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Ban On Sex Work And Capital Punishment Of Accused Are Not Reforms That’ll Help Women Feel Safe

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Trigger Warning: Mention of sexual violence

Rapes and acid attacks have been a part of our society for a long time. These evils are talked about vastly on social media. Many NGOs work alongside rape and acid attack survivors and help them regain their confidence in life, while most NGOs ask for justice for these survivors by seeking punishment of the culprits. The whole nation stood shocked by the gang-rape case in Hyderabad, almost seven years after the almost similar and brutal rape and murder of Nirbhaya in Delhi.

Society is stirred by rape cases of Dalit women and the brutality with which the spinal cord of the Hathras rape case’s victim was broken and tongue was slit. Nirbhaya awaited justice for seven years. But what has changed in our society in these seven years? What has changed in the mentality or lifestyle of people? Do people respect women? Have item numbers stopped objectifying Munni or Sheila? Has Bollywood stopped preaching “Ladki ke na mein haan hai (If a girl says no, it means yes).” Or that a stalker wins over the girl at the end?

Do you feel safer at work, on roads or even at your home? Did social media statuses, profile pictures and trending hashtags change the world? No, they didn’t. They never do. Because behind these trending issues, the main causes are ignored and often overlooked. Everyone is talking about the rapists, but then what about the rape? We talk about the availability of acid, but what about the attackers? Why do we need to wait for an acid attack to tale place for the law to take adequate action on the stalker?

Restraining orders or stalking FIRs are not taken seriously even today, and most of our society is clueless about what action they can take against stalkers, except for warning their near ones about it and staying indoors. But is this the solution? Rape is not about lust and sex. Acid attackers do not often regret their method of “teaching her a lesson”. It starts with us, these culprits live among us. It starts with the sexist jokes you laugh at, the eyeing or groping in public you choose to ignore and those stalkers who seem harmless on social media.

Women protesting for justice of Hathras Rape Case

Rape or acid attacks are the ultimate result of something a person learns or grows up knowing from an early age. Be it gender-biased decisions at home where men are not used to the word No, getting what they want or abuse and harassment of their their mothers and grandmothers within the household. All these are part of male dominance over the female.

These rapists are often victims of abuse or assault themselves, or have seen it in close quarters, close enough to feel that the way to establish one’s own power is by oppressing women. Many a times, acid attackers are found to be over-pampered heir of the house, the mard (man) who always has the last say. Their brush with rejection is almost zero, as a result of which, if a girl rejects them or ignores their self-important presence, they feel threatened.

What follows are rapes and acid attacks. Rapists and acid attackers are no different and should be treated at par in this society. Both are a threat to a woman’s body and consent. Male ego has always been that fragile. Historically, many wars have been fought between one man and another over women and property (both being treated as man’s private ownership), and it is a fact that men get their virile character by proving their might and strength. Not to mention those mass suicides women were forced to commit in the name of honour-saving of men, because otherwise, they would be caught, raped or killed, and the enemies would have sex with their corpses.

If you look at it from that perspective, these problems are more psychological than anything else. Consent is an alien word in most part of our society. A child is dictated to follow the elders, nobody asks them for their opinion. More often than not, the dreams and aspirations of parents are forced upon their children. Growing up, most of the decisions forced on them, including the notions of what is right and what is wrong, who is a hero and a villain, affects their thought process and character. They are easily manipulated in most cases since they do not form an opinion of right or wrong on their own.

And when they grow up to become adults, and head of a household, they are used to doing it to others. This is a continuous chain of tradition that is followed in our society. There are people who still feel that a well educated, independent or opinionated woman causes a threat to society. By society, they mean patriarchy, obviously. Hence, most of these women are oppressed and dictated to be ‘controlled’ before they go “out of hand”. They grow up to believe that that is the life they are supposed to live. A child growing up in such an environment is never used to the concept of consent.

To most women, the words of their husbands, fathers and sons are her decisions we well. Hence, when a girl speaks her mind, even fellow women judge her mindset and character. This needs to stop. Women should uplift and work for one another to make society a better place for themselves. Pulling each other down is what is a setback and, like most Indian Prime Time TV shows, the mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law are actually judging each other instead of standing together against patriarchy.

The tiniest of changes can cause bigger impacts for the future generation. Truth be said, given the condition of women safety in the world today, even families who believe in treating their daughter equal to their sons fail to provide them the freedom they give to their sons. This is because of the lack of security that women have to deal with every day in public spaces. In our society, marital rape is often termed as ‘western influence and ‘consensual’, or a common opinion is that prostitutes and escorts are never raped. They are always welcoming a man to have his way.

