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3 Ways Stats On Women’s Safety In India Are Being (Mis)Used

By Buntya:

These days, people are forming opinions based off of the things they read online which often happen to be the comments sections of news articles, Facebook pages and YouTube videos.  Therein lies the problem. These spaces are often populated by vocal and aggressive bigots. It’s a major problem if they start molding public opinion. Often the opinions being formed are on women’s issues.

In this wall of text, I’m hoping to help bring to your attention to what is known to quite a lot of people but is still not that common knowledge – most of what you hear people say on the Internet about how women’s safety is a non-issue in India is based on incredibly lazily analysed stats.

First, a bit about stats

Statistics are thrown around a lot on the Internet to further agendas. The thing is, stats without context don’t tell you anything.

For example, Canada has the one of the highest numbers of kidnappings per capita. But it’s not like Somalia is safer than Canada because a pretty looking graph says so. They take parental disputes over child custody into account when calculating these stats.

A big part of why stats can be misused comes down to how we let our inherent biases come in the way of understanding numbers. And it’s not just the people weak at Mathematics who are guilty of this. This video does an amazing job of showing this phenomenon.

Now that that’s out of the way, I’m going to tackle three misused stats around sexual assault that get thrown around a lot on the Internet by Indian keyboard warriors. Thrown around to deny that women’s safety is a non-issue in a country where, after 9 pm, the sex-ratio on the streets resembles a mechanical engineering department’s.

Misused Statistic Number 1: India’s ‘Rapes Per Capita’ Shows That Women ‘Don’t Have It Bad’ In This Country

The average Internet discussion around how we compare to other countries when it comes to rapes per 1,00,000 people is that we are way below Sweden, USA and the West in general. Well here’s the catch- If you use data of rapes per capita to gauge how easy women have it in a country, you’d end up concluding that countries like Egypt, Syria and Lebanon that rank terribly in Gender Equality Indices are feminist utopias! Their rates are even lower than ours!

I’m pretty sure there will be very few people who would deny that misogyny or women’s safety is a major problem in these countries. And that the problem there is most likely graver than it is in India. This is used by many as a tool to deny that women have it bad here.

So why is our rate low? We have a terrible rate of reporting – comparing NCRB and NFHS data, it is 5.8% when the perpetrator is not a husband and 0.6% when it is the husband.

There’s another thing I’d like to add to this- in India many politicians give out an ultimatum to the police to keep the rate of crime low. The police makes sure that the statistics are favorable by, well, not registering FIRs across all crimes.

Why does Sweden have such a high rate?  It is a combination of higher reporting rates and the fact that, say, if a guy sexually assaults his wife multiple times, it’s counted as mutliple cases there. Elsewhere it would be counted as one.

You see how facts turn around when you delve deeper into stuff that seems so ridiculously unintuitive? Also, a lot of the rapes in the west are date rapes. I think the ‘others’ folder of an Indian girl’s Facebook messages will tell you what kind of dating culture we have.

Misused Statistic Number 2: 70/75% Of Sexual Violence Are ‘False’

Or any such ridiculously high number. Now, it is important to understand the difference between an acquittal and a false case – whatever be the crime. This often cited number on the internet is not the rate of cases being false but the acquittal rate. An acquittal also happens when there is not enough proof against the accused– not necessarily when the accuser is determined to be a liar. And guess what, the acquittal rate for all crimes is approximately the same.

The rate of acquittal for attempted murder for example is 73.4%. That doesn’t mean there is a false murder case epidemic! For all violent crimes in total it is 74.6%, meaning 74.6% of the time the accuser loses the case. For rape it is 72.9%. Keep in mind, for crimes like sexual violence, proof is always going to be tough given their very nature – perpetrators usually commit these crimes when witnesses are not present.

Now here is what I don’t understand. We’ve just established that the acquittal rate for most of the crimes like murder, attempted murder etc. are more or less the same. Reported crimes other than sexual violence grossly outnumber that of sexual violence. Therefore, the total acquittals for crimes other than sexual violence are going to outnumber acquittals for sexual violence. Most of the people acquitted in these other crimes are also men.

If men being acquitted is such a big deal, then it would make more sense to talk about the men who were acquitted in non-sexual violence crimes. Yet they are not talked about at all. It seems to be that men being acquitted of crimes is only worthy of attention if women are the plaintiffs.

Misused Statistic Number 3: Most Of The Rape Cases In Delhi Are False And By ‘Scorned’ Women.

If there was ever an example of how an immensely patriarchal society effects men too, this is it.

