Sexual violence, prejudice and the denial of basic rights to women are all reflections of the regressive patriarchal mind-set. Should the feminist struggle belong only to women?
Rashi Dubey is a gender rights activist based in Gurgaon.
Patriarchy as a socio-cultural practice has been part of many societies across the globe and women’s subordinated status as compared to their male counterparts a widespread phenomenon. However with the onset of feminist consciousness and socio-political movements against the oppressive regimentation of patriarchy things gradually began to change for the better. The fact that a non-patriarchal and egalitarian milieu could exist began for the first time gaining a legitimate thought in the order of ideas.
However, it tool tremendously long for such societies to translate legislative or judicial equality between the genders into a sustained reality as far as social norms, cultural practices and role expectations were concerned. What we are trying to suggest is that while legislative equality may have been an important primary mechanism its translation or implementation into day to day existence took both time and effort. For countries like India this struggle has continued and at many important junctures thrown out challenges both before the nation-state and the ordinary citizens of the country.
We are aware of the fact that how generations of women have been alone in their struggle for the right to live a life of dignity and respect. However what we must acknowledge is that with the growing feminist consciousness and the onset of many rights based movements across the globe we seem to be arriving at a worldwide consciousness that although difficult to achieve equality between the genders and the creation of a non-discriminatory space are ideals worth striving for. Thus this means that the isolated and often lonely struggle against one of the most manifest ways in which patriarchy expresses itself, i.e. sexual violence or harassment is now being fought against by a large section of men and women across the world who are showing a sense of vigilance and pride for being able to stand up against patriarchal subjugation.
The community of men and women who are calling out a voice against harassment, sexism and violence against women and girls is growing within India. This points out to the fact that today more crimes against women are reported and secondly there is a growing sense of empowerment to be able to speak up about these things. Given the history of patriarchy in the sub content it is not surprising to note that out of the total cases registered by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) under crimes against women in 2015, 34% had been registered against husband and relatives, 25% against sexual harassment, while 10% were reported to have been rape cases.
The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) IV shows the all-pervading presence of domestic violence, where over half of men (51%) and women (54%) agreed with one or more reasons that justified wife beating. The sexual and moral harassment of women denies them not only their right to their body but also denies them their right for self-expression, health and well-being. Gender discrimination is prevalent in a major way in the form of sex-determination where the foetus itself is killed and thus a girl is denied the chance even to step into the world.
Thus what becomes clear is the fact that the discriminative tendencies against women is so deeply intrinsic to our socio-cultural imagination that it has become an integral part of the way that we choose to lead our lives. It all begins with sex-selective abortions before birth and stark negligence during infancy, to abuse and malnutrition, to forced and early marriage and so on and so forth. It cannot be denied that many adolescent girls are trafficked for sex-trade or forced into unfair marriage contracts or killed for inadequate dowries. These forms of violence certainly do cause poor health and suffering among women victims but they also have a long lasting and traumatic psychological impact where they lead to a perpetual sense of worthlessness, depletion and lack of self-confidence to name a few. It is not difficult to find the many women who have been carrying with them the stigma of being victims of violence and this stops them from expressing their potential or even living life meaningfully.
We must work towards a stronger implementation of legislation and regulative policies and towards making them available even to women living in the most remote of villages and belonging to the most backward of communities. While this may be seen as an extremely important step it cannot be seen in isolation. We have to work collectively towards fighting this culture of violence and the tendency to accept silence in all our social crises. While we do see that women are globally speaking up as opposed to succumbing to patriarchal violence and more generally about the subtle ways in which prejudices, stereotypes have tried to limit or restrict them from participating in the wider world. While it is indeed a positive sign that the community of cautious, aware, brave and vigilant women who are aware of the fact that they have the rights, the agency and most importantly the fact that they are not alone in their struggles is growing.
Nevertheless we must realise the importance of creating various other channels that promote a new culture of gender sensitivity and for this the media, the internet, the social media platforms along with communities and nation-states must join hands in collective action. Because the struggle for creating a gender just world is a holistic process of cultural change and this is possible only when the various stakeholders who create the social fabric engage in collaborative social actions.