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India Needs A ‘Swachh Bharat Type’ Movement For Women’s Safety. Yes, Really

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The safety of women in our country is one of the biggest challenges of our times. Despite stringent laws, the situation has not improved. We all need to grasp the fact that the real problem lies in our societal structure and mindset. Sexual harassment, molestation and rape occur in the power matrix and symbolise the deeply rooted patriarchy existing in our society. So, actually, we are in need of a mass movement which transforms the societal structure and the existing orthodox mindset.

This raises a question. Why can’t we have a ‘Surakshit Mahila Abhiyan’ along the lines of the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM)? As per the Quality Council of India’s 2017 survey, we can conclude that the SBM has been a success. When Mr Prime Minister first talked about clean and open defecation free India, it was perceived almost as a complex task. After all, it was all about changing the mindset, old culture and the behavioural pattern of the people.

The current challenge of women safety and security, too, is more of a mindset problem. Whether it’s the mindset of male superiority; the mindset of a man being the protector of a woman; the mindset of objectifying women; the mindset of cursing western culture; the mindset of gender-based discrimination, all these lead to worsening of the situation. It’s the result of these obsolete mindsets that we still think that women can’t protect themselves and always need a man to be protected; that women should not be out after 7 pm as a solution to this problem; that women should not wear short skirts to keep themselves safe; that women should never demonstrate the influence of western culture to keep themselves secure. So with the existing mindset, if we try to find a solution, it only aggravates the situation instead of easing it.

So why can’t we replicate the model of SBM which has already changed the mindset? All the more, SBM, too, has played an important role in ensuring the safety of women by providing toilets to the households. The SBM has been a mass movement. Around 2.5 crore Indians, MPs, MLAs, officials gave Shramdaan to clean public places; Mr President administered the Swachhta pledge to Indians; movie stars, sports personalities, corporations, artists promoting the SBM; youth organisations organizing the mass cleanliness drive, swachhta rallies, essay and painting competitions. The state and district officials are learning from each other’s success stories. This showcases that when the state machinery, local officials and the community come together, then even a miracle can happen.

On a similar line, we can launch the ‘Surakshit Mahila Abhiyan’. The focus must be to turn it into a mass movement. The mass drives can be conducted in schools, colleges, workplaces, rural areas to sensitise both men and women about gender-related issues; to make women aware about how they can register their complaint with police or with the existing redressing mechanism at their workplace; to make police, officials skillful;, NGO people who are in one way or the other a part of the redressal mechanism; to make men aware about those behaviours/actions which might be perceived as unwelcome by the women and the existing punishment provisions for such acts. Why can’t all genders from the community sit together and discuss this problem? This will enhance the male-female interaction, eliminate the existing misunderstandings and provide a sustainable solution. This Abhiyan will act as one such platform. After all, deliberative democracy is our strength.

Why can’t Mr President administer a pledge to men that they will treat women as equals and with dignity? When pledges can discipline people for SBM then they will for sure work in this case too. A constructive competitive spirit can be instilled between various states and districts by ranking them on the basis of the efficiency of the existing redressal mechanism for women, level of compliance with the guideline, overall security eco-system for women. This will help the state and district officials to learn from each other’s success story.

So it’s worth working on the model of ‘Surakshit Mahila Abhiyan’. We are in need of a proactive approach instead of our usual preventive approach. Only a mass movement in this direction, involving both men and women, will usher in a new age of gender equality. We are already failing with our current approach, so there is nothing wrong in giving this a try.’

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Image source: Keshav Singh/ Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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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.

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