Women's safety in a culture of impunity and gender policing

Priyanka Jain, Delhi Community Manager
Delhi, 15 August 2014

The National Capital Region of Delhi is not a great place to be a woman. The city has a very serious issue of pervasive gender discrimination and violence. Since the much-publicized rape in 2012, Indian papers have been crammed with gory stories of brutal sexual assaults, marital rapes, against 6-year-olds, against train passengers, against daughters and against wives. Ways in which women are not valorized are endemic in Indian society. How might one tackle the female security issue in a context where whole panoply of things need to change?

There is a prevalent and entrenched culture of impunity in Delhi. The police don't frequently bother to prosecute rape and gender violence cases, and victims are often put through a traumatic experience while lodging police reports, which deters filing of complaints in the proper manner. This point has been highlighted in the most recent expert investigation of gender-based violence in India, produced by a high-level committee chaired by Justice [J.S.] Verma, a former head of the Indian Supreme Court. The committee's wide-ranging recommendations included proposals for new offenses, including criminalizing marital rape, sexual intercourse by a person in authority, and gang rape. They looked at the whole context in which gender violence is taking place. The committee wisely noted the very acute problems of social exclusion and structural violence that need to be addressed more vigorously and systematically.

Changes have already been made with the launch of fast track courts and a Special Police Unit for women in Delhi. But, we need to have a much more robust set of preventive measures to tackle the problem. One organization Jagori, in partnership with UN Women, the Department of Women and Child Development, Casp Plan Delhi Unit, Satark Nagrik Sangathan, and TARA, is strengthening community collectives of largely women and youth in Delhi. The groups have conducted safety audits in their neighborhoods to identify gender-related gaps in infrastructure and essential services. They have also collated the findings to share with the respective authorities for immediate action. The work is part of the "Safe City Free of Violence Against Women and Girls" initiative (launched in 2009) and "Safe Delhi Campaign" (launched in 2004).

It is also fundamentally important to change the way that Indian society thinks about gender. That is, about masculinity, about femininity, about what it is to be a strong man or a strong boy, what women's role and position in society are – very basic notions that, in terms of the constitution of India and formally speaking, have been accepted since Indian independence but in reality are not implemented. No Country For Women is a national campaign to change this problematic attitude through education, conversation, and action. The campaign is an effort of three undergraduates from Brown University with support and collaboration from Projects for Peace, Transhuman Collective, YourStory and Brown University. They conduct educational workshops in schools and colleges on issues such as gender policing, and raise awareness about socio-cultural causes of rape through social and mass media.

The Delhi rape of 2012 is a placeholder - since then, there has been a lot of movement and hope. Still, there is an urgent need for sustained government engagement on gender-based violence issues across a range of domains. Real progress will require a wide range of systemic and far-reaching measures. Close.

Photo credit: UN Women Asia & the Pacific

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