Violence against Women –Root it Out
VIOLENCE against women cuts across religions, cultures, ages and geographical sub divisions of the globe. Throughout history, millions of women have endured and have been enduring violence in one form or the other. Violence against women, an off shoot of patriarchy, reflects the inferior status and powerlessness of women in the society. In fact, violence against women, particularly domestic violence has been so much internalized by women themselves that it was never perceived as a problem or a wrong.
The ancient concept has been that since women are powerless, they need to be protected at all times. Women's honor was in a way linked to the honor of the family and the community as a whole, and hence, if you want to win over a race, targets the women. That is how women could be subjected to more violence during conflict situations. Violence in public or private life is a great disabling factor and denied women the fruits of and opportunities for development. Hence, it becomes important to remove this obstacle in the path of empowerment of women.
The earliest attempts of law towards protecting women against violence were incorporated into the law, the law relating to rape, kidnap, abduction, dowry harassment, dowry death and outraging the modesty of women as may be found in the Indian Penal Code. The law relating to rape and outraging the modesty of women have undergone sea change in the backdrop of the gruesome incidents like the Nirbhaya and Disa. Now the law focuses on newer forms of harassment of women. Besides using criminal force or other things, offences like voyeurism and stalking have also been explicitly included.
Better access to technology has brought with itself scope for new forms of crime, the cyber crime. These also have been addressed by the law. While on the one hand, very stringent punishments have been prescribed for rape and dowry death, it is an irony that such incidents keep recurring. This may be attributed partly to the issue of implementation of law - ranging from laxity in investigation, political interventions, availability of evidence, long duration of the trial and the completion of the case owing to technicalities and frequent adjournments that fail to deter the potential offenders and also give a feeling to the actual victims that justice is denied to them. No doubt, statutory reforms are in place addressing these problems, applicability of presumptions and especially prescribing a time line for the completion of rape cases. The efficacy of these provisions is yet to be proved.
The other significant form of violence against women has been the less perceived side - domestic violence. One major problem with domestic violence is that this is a private domain wrong sought to be redressed in the public domain. The other equally significant problem while dealing with domestic violence is that of visibility of the problem. For a long time, it was never perceived as a violation of the rights of the women. There are arguments on whether and to what extent law and State could interfere with domestic affairs. Nevertheless, when things go beyond what can be termed just incompatibility of tempers or attitudes and the resultant behavior causes physical/mental or other harm, this is likely to disturb the peace of the society. Hence, the occasion for intervention of the law arose. While. 498 A of IPC affords limited protection to married women in case of dowry harassment, the new Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 seeks to protect women irrespective of their marital status, from violence perpetrated by any male member of the shared household. All forms of violence, physical, mental, sexual and economic have been addressed. The advantage of the Act lies in dealing with domestic violence as a civil case, simplification of procedures and the emphasis on preserving the marriage.
A later significant addition to the list of legislations protecting women from violence is the law relating to protection of women from sexual harassment at workplace namely, Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. Workplace sexual harassment of women may be termed as public patriarchy - the feeling of superiority and domination also permeate into public domain. The sense of insecurity and vulnerability of women outside the home has been the major cause of depriving women an appropriate place in public life. However, with growing emphasis on empowerment of women, it is essential that a congenial work environment has to be created for women. The law prohibits sexual harassment of any woman in any workplace and also lays down the modalities for prohibiting, preventing and dealing with sexual harassment. A great stride in empowering women - however, the apprehension of losing some livelihood still dissuades great number of women from complaining.
The increasing incidence of rape and domestic violence may be attributed by and large to causes that are outside the field of law. In the Disa incident, it came out that all the accused came from very poor and illiterate families. The family environment was such that alcoholism and domestic violence against women were taken as accepted, or at least, no offence or guilt is perceived in them. The accused persons were early dropouts from school having nothing to be focused on. Addicted to alcohol from a very young age and exposed to all nonsensical/offensive materials on the internet (porn and obscene content), sitting idle for several days, perhaps, nothing better could be expected of them. This is not a justification for their criminal conduct, but a grim reminder that it is not sufficient that we offer a solution to the problem, but solution must address the roots of the problem. Unless we address the causes of the problem, no solution is going to be effective.
Prof.S.Sumitra, Principal, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar College of Law, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam
The author desires to share video message of the United Nations Secretary-General's delivered on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. (available in webtv.un.org)
The United Nations is committed to ending all forms of violence against women and girls. These abuses are among the world’s most horrific, persistent and widespread human rights violations, affecting one in every three women in the world. That means someone around you. A family member, a co-worker, a friend, or even you yourself.
Sexual violence against women and girls is rooted in centuries of male domination.
Let us not forget that the gender inequalities that fuel rape culture are essentially a question of power imbalances. Stigma, misconceptions, underreporting and poor enforcement of the laws only perpetuate impunity. And rape is still being used as a horrendous weapon of war. All of that must change….now.