In war torn Afghanistan, a journalist observed that women were walking ahead of men. Assuming this to be a symbol of women’s empowerment, he asked one of the men if this was a step towards equality. The man replied, “No. Landmines.”
This small incident is a very realistic representation of the bigger picture. Women, even today, are often viewed as disposable commodities. We believe that we live in an era of equality, where men and women are equal in all walks of life, be it employment, education, lifestyle or financial independence. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Even today, the levels of discrimination are shamefully high.
Historically, the idea of ‘The Woman’ was used to symbolize strength, justice and independence. A popular example of this would be the French revolution where ‘Marianne’ was introduced into the freedom struggle as an allegory of liberty. Closer to home, people like ‘Mirabhai’and ‘Jhansi Ki Rani’ have assumed a similar role.
The idea of equating women to ideals like liberty and strength is quite ironic, simply because, in reality, women are related to qualities like dependence and servility. This representation has dominated the mentality of people everywhere and as a result, women have assumed the tag of being ‘the weaker sex’. Most men believe that women are weak and cannot take care of themselves, or fight when necessary. Men regard themselves with power and authority and often believe that women can’t or are in no position to stand up to them.
This notion transitions itself as well to the woman’s mentality and this in turn resonates a feeling of inferiority which translates into an insecure environment for women caused by both a mindset that’s submissive amongst women and a thirst for power in men.
Women’s safety is an issue of major concern, all across the world. Cases of rape, domestic abuse, abduction, murder, etc are countless. Women are viewed as powerless beings and are seen to be dependent on men.
In a country like India, women’s safety has become a raging problem. It isn’t just rape, abduction or murder. The root of the problem lies in something as mild as eve-teasing or hooting. It is sad that our country has come to such a state that these things seem mild to us, however that is the status quo.
Eve-teasing has seeped into our mindsets to such an extent that it seems quite normal when it happens. It has become ingrained in our minds that it is not ‘wrong’ or ‘unjust’. The most common reaction being, “It happens to everyone” or “He stared at me, he didn’t actually touch me”. And thus, we end up looking at the matter in a purely physical sense. We tend to think that some wrong or injustice has been done only when the woman’s body has been violated. Nobody treats a woman’s dignity or self-respect as a part of her that also requires protection.
Women’s safety is a broad term that refers to the security of women in general. The term covers both physical and mental aspects of safety. It is not just the woman’s body that requires protection, but also her personality and mind. Experiences like rape or physical abuse, not only violate a woman’s body, but may also cause mental trauma and may result in psychological or mental disorders. At the same time, it also taints her image in the eyes of society. It becomes hard for her to lead a normal life, or to be accepted as a normal human being in the eyes of society. She is shunned for no fault of hers. She loses her dignity.
We see that, in recent times, there has been a hike in the number of cases of rape, domestic violence and physical abuse towards women. To add to this, there are many cases that go unreported. The current situation is ruefully dismal.
To understand the gravity of the situation, we can look into the rape case that took place in Delhi on December 16th 2012. Two people, a girl and boy, boarded what was believed to be a public bus, only to find that the bus already contained six men, who were not afraid of getting on the wrong side of the law. The boy was beaten up brutally and thrown aside, after which they took turns and raped the girl. They did not stop there. As if that wasn’t enough, they physically abused her. They broke her, made her bleed and left her, with her guts spilling out. She and her friend were then hauled out of the bus and left on the roadside, naked and bruised. Nobody came forward and offered them any assistance. All the passers-by just went by them without being bothered enough to stop for a second, even if it was just to contact the police authorities and medical facilitators. The police men themselves, when they finally got there, had an argument about jurisdiction.
This incident unified the people of India in a manner like never before. Protests took place all over the country. People went on strikes, made demands and fought for the rights of their sisters, wives and mothers. The battle raged on for several days, with support from all corners of the country. Soon, the matter went international, with protests taking place in London, Melbourne, Toronto, etc. It was the first time that the matter of women’s safety was being taken this seriously.
The girl, who battled for her life for nearly two weeks, could not make it. However, her struggle became a personal matter for every Indian. She was given the name ‘Nirbhaya’ for her fearless attitude and for the bravery that she displayed till the very end. As mentioned in the examples before, once again it was a woman who was given the role of representing the struggle for safety and freedom.
It was this wave of much-needed anger that pushed people forward to make themselves heard. It was the wave of change that India needed.
A woman’s attire, conduct or company cannot be blamed for the injustice that is inflicted upon her by the doings of such men who turn to rape and murder as a manifestation of their power over the weaker sex. A woman’s behaviour or choice of whereabouts cannot be questioned. Her rights are equal to that of a man’s. A woman has as much freedom of choice as her counterpart.
What must be done to ensure women’s safety? Who is to be blamed? How can this issue be solved?
Just as you cannot kill a plant, unless you cut off its roots; to solve this problem, we must take a look at its basics or ‘roots’. The basics of the problem, in this case, refer to the mindset and attitude of the entire population. How can we expect to stop graver violations of justice like rape, if we continue to let the smaller ones like eve-teasing prevail?
The first step towards ensuring women’s safety is a complete change in the mentality of the people. Actions like eve-teasing, verbal abuse, hooting, wolf-whistling and the likes must be taken seriously. Incidents of rape, domestic abuse, physical violence, etcshould not go unreported. Sensitization, education and exposure will mark the way ahead. Boys must be taught to respect women from a young age. All women should make it a point to learn some basic self-defense techniques. The situation must not be downplayed. The law should ensure that offenders are heavily punished for their wrong doings.The mentality of the mass needs to be altered, with time. These are just a few of the many measures that can be taken to ensure the safety of women in future. This is just the first step, over time, we must look into the workings of all sectors and see to it that necessary policy changes are implemented to pave the way ahead for a safer country, and eventually world, for women.
As Alice Sebold said, “You save yourself or you remain unsaved.”
It is in our hands now. We must keep the momentum going and ensure that WE bring about the change that we need. Only we can save ourselves.
(Written for an assignment on Women’s Safety)