15 influential personalities from both Government and civil society during the campaign to talk about domestic violence and the plight of the PWDV Act through a myriad of awareness generation initiatives, we are hopeful to reclaim the attention towards this crime against 50% of the country’s population and advocate to end violence against women. .
The author is programme coordinator, Oxfam India, Bhubaneshwar