A Thomas Reuters Foundation survey on women’s issues has ranked India as the world’s most dangerous country in a global perception poll, followed by war-torn Afghanistan and Syria. Health care, access to economic resources/ discrimination, cultural/tribal/religious or customary practices, sexual violence and harassment, non- sexual violence and human trafficking were the six areas which were considered to arrive at this conclusion.
The National commission for Women has rejected the report, claiming that a small sample size cannot be considered as a representation for a population of 1.3 billion. But I am convinced that if the categories considered for the poll are studied carefully, we will come across more data to back up the grim reality of the state of women in our country.
So this one time, let’s not feel bad for losing the chance of rejoicing at having done better than Pakistan and instead acknowledge the problem. Congratulations to us on becoming the most unsafe country for half of our population. We beat everyone in misogyny and violence against women!
In the Global Gender Gap report 2014, which benchmarks gender gaps in 142 countries in economic, political, education and health based criteria, India ranked 141 above only Armenia. National Family Health survey indicates that 35.6 percent of women are chronically undernourished, with a body mass index (BMI) lesser than the cut-off point of 18.5. India accounts for the maximum number of maternal deaths in the world. It also accounts for the highest number of deaths due to breast cancer in the world.
Geography, socio-economic standing and culture contribute to the subsequent health of our female population. Illiteracy, poor sanitation, poor hygiene and nutrition, poor access to health care facilities, early age of marriage and forced marriage further contribute to the poor quality of health for women and girls. This is a clear indication of indifference from the concerned authorities and policy makers while dealing with women’s health issues. The women keep losing the battle with their own bodies as the society keeps on blatantly demanding domestic subservience while stripping them of their basic civil rights.
Crime against women has increased by 83 % between 2007 and 2016 according to government data and reports. More than five hundred rape cases have occurred in Delhi alone in 2018 and the overall crimes against women are on a rise compared to the previous year. As a country, we are incredibly tolerant of the violence against women, which is in fact backed up by the rapid increase in gender-based violence cases every year. We have a plethora of crimes against women starting from sex-specific abortions resulting in declining sex-ratio to murders, dowry deaths, honour killings, female infanticide and foeticide, sexual violence, human trafficking, domestic violence, marital rape, forced and child marriage, acid-throwing and abductions.
Women are expected to navigate through workplaces, homes and streets at their own risk. They are supposed to be wary of the men about to assault them and remain unruffled by the indifference of the bystanders. Are we lamenting the inclusion of half the human race in public life and the gradual replacement of hierarchical society with an egalitarian one? This is the only viable explanation as to why some of us are bent on removing women from public-professional domains by forever posing a threat to their safety and well being.
Women who speak up are often ridiculed, threatened, discredited and ostracized by society and thus most of them remain silent, losing their voice in the familiar dissonance of victim blaming. Women are therefore, led to believe that silently removing ourselves from situations where we are actually victims is the only way out. But, we can no longer delude ourselves; we need to fight for our right to safe access to every place and at all times.
Diagnosis is the first step towards cure and eventual recovery. Are we just focusing on the symptom instead of the cause of the disease? There’s more to the violence and misogyny towards women than the individuals who perpetrate such crimes. We need to stop treating these assailants as outsiders and recognize them as the products of our society. It is easy to shift the blame on anyone or anywhere other than ourselves, but what are we doing to control this pandemic?
What is wrong with our culture that keeps on producing entitled men who believe that it’s their right to assert control over a woman’s body? What is wrong with our society that keeps on perpetuating the tolerance around violence against women? Our history, culture, society, politics have been unfair to women; it has not only been successful in marginalising and invisibilizing us, it has also cheated women out of their desired lives. I am blaming the internalised idea that women need to accommodate male approval and demands. I am blaming our culture that has forever silenced the rest of us while the men watched in silence.
Is this not a real problem, a crisis that needs immediate attention? Will this bring us on streets to agitate? Or are we past that too? Will this make it to the prime-hour debate with panel of experts in newsrooms? This is the grim reality of our everyday existence, and it’s not going away anytime soon. Let’s start with blaming the system that is lax at maintaining safety of women in public spaces. We made it to international headlines for our outrage at the 2012 gang rape. Let’s not forget it wasn’t the only gang rape or rape that happened that year. Let’s not forget that, despite the measures taken by the government, the violence against women has increased. Let’s not forget the women who aren’t privileged enough to have a crime against them acknowledged, much less dream of justice. The presence of laws does not guarantee justice if the authorities fail to execute the laws effectively.
With the advent of social media and its indispensable presence in our lives in recent years, we have encountered yet another way patriarchy has invented to harass women into silence. The hatred for women and the spaces they occupy has reached the comments sections and inboxes, reminding us we do not belong here, making us feel unsafe. Hate online includes everything from mocking to unsolicited pictures of male genitalia to even rape and death threats. With our faces glued to the screens; we see women speak up and share their experiences, but we let them disappear, just another story to scroll through.
A black background profile on Facebook isn’t enough; we all know it will disappear just like our anger. It’s about time we stopped treating a single case of violence against women as an aberration.
I want to conclude this by asking women to support each other, listen to each other and stand up against those who threaten and discredit our experiences. The success of #MeToo lies in the collective courage of all the women who decided to break the silence around the abuse they faced in the hands of powerful men. Every time you see someone being harassed help the victim instead of the perpetrator hence, make a ruckus! Why is the dire state of women’s safety not bringing us to the streets demanding civil rights for women? Why is this not treated as a cause for national concern?