By Aditya Gupta:
The increased spotlight on “women’s safety” is personally, and intellectually, very disturbing for me. I work on gender based violence prevention, and I’m one of the creators of an app for personal safety which is also meant to increase the reporting of physical and sexual violence. Our app, Pukar, is often misunderstood as a tool for women’s safety.
What’s wrong with that? Women’s safety is clearly a relevant agenda. True. But let me try and explain why I feel that this is tricky. Think about some of the solutions to women’s safety that we have been coming across lately.
A couple of adolescent village girls in Haryana were molested on their way to school last year. A group of 6 villages got together and discussed that the girls are unsafe on their way to school and something needs to be done. And finally, they decided that the girls should no longer go to school. Safety? Tick.
A very common solution is a list of do’s and don’ts. Some of the most common ones include – “You’re very vulnerable on a street at night (read: don’t go out at night)”; “carry a pepper spray, alarm, stun gun, a man (read: you’re weak and dependent)”; “constantly inform us of where you are, or better still, we’ll call you ten times a day.”
There are various kinds of similar messages and the most powerful and restrictive ones are from the family. How is any of this contributing positively to the woman’s rights? She can’t go out, has to depend on men and weapons, and she has no privacy. But, safety? Tick.
A very well educated IPS officer once proclaimed at a public event, “The measure of a country’s honour is by the safety of its women, and we must, at all costs, ensure it for the empowerment of women.” And that was followed by thunderous applause. But I find this very problematic. If my country’s honour was attached to my safety, people would force me to live my life in a vacuum chamber. And I think that’s happening to a lot of women in India. Women’s empowerment is not about their safety, but their right to choose otherwise. By placing the onus of women’s safety on the whole society and placing it the front and centre as a socio-political agenda, we’ve taken a huge chunk of power away from women. Oh, but safety? Tick.
A friend of mine said this about the Uber rape case – “While it is completely wrong for anyone to get raped, she should have known better than to fall asleep drunk in a cab at night in Delhi”. A lot has been said in the Lok Sabha, in the press, and by various leaders about how women are responsible for exciting violence, so I’ll skip those references here. There is a link here in case you want to read.
In its current form, women’s safety is a moral agenda, not a social one. It’s no wonder that women who experience any sort of assaults are first screened for moral discrepancies before being deemed victims or survivors. The focus of the work is not on promoting women’s sexual rights and agency, or their mobility, but on protecting the honour and dignity of the family, community, village, and country.
The light at the end of the tunnel cannot be just a safe woman; it has to be a free and independent human being with undiluted decision making power.
The article was originally published here.