The key here is that the word ‘false’ should be replaced with ‘unconventional’ and the phrase ‘scorned women’ should be removed. These false cases that are talked about are predominantly a combination of two things:

1. Parents lodging a case against the guy whom their daughter ran away with and

2. Breaches of promise to marry.

False cases in India which the internet loves talking about mostly don’t fall into the conventional definition of the phrase which means that a woman claimed that the sex was non-consensual while it was.

Think of this – there has to be something unique to our treatment of rape when the alleged percentage of false accusations is much larger than that
claimed by other countries. Countries higher up gender parity reports where you’d expect victim blaming to be less pervasive.

This article analyses rape cases in Delhi’s 6 district courts over a 6-month period. 123 cases in their study were not concluded and that could be because of a range of reasons- the girl might be threatened, might lose hope, might commit suicide, or it could be a false case. Basically, it will be unscientific to comment on them as we have no data.

So, let’s go down to the numbers:

Total number of fully tried cases in Delhi’s 6 district courts in the 6-month period observed by the Hindu: 460. ‘Unconventional’ accusations: 109 (breach of promise to marry) + 174 (cases involving eloped/allegedly eloped couples) = 298. The percentage ‘unconventional’ cases would then be 61.5%.

The girl in almost all cases speaks out in court at least once in favor of the boy and in 2/3rds of the cases she does so consistently. This could indicate that the girl’s parents are not acknowledging her will to marry and infantilising her while doing so.

Let’s talk about breaches of promises to marry – the law. Put yourself in the shoes of a law maker. Laws are decided by them based on societal perceptions. Society places too much importance on whether a woman is a virgin or not. Her ‘value’ in the marriage market apparently drops the moment she loses her virginity. Therefore, they have this law in place to ‘protect’ these women. Now the root cause of this law’s existence is the way women are perceived in society. These laws which place excessive importance on a woman’s chastity infantilise women.

Also, like I said before, if you go by the NFHS data, the FIR filing rate is 5.8% when it comes to sexual assault by people other than husbands. Do the math on what percentage false or ‘unconventional’ cases are of the total number of rapes that are committed.

Others

68,000 married men commit suicide in India as commonly cited on the net. It is incredibly absurd to assume all of them did so because of their wives and make that part of your anti-women rhetoric or because of dowry harassment. 1707 women committed suicide because of dowry harassment in 2014. In the same time, the number of men who did is 19. And when it came to marriage issues, 2934 women committed suicide as opposed to 1075 men. Your entire argument that women are driving Indian men to kill themselves in record numbers is absolutely insane.

And also, a well-documented fact is that across most cultures men commit suicide more often than women but women attempt it moreIndia’s suicide stats are not some magical numbers you can point to to prove your ridiculous arguments that men are the oppressed gender. If anything, give more women financial autonomy and the right to work. Also, if you scratch hard enough you’ll find that the root cause for a lot of these suicides is toxic masculinity and the notion that men cannot be vulnerable. This is well in line with the narrative pushed by women’s rights activists. Because they seek to allow men to be vulnerable.

Also, let’s talk about misandry, since this word is so overused on the internet. Misandry refers to hatred of men. The question is, who is responsible for this?

A common argument made in favor of victim-blaming is that if you put a piece of meat in front of a shark it will naturally try and eat it. Similar to the “boys will be boys” argument you keep hearing. But here you are generalising all men as sharks! You are comparing men to basic carnivorous animals that have no sense of civility. How has the misandry of statements like this escaped notice? Yet you accuse women’s rights activists, whose basic argument centers around the ‘all men aren’t sharks’ narrative. That’s why they say it shouldn’t matter if you are skimpily dressed because being an aggressor is not in and should not be in the nature of anybody.

When you come to think of it, can a case really be made for the fact that women don’t have it bad in this country? Our politicians share opinions with rapists on women’s rights, women are beaten openly on the streets, sex trafficking is rampant and the sex ratio is in shambles. The police certainly don’t seem to be on the side of the survivors. Foreign women travelling through the country have the most harrowing stuff to recount. When one guy does it or a few people do it here and there it can be a case of a few bad apples. But in cases like what I’ve given examples of, the problem has to be societal.

You’re playing into the hands of group of very toxic people by buying into this entire ‘us vs. them’ argument treating human rights as a zero sum game. They use a strong sense of ‘me vs. the world’- it is the oldest trick in the book to rile people up and have people buy into your agenda. Your angst is a result of a successful marketing ploy by people who have to gain from this gender war.

Forming a lazy opinion through the internet is dangerous. People, understand this, please. Remember, we’re all in this together.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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