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Violence Against Women: Not Just A Family Issue

The fight against violence against women (VAW) is a long drawn one. But, if we hold a commitment towards achieving gender equality, social inclusion and human rights for all, one of the sustainable development goals (SDG) - setting up a responsive legal framework is essential

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On January 3rd 2017, a friend's sister (Radhika Menon) got assaulted at a petrol pump in Delhi. The entire staff and other customers present at the petrol pump stood and watched while she fought the man who assaulted her. The reason they gave for not intervening was that they thought that the man was her husband. Because that is justified? Especially, when we know that according to National Crime Records Bureau data from 2015, 95.5 per cent (33,098 out of 34,651 cases) of total rape cases reported during 2015, the offenders were known to the victims.

Radhika spent the whole day trying to get the CCTV footage, getting her medical done and registering an FIR. She was able to do this because she knew a few influential people who helped her. Radhika took it upon herself to fight for justice. The media too picked up on the story and the news was widely circulated.

Increasing evidence from different parts of the world suggests that sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence in public spaces are an 'under recognized global pandemic' with women reporting wide-scale prevalence. The proportion of Indian Penal Code (IPC) committed against women with respect to total IPC crimes has increased during last 5 years from 9.4 per cent in the year 2011 to 11.1 per cent during the year 2015 (NCRB, 2015). A more recent survey by the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) on safety of women in public spaces under the project Safe City Initiative by UN Women revealed that more than 90 percent women and girls feel Delhi is not safe for them. Further, the most common form of harassment includes verbal abusing such as whistling and name calling, sexual jokes, leering and obscene gesture (87.6 percent).

However, we need to keep in mind that the quantitative data that is available to us does not provide the holistic picture. One of the most important concern regarding research and evaluation of sexual harassment in India is absent of any standardized national level data. In NCRB dataset most of the crimes reported are under the Indian Penal Code sections which does not take into account different forms of sexual harassment as defined by WHO and UN Women.

What happened to Radhika, in broad daylight, happens with a lot of women. We are 20 days into a new year and we have heard and seen enough to know that sexual violence is a bitter reality women grapple with everyday of their lives. Radhika, a college professor found the strength to report what had happened with her. Many women don't. The first obstacle which comes in the way is the fear of social stigma. Further, an unresponsive and not easily accessible legal system make the process of reporting a crime tougher.

Out of 3,14,078 cases under crimes against women disposed of by police, charge-sheets were submitted in 2,45,341 cases, showing charge-sheet rate at 89.4 per cent during 2015. A total of 1,57,249 cases remained pending for investigation at the end of the year 2015 (NCRB, 2015). Further, a total of 10,80,144 cases remained pending in various courts for trial at the end of the year 2015 (NCRB, 2015).

It's been eleven years to the enactment of the Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA). PWDVA addresses the domestic violence (physical, mental, sexual, emotional or economical) women (wives and live in partners) face. The Act calls for the appointment of protection officers, service providers, medical facility in-charge and shelter homes.

However, according to the periodic monitoring and evaluation reports by Lawyers Collective Women's Rights Initiative (WRI) and also concerns brought up by women's groups working on the issue, the legislation has had a limited reach due to the absence of adequate mechanisms and lack of financial resources. This has resulted in insufficient appointment of skilled Protection Officers and a lack of notified Service Providers. Also, one the most glaring gaps in its implementation has been the lack of awareness about the act amongst people, be it the beneficiaries or people involved in its implementation.

One Stop Crisis Centre (OSCC) set up post the Delhi Gang rape and murder case, 2012, are supposed to cater to the immediate medical, legal and physiological needs of women who are survivors of physical and mental abuse, with an assurance that their consent and confidentiality will be respected and protected. However, according to a 2016 consultation report by OXFAM India only few centres are actually working. Further, there is a lack of adequate infrastructure facilities and human resources to address the forms of violence which women face. The lack of clarity about the PWDVA act amongst the various stakeholders has an impact on the functioning of OSSCs as well.

The fight against violence against women (VAW) is a long drawn one. But, if we hold a commitment towards achieving gender equality, social inclusion and human rights for all, one of the sustainable development goals (SDG) - setting up a responsive legal framework is essential. One of the targets under this SDG emphasizes on preventing and eliminating violence against individuals, especially women and children. A legal framework which constantly evolves along with the shifting discourse on VAW and is a safe space for women and other marginalized groups is important for moving towards achieving this target.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Sonali Khan

Sonali Khan, Country Director and Vice President at Breakthrough, champions the role of social activism with a mission to ending violence against women and girls and promoting the importance of gender equity?. She has led popular social campaigns at Breakthrough like “Is this Justice?”, “What Kind of Man Are You”, “Bell Bajao”, “Nation against Early Marriage,” “Mission Hazaar” amongst others. She brings along more than two decades of professional experience in strategic planning & organizational development, developing program & campaign strategies and designing research methodology

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