In 1995, 189 governments came together in Beijing to adopt a Platform for Action that spelled out key strategies to end violence against women, empower women, and achieve gender equality. The United Nations General Assembly designated 25th November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (VAW). The main objective was to raise awareness of the fact that women around the world are subject to rape, domestic violence and other forms of violence –perpetrated over centuries all over the world and rarely spoken about openly. The horror and the scale of violence against women across countries and continents are appalling. According to a 2013 global review of available data, 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. Around 120 million girls worldwide (slightly more than 1 in 10) have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives. Women and girls represent 55 per cent of the estimated 20.9 million victims of forced labour worldwide, and 98 per cent of the estimated 4.5 million forced into sexual exploitation (Source UN Women report ‘Facts and Figures: Ending Violence against Women’). Yet VAW is not perceived to be a major social and economic problem even today in most countries. By earmarking a day in the year, the UN, along with the vast majority of countries in the world, strived to make this a universal issue.

Twenty years down the line, the day continues to have its relevance, and strangely, seems more apt today than it was in 1995. The world continues to be horrified by the few stories that make the headlines in the media across the world. Violence against women is ubiquitous, independent of the level of development, wealth or progress in societies. The root cause seems to be the same everywhere- gender inequality and discrimination, influenced by the historical and structural power imbalances between women and men which exist in varying degrees across all societies in the world.

In this context, it is important to understand the real meaning & implications of gender discrimination: it is not about biological differences and features but about the stereotyped roles attributed to men and women by society. Whatever the level of economic & social development, the roles are distinct and largely similar across cultures. Violence against women is deliberate use of power to enforce the prevalent gender norms that takes different forms in different countries.

Over the last couple of years, India has the pride of place for violence against women, with macabre stories. Young girls hanging from a tree, women raped and murdered, brides burnt for dowries, women victims of acid attacks, honor killings – these are the news items that the Indian newspapers serve up every day. A few incidents make the headlines for a day or two till the next juicy piece of news comes up. As far as the Indian society is concerned, these stories of violence have become commonplace – there is hardly any protest or concern over these atrocities. A woman is a victim in all situations – be it economic, social or political. Torturing and killing women have become the chosen tool whenever there is a power struggle – between individuals, families, groups, political parties or armies.

The picture is not rosy in other countries of the world either. In the so called developed countries, domestic and partner violence tops the list of violence against women, in spite of the numerous help lines and widespread support system. In the countries at war, women are systematically raped and tortured by the victorious armies. In some countries mutilation of the girl child is ordained by the unwritten social laws and continues unabated. Not to talk about indirect violence that kills the female foetus or ignores the health concerns of girl children or refuses them the right to education.

On 25th November 1960, the Mirabal sisters were assassinated in the Dominican Republic, ordered by the dictator Rafael Trujillo. They were political activists, opposing the dictatorship in their country. It is a significant date in the history of feminist resistance, now institutionalized by the UN. But half a century later, it seems that as far as women are concerned, society has gone backwards, with ever diminishing justice for women. The issue of violence against women remains one of the most pervasive forms of human rights violations worldwide.

Will the picture ever change? I have my doubts. What scares me is the level of tolerance and apathy as far as violence against women is concerned. Other than a limited number of activists and care givers, the vast majority of the people seem immune to the magnitude of the problem. There is little or no effort to change the social norms and customs that victimize women systematically, and in this case, both men and women are equally responsible. In fact, in many cases, it seems that the societies are going backwards and bringing back customs & rituals designed to enslave women. As a gut reaction to the success of a small percentage of the worldwide female population? Those few who made it to the top in different fields and therefore posed a challenge to those in power? Women who threatened to change the balance of power in different societies?

Social scientists have probably answered all these questions using different theories to analyze cause & effect. But that has not changed the mindset of the average person – the man who beats his wife, the parents who neglect their girls, the women who take revenge on other women by perpetuating customs and rituals at home. We are all guilty, we are all responsible. When shall we accept that and do something to end this?


1 comment:

  1. Other than a limited number of activists and care givers, the vast majority of the people seem immune to the magnitude of the problem...Super Writing Apa


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