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Make it a better world!

Make it a better world!
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Women face abuse and violation of their space, their rights, their bodies and their self-respect day in and day out. Most of these instances go...

Women face abuse and violation of their space, their rights, their bodies and their self-respect day in and day out. Most of these instances go unreported, unnoticed and ignored as a matter of habit; a self-inculcated habit that helps them get on with life. Attitudinal change at the individual level is the only solution to make world a better place for women. Now, the pertinent question is – How does one bring about the change?


Children start facing norms that define ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ from an early age. Boys are told not to cry, not to fear, not to be forgiving and instead to be assertive, and strong. Girls on the other hand are asked not to be demanding, to be forgiving and accommodating and “ladylike”. These gender roles and expectations have large scale ramifications
When society wants to keep a woman safe, it never chooses to make public spaces safe for her. Instead, it seeks to lock her up at home or at school or college or in the home of a friend
Families need to change. They need to respect the girl child. They need to demonstrate to their male children that their sisters are equally worthy of respect and attention
Time and again the reaction to the growing violence against women is to provide security for women by circumscribing their spaces and policing them

Rajeshwari Kalyanam
These are not lone instances; they happen to every woman in one way or the other. Some women choose to share it, while others just choose to keep quiet, but every one of them has learnt to bear it with a grudge and go on with life as if everything is normal.
Even as I write these instances shared by friends and acquaintances, each one belonging to different walks of life, I can see many speculations arising - may be the girl was dressed inappropriately; maybe she shouldn't have been travelling at such and such time etc: or the likes of Aasaram Bapu suggesting bizarre solutions. The reality is vastly different.
Not So Pleasant Experiences
Sumita (name changed on purpose) relates, "As a woman, there have been numerous experiences when I hated the existence of opposite sex (but not once for being a woman) for ogling at me, passing lewd comments and even trying to get touchy. The recent one was when I was walking in my office lane in a residential area. A middle-aged man on a two-wheeler on the road side passed a comment which I didn’t really understand, and walked ahead. A few steps further and that man was again there on his vehicle. This time he used the four letter word. I continued walking and it took me sometime to comprehend what he said. By then I had walked ahead. To my shock, I found this man again on my way. This time clearly trying to draw my attention and ensuring I hear him, he repeated the sentence. I was furious. I threatened to call the cops. Within a flash, he raced his scooter and was gone."
Praneeta, a young post graduation student shares, "I was in UKG when I was first exposed to eve-teasing. I still remember what I had worn that day, maybe because of the incident itself. I wore a black skirt with white top. We had gone to visit my uncle’s family in Nagpur, Maharashtra. We all decided to go out in their car. My uncle’s son and I were left to stay back in the car as our families left on an errand. It was broad day light.
The driver took us to a temple nearby. It was empty. He made us play hide and seek. He closed my eyes with his hand and asked the boy to go and hide. While he was closing my eyes with one hand, he was trying to feel my thighs with other. I was naïve then. I didn't understand what he was trying to do. Then, he started kissing me from behind. Even as a child I understood that this was something wrong as I was feeling uncomfortable. I just ran away from that place and locked myself in the car and stayed inside till our parents arrived. The driver went on pleading me to open the door but I didn't.
Later in the evening we were supposed to catch a bus to our native place. We were travelling in the same car. My mother asked me to sit beside the driver, but I insisted that my father sit beside him. I took the window seat. On our way our car met with an accident. Fortunately only the driver was injured. My joy knew no bounds and I thanked God for punishing him.
I haven’t told this to anyone until now, not even to my sister. Such incidents really affect young minds. I think that’s the reason I remember the incident so well even after 17 long years." Such incidents in a young girl's life opens her eyes to the harsh realities of world around them and they start developing a protective shield that not only keeps them attentive at all times to all kinds of danger, but also helps them brush aside aberrations and go on as if nothing has happened. But not everyone is as lucky; some end up with a permanent damage to their self-confidence and in worst case, develop inherent fear of the unknown.
The Omnipresent Violation
While rape is considered the gravest of atrocities on women (which it is); women face situations that are uncomfortable and dangerous on a daily basis; especially in public spaces and also in places perceived as safe (like home, college etc,); be it a lewd remark, a passing touch or groping to the discrimination at schools, work place and home. Laws are in place, but are they effective? Popular author and columnist Jerry Pinto asks, "Why is it that we assume that only a man's genital organ is necessary to commit sexual assault? What about his hands? What about his voice? How about his mind? What about things that he may hold and with which he may hurt his prey?"
Eminent social activist Vasanth Kannabiran says, "It’s not useful to connect rape to the aggression and sexual abuse that girls and boys suffer from childhood. Laws can be used to prevent or punish crime whether it is rape or extreme abuse. Laws need to be grounded in our everyday social reality not left to law courts to interpret."
