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16 Days Of Activism To End
Violence Against Women

By Amrita Nandy-Joshi

16 December, 2006

The period between 25th November and 10th December this year – like every other year – is internationally designated as ‘16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women’. Part of a global campaign initiated in 1991, the two dates that mark the beginning and end of this period carry special significance—25 November is the International Day Against Violence Against Women and 10 December is the International Human Rights Day. The idea was to symbolically link violence against women with human rights and, thereby, emphasize that such violence against women is a violation of human rights itself. Besides, this 16-day time phase also highlights other relevant occasions such as International Women Human Rights Defenders Day (29th November), the International World AIDS Day (1st December) and the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre (6th December). Public protests and rallies, symposiums and meetings mark these days across the globe and activists, academicians etc. shuttle from event to another. However, it is imperative that the essence behind all these red-letter days reaches the public too—that crimes committed against women are pervasive in our societies and must be confronted and condemned without any shame or secrecy.

It is well-known that crimes committed against women come disguised through religion, culture, rituals, community practices or just as naked tyranny and oppression. From pre-natal sex selection to female foeticide, clitoridectomy to marital rape, honour killings, trafficking of girls and women, dowry-related violence, domestic violence and so on are the various forms that violence against women is known to take. Worldwide, domestic violence makes for one of the most commonly practiced crimes against women. Studies conducted in various countries have recorded that between 10 and 60 per cent of women suffer physical violence at the hands of their male partners and 20 to 75 per cent undergo emotional abuse. Over the last few decades, the efforts by women’s groups and various human rights’ bodies to draw attention to such abhorrent action has shown results. Statistics reveal that while 89 governments have laws in place to specifically tackle domestic violence, close to 90 governments have some form of legislative provision against sexual harassment.
India too has recently passed its new-and-improved Domestic Violence Bill which is comprehensive and seems more biting. However, it is sad and shocking to note that what is popularly referred to as eve-teasing continues to be one of the most under-reported crimes against women. This is bewildering because as against the privacy and secrecy of domestic violence, ‘eve-teasing’ happens rampantly on the streets in the public arena. What’s worse is that popular culture and its discourse normalizes and, thus, almost sanctions such crimes. The semantics of eve-teasing, for example, itself portray a woman on the streets as an ‘eve’ or the temptress. This rests the primary blame for eve-teasing on women, for it is the temptresses who seduce or provoke. Women are generally thought to have ‘asked for it’ through their dress, mannerism, speech, gestures, the time of the day or night they are out, or just about anything related to them! The term, therefore, also lends an air of frivolity to the crime. So deeply is the lightness of this act entrenched in our collective psyches that, over a period of time, women too have learnt to live with it. They begin to view it not as sexual harassment per se, but a lesser, harmless form of teasing which can and should be ignored. However, eve-teasing is sheer sexual harassment. Even though laws against eve-teasing exist, they – at best – become paper tigers, thanks to the soft attitude of law-enforcement agencies, perpetrators of crime and even the harassed. Any change in such a situation will only be possible when large-scale efforts are made by the government, law and order officials as well as the public towards a wider sensitization about issues surrounding crimes against women, human rights and so on. Hopefully, if the Women’s Reservation Bill sees the light of the day, such issues too will get their own share of focus. While legal reform can certainly help by having in place a stringent and comprehensive bill specifically on sexual harassment, the law makers will need to be prudent about any moralistic or paternalistic overtones in it. Though the sooner girls and women break the fetters of silence on such issues (including sexual harassment at educational institutions and work), the earlier will we be able to deal with a crime that most of them face every day of their lives. Teaching our daughters to be exemplars of tolerance, or that suffering is a virtue they must imbibe only makes the whole exercise go awry.

However, women have long endured, challenged and fought such insidious social evils. The question at this point – after many tears of sloganeering by women themselves and efforts by state agencies – is this: when will men stop being bystanders, step into the ring and take action? After all, sexual harassment is as much – if not more – a men’s issue. It is high time that men open a dialogue with both men and women to address issues such as masculinity. The traditional definition of masculinity, which is soaked in notions of patriarchy, needs to be debunked. Masculinity should promote an emotionally healthy and sensitive being. Men could also, at various fora, challenge the practice of eve-teasing through socio-cultural critiques, while garner greater publicity for the issue through innovative public campaigns.

For years, young girls and women have lived in abuse. Think about it—could it be that your sister, daughter or mother are silently seething in the agony. Chances are that they won’t tell you, and you will never ask! It is time to malestream such issues among conscientious men.

The message has stayed the same, so has the messenger and so has the situation. Let men take up the cudgels against this unchecked social ill.

overall publicity and an ending to silence over spousal abuse to pushing for legislative reform and providing safe havens for girls escaping coerced marriages.

rights organizations worldwide to bring greater attention to this pervasive and deeply entrenched human rights violation, proposing a range of steps from greater overall publicity and an ending to silence over spousal abuse to pushing for legislative reform and providing safe havens for girls escaping coerced marriages.

The 16 Days Campaign has been used as an organizing strategy by individuals and groups around the world to call for the elimination of all forms of violence against women by:

· raising awareness about gender-based violence as a human rights issue at the local, national, regional and international levels

· strengthening local work around violence against women

· establishing a clear link between local and international work to end violence against women

· providing a forum in which organizers can develop and share new and effective strategies

· demonstrating the solidarity of women around the world organizing against violence against women

· creating tools to pressure governments to implement promises made to eliminate violence against women

Perturbed by the increasing number of cases of sexual harassment cases within schools, a working group report by the ministry of women and child development on ‘empowerment of women’ has recommended implementation of the Vishaka guidelines in schools for girls and teachers. So far the govt. has been concentrating on sexual harassment at workplace. If the recommendation is accepted, it will be the first time that students in educational institutions will be covered under the legislation. These guidelines, mandated by the SC, are a broad framework which put a lot of emphasis on women prevention. Organising ‘awareness programmes in schools so that girl students gain confidence in reporting such cases is suggested.

Domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse leave deep emotional wounds, indeed emotional scars, that impact on many men's relationships with our wives, daughters, sisters, mothers and friends;

we are the bystanders to other men's violence, and have to make a choice: do we stay silent and look the other way when our male friends and relatives insult or attack women, or do we speak up?
We urge the governments and parliaments that have adopted laws to ensure their implementation. We express appreciation to those who have put in place programmes for women and girls affected by violence. We are heartened by the increased attention being paid to the role of men and boys in preventing violence against women, and the link between gender-based violence and the spread of HIV and AIDS.

Since 1991, approximately 1,700 organizations in 130 countries have participated in the 16 Days Campaign!

Amrita is an alumna of the University of Oxford and writes on issues of women, media and culture.

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