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Addressing Gender-based Violence And Ascertaining Actionable Solutions

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By Dr Simi Mehta and Anshula Mehta, Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI)

According to the National Crime Bureau Records Data 2020, there is an over 100% increase in the incidences of gender-based violence from March 2020 to May 2020. Lockdown has restricted the mobility which has made the so-called “safety nests of women” a sphere of fear and anxiety. Keeping this in the background, Gender Impact Studies Centre (GISC), Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI) in association with GenDev Centre for Research and Innovation organised a panel discussion on
Addressing Gender-Based Violence: Ascertaining Actionable Solutions.

Dr Simi Mehta, CEO and Editorial Director, IMPRI introduced the topic and said that domestic violence against women has increased many folds across the globe during the ongoing pandemic as well as India. The countries have been adopting many new methods and initiatives to reduce rising cases.

Prof Govind Kelkar, Chairperson, Gender Impact Studies Centre, IMPRI; Executive Director, GenDev Centre for Research and Innovation stated that vulnerable, lack of resources and un-freedom situation of women are the main causes of domestic violence against women. She highlighted six key pointers of the discussions:

  • The central role of women in the post-COVID-19 period;
  • Economic and financial empowerment of women leads to the reduction of violence against women;
  • Women’s autonomy and agency such as the right to land and other resources;
  • Failure of the 2005 domestic violence law to protect the dignity of women;
  • The recognition of women’s unpaid and domestic work, and
  • The redistribution of care work among the household members

In the time of COVID-19, the violence against women as the main cause of frustration of men owing to his job losses and inability of women to address the household issues should not be tolerated. It is the duty of the various stakeholders to protect women from any form of violence in society. She viewed that the government has not properly addressed the fundamentals of patriarchy and power relation within the household and the concept of head of household needs to be dissolved. The privileged given to men as head of the house is no longer needed in today’s world. She also stated that the financial assets of women and their earning should be recognized.

Ms Aya Matsuura, Gender Specialist, ILO Decent Work Team for South Asia in New Delhi stated that Convention 190 has been introduced in the general conference of the ILO, which acknowledged violence and harassment against women in the world of work. This covers all forms of works and employees and urges national governments to adopt it. She also suggested that employers to extend protection to women against violence as new convention also covers travel to work and work from home, which has become new normal for employees.

She also stated that protection of women against cyberbullying and any other physical violence and verbal abuse such as beating, yelling etc. should not be tolerated and giving respect to each other in the families is equally important too. She emphasized on promoting the sharing the household responsibilities and investing in institutional mechanisms and technology-driven solution to reduce the care work. She also said that most of the South Asian countries have laws but lack human resource for better implementation.

Child Care economy should generate jobs and should not be recognized as unpaid care jobs. The investment in the care economy and making it an economic sector is the need of the hour. Home is the new workplace in the current scenario and hence, investment in the care economy is essential.  She stated that instead of adding problems to the victims by displacing them from their homes, it is important to put the abusers behind bars and let the victims have shelter as evident in Australia.

Dr Indu Prakash Singh, Facilitator, CityMakers Mission International, Mentor, IMPRI, discussed various ground stories and cited a case of a girl beaten by her father and she didn’t even want to complain to authorities because of the fear her father might give her after complaint. He also mentioned nothing can be justified against violence against women, and it is the right of the victims to complain. He suggested that with a robust system we can intervene immediately if one needs any assistance or help. He stated that police are considered as a threat for women when they go for the complaint.  He claimed that the prestige of the family is of utmost importance in a patriarchal society and needs to be changed.

Ms Poonam Kathuria, Director, Society for Women’s Action and Training Initiative (SWATI) presented the findings of a study by interviewing 3000 women across several states in India. She argued that frequency of violence has gone up during lockdown and every 10 minutes a call was received by the police helpline number.

She stated that to combat domestic violence mobile phone allowances should be given to the helpline staff, which can provide the tele-counselling to the victims. According to Ms Kathuria, we can engage with women collective and gram panchayats in rural areas to reach the victims. Ms Kathuria stated that survey finding shows hospital-based facilities are the major help in identifying the victims in some states such as Bihar, Gujarat and Mumbai.

Further, she has suggested that the Prime Minister should address this issue in his ‘Mann Ki Baat’. She also suggested that the cases in courts should be expedited and police protection should be given to victims. Taskforces can be set up at the National, State and District level for monitoring the services. Ending on the positive note, she thanked the police forces and front-line health workers working tirelessly and selflessly in the uncertain times. Recognising the women in rural who are title as Mahila Kisani in some places and where women’s work should be appreciated and recognised.

Dr Sanghamitra Dhar, Consultant, Ending Violence against Women Unit, UN Women stated that domestic violence is not a new phenomenon. She said that the increase in a number of reporting cases of domestic violence has gone up covid-19 lockdown period.  Dr Dhar stated that the violence cases and implementation of laws differ across the regions in India.   She elaborated that to reduce the cases of violence we have to consider all aspects of life and only the financial up-liftmen would be not enough, which is, of course, one of the key indicators.

Ms Urvashi Prasad, Public Policy Specialist, Office of Vice Chairman, NITI Aayog stated that there is a need for a dynamic database with central monitoring system, which can regularly monitor the actions of all the states. This will make policies more responsive and highlighted how legislations are not backed by adequate human resource for their implementation.

Ms Prasad expressed that cyberspace harassment which is a new type of bullying and needs to be addressed. The police and other stakeholders should be trained on how to tackle these new emerging threats. She also expressed her concern about the increasing mental health problem among young women and emphasized that there is need to bring systematic linkages between legal and health system. She said the patriarchal system affects men too and suggests efforts to be made to change the mindset of people.

Prof Balwant Singh Mehta, Research Director, IMPRI and Fellow, IHD, concluded the discussion by highlighting key takeaways from the discussion:  women’s central role, autonomy & agency, financial & economic empowerment, effective implementation of laws, recognition of care & domestic work and sharing household’s responsibilities are the most important issues related to the curve the domestic violence cases.

He said that the changing workplaces and nature of work such as work from home and the emerging gig economy are providing many new economic opportunities to women but also raising concern over increasing workload and domestic violence.

He also stated that contextualisation of laws and regulations, which differ across geography, class and caste.  Prof Mehta also said that dynamic dashboard and regularly updated data is the need of the hours for proper policy formulation, monitoring and implementation of laws related to gender violence. He also suggested that the families and schools can play an active role in the reduction of gender-based violence by proper education to the children specifically boys. Finally, he thanked all the panellists for participating in this important discussion and also assures, we will continue to hold such policy debates and discussions on these important issues also in the future.

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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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