Mind you, the aforementioned women had no problem sharing their experiences and their identity with me. After suppressing their voice for so long, they wanted to open up and relate what they have gone through, probably in hope that it will serve some noble purpose. But in most cases these instances go unreported and seldom shared. Lets for once assume what would have been the outcome had they shared these experiences with their family.
The already restricted access that these women have to work, study or just go out of the home on their own would have been further curtailed on the pretext of ensuring safety. But how does that change anything. Asmita, a lawyer by profession has an experience to share, "It was 10 pm. I was on my bike going back home from office. One man as he was passing by commented “Shall I come with you, or will you come with me to my home.” I was scared as he followed me for over a kilometre before going on his way. People think that Hyderabad is safe, but we are not safe in the city. I didn’t tell about this incident to anyone at my home till date."
Why do women perceive public spaces as unfriendly? In fact the unwritten rule says that women are not supposed to be hanging around anywhere without a purpose. They should either be meeting someone or be on her way to some place or just be waiting for an auto or bus.
Access to Public Spaces
Sameera Khan, Shilpa Phadke and Shilpa Ranade, the authors of 'Why Loiter', based on a three-year research on access of public spaces to women in Mumbai write - When society wants to keep a woman safe, it never chooses to make public spaces safe for her. Instead, it seeks to lock her up at home or at school or college or in the home of a friend.
In their book they say – “Turning the safety argument on its head, we now propose that what women need in order to maximise their access to public space as citizens is not greater surveillance or protectionism (however well meaning), but the right to take risks…To do this we need to redefine our understanding of violence in relation to public space – to see not sexual assault, but the denial of access to public space as the worst possible outcome for women.”
Vasanth Kannabiran opines, "Time and again the reaction to the growing violence against women is to provide security for women by circumscribing their spaces and policing them. Every teacher, politician, judge or doctor who voices sexist views must be punished regardless of who he is.
While public spaces must be reclaimed by women, men need to be trained to understand the boundaries and they must realise the consequences of their conduct. The problem is that there is social tolerance of sexist conduct and intolerance and resentment of women's right to freedom. Whether it is a pub, or a dance or a midnight walk, no men should take it on themselves to discipline and punish women. A lot of this violence springs from the rise of right wing fundamentalism and the insecurity both emotional and economic caused by the rampant growth of globalisation."
Call for change
Everyone seems to agree that there is an urgent need for change in the attitude. Jerry Pinto says, "Families need to change. They need to respect the girl child. They need to demonstrate to their male children that their sisters are equally worthy of respect and attention. We need to rethink our notions of honour. I was asking a young friend why he thought the girl child was so unwelcome. He said, 'Because she can bring dishonour to the family if anything happens to her." This is what most people think. We need to understand that she does not bring any dishonour to her family if she is raped or molested. We need to understand that the rapist brings shame to his family.
We need to rethink our notions of women's freedom. Are our women free? How can we talk about freedom when fifty per cent of humanity cannot do this or do that because they were born as women? Are our civilisations successful if women walk in fear? We need to sensitise the police. We need to sensitise the judiciary. We need to sensitise the media. We have much work to do. And it is work we must all do." Quite true! It is work we must all do. But where do we begin?
Stereotyping Gender Roles
UNICEF's website that talks about 'Early Gender Socialisation' can be a good start. Early gender socialisation starts at birth and is the process of learning cultural roles according to one's sex. Right from the beginning, boys and girls are treated differently by the members of their own environment, and learn the differences between boys and girls, women and men.
Imagine the following scenario: a young pregnant woman is about to have her first child. When asked whether she wishes to have a girl or boy, she replies that it doesn’t matter. But, sitting next to her is an older relative who says “Oh, hopefully it will be a boy.” In small, but meaningful ways such as this, gender socialization starts even before birth.
Children start facing norms that define “masculine” and “feminine” from an early age. Boys are told not to cry, not to fear, not to be forgiving and instead to be assertive, and strong. Girls on the other hand are asked not to be demanding, to be forgiving and accommodating and “ladylike”. These gender roles and expectations have large scale ramifications.
Need for Early Intervention
And this early intervention is what shapes the minds of girls and boys. While UNICEF, guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, advocates gender equality and equity in care, protection and development of all children; it shall serve good if one understands that in addition to ensuring equal rights to children, by not subjecting the young minds to gender specific stereotypes, and inculcating a positive attitude during the growing years of girls and especially boys will have long-term benefits in building a healthy society - a society that fosters mutual respect and abhors any kind of superiority complex of boys over the girls; and this will bring about a change, that which no law in this world can ever hope to achieve.
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