Most women are not even aware of what marital rape actually is. People normalise dowry as a ‘tradition’ of giving ‘gifts’ and domestic violence as ‘mood swings’ or ‘mistakes’. These need to stop as well. The kanyadaan (giving away of the daughter) tradition of handing a woman over to her husband by her father treats the woman as a property of the males, and not a respected and opinionated individual or even a human being. These may seem like insignificant things, but the roots of these traditions run deep in the minds of our patriarchal society, giving them the ‘right’ to abuse the respect of a woman.

Any man, even your husband, should not be allowed to touch you without your willing consent. Women must realise their rights and voice their opinions, braving the fear of being mistreated or misjudged for being a ‘slut’. As a blogger, I often come across a vast age group of people from different background and traditions. I am shocked by how they speak about the survivors of such incidents with a hint of doubt on their character or their motive, and then call themselves educated and aware.

In many surveys, we see that other women question women survivors of rape cases as well as sexual assaults, attacks and molestation charges. Things irrelevant to an incident such as her working hours, relationship status and sense of clothing sense are questioned. Whom she was with and if she was intoxicated are questioned instead of asking how she ended up being dead. But if a woman dares to accuse a man who is richer or has an influential position, it is the other women who judge the women survivors’ motives and actions.

Every single evil thought in society, such as slut-shaming, body-shaming and questioning movements including feminism or #MeToo or the LGBTQ+ rights movement are all directly or indirectly responsible for the position of women in our society and hence, rapes and acid attacks. Once a rape or acid attack occurs, social media is filled with hashtags and strongly-worded profile pictures. Candle marches flood the streets. Questions are raised on law and order. People ask for capital punishment of the perpetrator.

Sadly, capital punishment is not the solution to this problem. Hanging one rapist doesn’t ensure our safety. We are, as a society, giving birth to many such rapists every single day. Reform is needed in the root of the sickness against women that has struck the society. Children should be made aware of assault and abuse, and taught proper moral value classes. Sex education is important, but so is the education on consent and safety from molestation and harassment.

Neither does a ban on prostitution or porn help. The will of men to dominate arises from these, as claimed by many. If so, then prostitution and pornography should come under surveillance of the government, and not made illegal. Many criminal-minded people are driven to do illegal things more, as it makes their adrenaline rush. You can’t stop them with these bans. What should be done is regulating the area where prostitution is practiced in order to ensure safe sex and regulating content of porn sites and audience who has access to the content.

A law can’t be formed based on one spine chilling case or two. Laws must ensure that a fair trial against the accused is held. Laws must ensure punishment, if found guilty, at the earliest. Sensitive cases of rape or acid attack should have time-bound trials and be given priority so that victims do not face threat or harassment from the accused; in some cases, the accused murder the victim.

Survivors should not find their fight for justice a traumatic experience for themselves. Across the world, there is also another side of rape cases, in which women often falsely accuse men of rape or assault to tarnish their social status and work. It is also an easy means of blackmail. False rape cases often cause a stir and it is important to ensure a trail to prove that an accused is guilty.

Having said that, the long-drawn process in our country can be shortened. There again, our country’s population becomes an issue. The number of police officials and the response time for an emergency can be altered, and helplines and 24×7 escorting services can be made available for women, especially for those who have odd working hours. Girls hostels, PGs or any such places should be well secured with security and cameras.

Highways should be patrolled and kept under vigil. The dark alleys and especially roads where street rogues roam free should be kept in the tab. As much as teaching your children self-defence is important, it is also important to understand that a lone woman under sudden attack by a gang of men will find it hard to defend herself with physical strength. But what is actually needed is to identify and work on the root cause of these problems.

Rapists are not born in a day. In order to bring reforms, one must always ensure that from their very formative years, a child has the basic moral education he needs on consent, assault, abuse, molestation and rape. In a recent article, it was found that a 10-year-old had sexually molested another.

In the formative years of sexual curiosity and raging hormones, it is important to guide young minds to proper light. Alcohol, drugs and other addictions are no excuses to pass on assaults and molestations as mistakes. If you are groped, assaulted or simply catcalled in a public place by a drunk man, many tend to say he is not in his senses. These are just excuses. The same people who don’t come out in support of a girl in public show social media outrage saying that the rapists should be publicly lynched.

If so, why didn’t they open their mouths in the first place when a girl was being harassed in public? We see these cases of public flashing or catcalling so often that we forget that it is not right. It’s not a safe society one would wish to live in if a woman going to work has to skip a heavily crowded bus for the next one for the fear of getting groped. It is worse that she can’t work or study during late hours for the fear of being raped. You neighbour cannot be trusted to babysit your daughter for the fear of assault. Even a wife is not safe with her husband who might decide to take out all his frustration on her wife and rape her.

The change has to begin somewhere. The right questions need to be asked. Reform is long due. You can’t forgive those rapists who kill a four-year-old child. The unnecessary buzz on politics, gender, religion, caste and creed in case of a rape are only making matters worse for society and for us women. We feel violated. We feel unsafe. We feel it is not our home anymore. Give us back our homes, we want to feel safe again.

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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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