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It’s High Time We End The Normalisation Of Violence Against Women

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Domestic violence (DV) means any violence in a relationship, whether it is physical, verbal, sexual, mental, or economical, in order to harass an individual and hurt their dignity. In India, DV is seen as a kind of ‘relation maker’ which we justify as “aise hi to rishte majbut bante hai” (this is what makes relationships stronger). The normalisation of domestic violence can be said to be as dangerous as the crime itself.

Society starts grooming women from childhood on how to be quiet and bear the pain rather teaching the men how to behave with women. Indian society is at war with its own women. The practices which culturally sanctioned the degradation of women through Sati pratha were implemented from time-to-time.

The fact is that patriarchy thrives by normalising these instances of violence. Image credit: Aasawari Kulkarni/Feminism In India

Society had developed different means to suppress women: traditionally – by showing the fear of God; economically – making her dependent on the men; politically – by not giving rights to women. And, if these barriers didn’t stop women then the ‘Bramashtra’ of social exclusion was used which, in turn, stagnated the development of women throughout history.

A recent report by the Thomson Reuters Foundation cites India as the most dangerous country for women, but there is also a 2014 study in The Lancet which reports that “although the reported sexual violence rate in India is among the lowest in the world, the large population of India means that the violence affects 27.5 million women over their lifetimes.”

Our own National Family Health Survey (NFHS) data indicates that 30% of women have faced abuse at some point in their lives. The statistics may have increased in 2020, which can be assumed by one, seeing the daily cases of violence against women. There has always been an increase in the rate of crime against women, and this happens due to the ignorance and justification given by the stakeholders of our society.

Patriarchy And Women

India is a patriarchal society which has treated women as a secondary to men. In our society, women are seen as a burden or as ‘bringing bad luck’ to the family. The sex-selective abortion was a typical scenario a decade back, but the one who survived through it have also been dominated, subjugated, harassed.

This has led to instances of domestic violence, rape, dowry deaths, ‘honour killing’ and lack of education among women. The deep-rooted patriarchy is exposed when it allows men to dominate women. To stand up against injustice, one needs to be bold and vocal, but, our society teaches girls how to talk, how to laugh softly. You might have heard “dheere bolo” (talk softly) or “mardo ke beech mein tumhara kya kaam hai” (what’s your business between the men?) This shows society has not given women their right to speech which our Constitution guarantees.

The data from National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-4 (2015-2016) reports that 52% of women surveyed believe it’s reasonable for a husband to beat his wife and 42% of men agreed to it. This shows that society mould women to accept such violence as their fortune. The parents teach girls how to behave, from their childhood to when they are married.

Representative image.

Society has cast the survivors of domestic violence as if they have contributed to it. Society labels women as “aurat hi aurat ki dushman hai” (Women are women’s enemies), which adds to the misery. This becomes possible due to constant ‘propaganda’ against women. Women are shamed for the way they dress, judged for their lifestyle and ‘accuse’ them for being ‘friendly’, which invited trouble.

The problem is, we have not created spaces for women where they can be independent. I have heard, many times, my mom saying that she will not bear the violence next time, but she keeps quiet—as she knows that she is dependent on her partner. We have underestimated the patriarchy in creating violence within our family.

The fact is that patriarchy thrives by normalising these instances of violence.

Women And The Indian Media

The media has been the greatest tool used for development throughout history. In modern days, this very tool has been used to seemingly exploit women. Indian cinema is one such dominant media which reflects our society—as masses identify with them. Truth is cinema does not show the reality of society; it shows what the people want.

Movies portray human life as black and white with no grey areas. Most movies are based on women’s issues and a hero who ‘saves her’ making it a super hit. If a plot is changed and women are portrayed as heroes, it fails. Men always see themselves as ‘saviours’ of women. The cinema has further supported this by making women the sidekicks.

The cinema influences social attitude. When it shows the hero impressing a girl by stalking her and insisting despite her lack of interest, it fails to show that the girl’s consent is important. It is as essential as the desire of the man. Cinema shows a deceptive reality and promotes serious offences like stalking, abduction and even harassment in the name of romance.

The media has an important role in empowering women, but it seems that they have failed to bring gender equality within its own ambit.

Unlike cinema, TV serials are ‘women-centric’. They show women’s issues but in an entirely different manner. They are quite similar to cinema as they have a good wife who saves everyone in her family from an evil woman. Supporting the stereotype “aurat hi aurat ki dushman hai”.

Apart from this, the media has an important role in empowering women, but it seems that they have failed to bring gender equality within its own ambit. The discrimination can be seen starting from who will cover the event to who decides what will be published. Perhaps trying to convey that women can only play softer roles. You will hardly see any women in the boardrooms where most decisions take place. Therefore, the issues of women are never highlighted like they need to be. It seems that the media just uses women as a decorative part to lure the audience and earn TRPs.

Women And The Indian Government

Post-independence, the Constitution gave women their rights, but the successive government repeatedly failed to actually provide it to the last woman in the society. Without going deeper into the past, if we talk about our current government’s success towards women empowerment, it clearly shows there are a lot of things yet to be done. The BJP-led NDA government has launched Beti Bacho, Beti Padhao in 2014 to improve the child sex ratio.

According to the data, 56% of the funds allocated from 2014-15 to 2018-19 were just spent on advertisement. This shows the government’s contribution towards women empowerment. Nearly 50% of the members of Parliament have a disclosed record of criminal charges against them, including members facing charges on serious crimes against women. So, by electing such candidates, society promotes sexism, which in the end, belittles violence against women.

National Family Health Survey (NFHS) data indicates that 30% of women have faced abuse at some point in their lives.

Progressive laws exist like the Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA), but, it only provides civil remedies to the survivor and that too stings the men’s right groups. They want it repealed on the basis that it is being misused.

There is little evidence to support their case and suggest it’s being misused. But, there are lakhs of cases which show the cruelty that women have to face.

So, to empower women as leaders and to eradicate gender violence, it is important that they are given the decision making powers. Women need access to education, training, skills to be independent, as dependency brings violence to them.
men should be trained first to make sure that they respect women’s dignity.

More women’s rights-based groups should be established for the protection of women. The powerful and positive role that society can play in empowering women must be supported and further explored to put an end to the normalisation of domestic violence.

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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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