For generations women were alone in their struggle for the right to live a life of dignity and respect, but the movement for change has grown worldwide. We now have a global community of women and men who are calling out harassment, sexism and violence against women and girls (VAWG). While it may seem like incidents of VAWG have shown an increasing trend over the years in India, this is also an indicator of more crimes being reported. Of the total cases registered by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) under crimes against women in 2015, 34% were registered against husband and relatives, 25% against sexual harassment, while 10% were rape cases. The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) IV shows the pervasiveness of domestic violence, where over half of men (51%) and women (54%) agreed with one or more reasons that justified wife beating.
VAWG is not only a violation of a woman’s body and rights but should be seen as a public health concern. Almost 900 girls a day – 3,30,000 a year – are never born in India because they are not boys. The discrimination against girls is so deeply ingrained that it is a continuum of a life-cycle of violence – from sex-selective abortions before birth and neglect during infancy, to being victims of abuse and malnutrition as children. As adolescents they are trafficked or forced into early marriage; they can also be victims of rape, acid attacks and dowry deaths.
The patriarchal cycle of discrimination and violence has a strong link with the public health problems that we face in India. The physiological damage leads to poor rates of maternal and infant mortality, pain, injuries, and gynaecological complications, but it is the psychological damage that is deep and lasting. Women carry with them the stigma of being victims of violence; they lack self-confidence which prevents them from breaking the yoke of oppression. Most often they live with post-traumatic stress disorders, depression and suicidal tendencies that go undiagnosed, making greater efforts from the health sector the need of the hour.
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Awareness needs to be created about government initiatives that provide care and support for the survivors of violence. One Stop Crisis Centers are yet to be set up in every state; the Nirbhaya Fund remains largely underutilised, and more women should have access to the women’s helpline. These channels hold immense potential but need to be strengthened and streamlined for collective action. The men of Chhatarpur, Madhya Pradesh, have shown us the power of entertainment education to mobilise collective action. From being habitual wife beaters to champions of women’s rights, they have come a long way.
The ‘Bas Ab Bahut Ho Gaya – Enough is Enough’ campaign raises these issues by initiating a movement through positive messages that will challenge regressive attitudes towards women. Over the past eight months of the campaign we have seen college students question the status quo, demand an increase in awareness and commit to changing the narrative. The film industry has now come together in solidarity to end VAWG in Mumbai on November 21.
This is just the beginning for there is still a culture of violence and silence that surrounds us. But the tide is turning against discrimination. Today, women across the globe are more empowered; they are unafraid of judgment and are coming out to talk about the prejudices they face at home, in the workplace, and on the street. There is a growing community of women who now know that they have rights, they have agency and most importantly they are not alone. This act of coming together in defiance of patriarchy and should be celebrated; we are witness to a new wave of women’s empowerment.
Feroz Abbas Khan is a renowned theatre director and national and international award winning film writer-director. Poonam Muttreja is Executive Director of the Population Foundation of India. Both authors are involved in the organising of the ‘Bas Ab Bahut Ho Gaya’ campaign.