Sexual Violence: An Unstoppable Virus

Turn on your internet and Google ‘rape cases’ or ‘rape news’ in India, spend a few minutes and read out some of the incidents. Then, spend some more time asking yourself what you feel. How do you react? Does it affect you? If yes, then how? Does this bother you? If yes, then how and what do you do? Let me put below some of the incidents of rapes:

(News source: Google)

A few brutal incidents of rape took place on Nirbhaya’s 6th anniversary itself. A 3-year-old girl was raped brutally in the National Capital itself. In another incident, a 5-year-old was raped in Assam. Has anything changed? Yes, the numbers have drastically gone up. We all are well aware of the brutal and heinous incident that took place on 16 December 2012, in Delhi. There was anger, agitation and demand for justice. However, it’s been 6 years and has anything changed? After 6 years of one of the most brutal and heinous crimes, if the situation still hasn’t changed, then there is something utterly wrong with us. It’s not just those rapists indulged in that heinous crime. We too have been criminals in some ways. Hanging isn’t the solution except if we all have to be hanged. If it is the solution then we all should hang each other because we all have been playing a criminal role in some or other way. If you feel offensive when I say ‘we and us” then count yourself as you are in. Despite many wake up calls, we tend to sleep, not understand, and ignore the complicity of our own. Thus we have to ask who are we and what are we? I would prefer to call ‘Criminals’ and that’s what we are.

Rape is a human-made virus and we have failed to create an anti-virus that can deal with it. I know the topic that I am writing about is no longer a thrilling one. A lot has already been talked, written and debated about. A lot of work has been done, laws were made and amended, enforcement agencies were put in place. Has anything changed? There is not a single day when we don’t come across news around rapes, molestation and harassment. Those who commit such crime aren’t a few, they are many in numbers. So, firstly we need to acknowledge that if something like this is happening on a regular basis, many men are indulging in such crimes, which is a huge concern. Hence, as human beings, we need to be bothered and concerned. We need to ask so many questions to ourselves, questions like: What makes men commit such crimes? Why do men beat women? Why do men abuse women verbally, emotionally, financially, physically and sexually? What’s going on with so many men? Why do so many adult men sexually abuse little girls? Why do men feel they are entitled to control women and their bodies? Why is that still a common problem in our society? Why so many men rape women? What’s wrong with men?

I personally feel sorry, ashamed and extremely angry every time I come across any case of rape or sexual violence. It deeply bothers me and often doesn’t let me sleep. I try to do my bit and be part of the solution. My attempt of writing this is one of the ways to be a part of the solution and doing my bit to bring a change in any way I can. I want to draw everyone’s attention towards issues of gender-based violence and our understanding and attitude towards it.

Why have we failed to deal with sexual violence?

We have been failed because what majority of people consider as solutions are actually problems and encourage such violence even further to happen and that’s exactly what we have been doing. Just think of some of the popular and prevalent arguments that are given when a woman gets raped or get molested. Let’s mull over some of those popular reason given by so many people:

Short clothes and women’s attire

This is one of the popular and prevalent reasons given by many people including our politicians and many so-called educated persons. But this given reason itself is fundamentally irrational and problematic for plenty of reasons. Firstly it gives the rapists and molesters an excuse for their inhuman and obnoxious behaviour and a reason to get away with it. It also conveys the very negative and wrong message to the common masses and those who are potential molesters and rapists. Thus, the dominant group does not pay attention and the society starts blaming survivors for women’s choices, what they are doing, thinking, wearing and maybe even existing. And this is not going to prevent violence at all. If someone’s clothes provoke someone to the extent that that person can molest or rape a woman, then the problem is not with the attire but with the person who molested or raped. The problem is with his upbringing and socialisation. The problem is with each and everyone including several institutions who created this virus and persevered it in so many ways. The problem is with the society which failed to raise boys to become decent human beings. There are endless incidents where women wear so-called cultured and well-covered clothes but they have to go through humiliation and abuse. It is the men and boys who need to be taught not to behave in a toxic and hypermuscular way, not women. It is the mentality and the patriarchal mindset that desperately need to be changed, not the clothes or women’s attire. Don’t assume that girls who dress the way they want to, deserve to be harassed.

Associating women with purity and shame (Izzat)

We have failed because whenever such an incident takes place, it is often said that the woman has lost her dignity (aurat ki izzat chali gayi). Whereas it the molester and rapist whose dignity should be lost and dethroned. We often tend to hide many incidences of sexual violence and sexual misconduct in the name of women’s dignity and promote the crimes, weakening the survivors through every means. Women’s dignity is also attached to the family’s dignity. A man maintaining the relationship with multiple women, or a boy who has girlfriends is considered to be a stud and the real man. On the other hand, if a woman does the same, she becomes characterless, impure and what not. There are also institutions in our society, like religious culture, sports culture, family structure, socialisation of girls and boys, that are encouraging abuse by men.

Not believing survivors of sexual assault

We have been failed because we have mainly given the perpetrators the benefit of the doubts. There has lots been said why it is utmost important to believe a survivor of sexual assault in the first place. There could be an investigation and all but first, we need to listen to them. Centuries of the patriarchy has created a system which has made women so much vulnerable in so many ways. If we keep putting examples of a few false cases of sexual assaults to justify the rest of the incidents of sexual assault, then this is not just illogical but insane and inhuman in so many ways. We don’t need to defend our collective male-privilege and patriarchy rather we need to lose it.

How to recognize some of the initial symptoms that could be potential causes of sexual violence

• If there is unequal treatment between boys and girls.

• If a man believes he is stronger, more powerful and more capable than women.

• If girls are conditioned by a man to believe that their character can be questioned on account of their clothes or behavioural conduct.

• If boys don’t understand consent.

• If a man doesn’t acknowledge his male-privilege and doesn’t care to lose it in order to create a gender-balanced society.

• If he carries a strong and aggressive muscular pride.

If we really want to bring some functional changes, we need to change our mindset and attitude. We need to reverse our thinking. And to let this happen, we need a social and cultural paradigm shift in our attitudes. It is of utmost importance to understand, get sensitized and speak up before such crimes take place, not only after the crime is done. We don’t need to wait for a big and heinous incident to happen in order to start teaching our boys the language of equality and respect, so that they can become good and decent men once they grow up.

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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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