Violence against Women and Gender Justice

By Chitwandeep Kaur & Yogesh Hemnani

Editor’s Note: A lot of jurisprudential ink has flown in an attempt to highlight the issues of violence and gender justice. This essay is another brief analysis in that respect.

Abstract

Violence is a coercive mechanism perpetrated by those in power against the powerless, harvesting the cries of women. Violence against women takes many forms –physical, sexual, psychological and economic. Widows and single women who are more than victims, mothers, sister, daughter, caregivers etc. have equal rights and a life of dignity on this motherland. Sexual assault is more than a crime where a victim is further victimized by the society, and the state, through humiliation and insinuation. The reason for such a gross gender injustice is embedded in the dichotomous patriarchal view about women: the good woman is the wife, living under the shadow of her husband’s protection, and therefore respectable; while the women who deviates from this norm is regarded as an open treasure and is tactically assumed to be sexually available because of being unprotected. The type of violence against women which would be covered had a wide range of domestic violence, rape, widow immolation (sati), forced prostitution, eve teasing, sexual harassment in public places etc. The reasons why crimes against women continue unabated are the lack of deterrents and ineffectuality of legislation. So covering the universal principle of “Justice delayed is justice denied”, long delay in law courts also helps the offenders to commit such crimes.

 Introduction

“From Her, Man Is Born; Within Woman, Man Is Conceived; To A Woman He Is Engaged And Married; Through Woman, The Future Generations Exist; To A Woman A Man Is Bound. From Her, Kings Are Born. From A Woman, Woman Is Born; Without Woman There Would Be No One At All”

The differences between man and woman maybe small but they have snowballing effects on the status of a majority of women. Even the most significant, rich and civilised empires cannot boast of providing their women equal treatment.

In the original Sanskrit text, and according to the Vulcan of Hindu mythology is described as :“He took the lightness of the leaf and the glance of a fawn, the gaiety of the sun rays and tears of the mist, the inconsistency of the wind and the timidity of the hare, the vanity of the peacock and softness of the down on the throat of the swallow.  He added the harshness of the diamond, the sweet flavour of honey, the cruelty of the tiger, the warmth of the fire and the turtle dove, the chill of snow, and the chatter of the jay. He melted all of these and formed a woman. Then he made a present of her to man. And, she lived unhappily ever after”.

Spotting Violence in general is a coercive mechanism to assert one’s will over another, in order to prove or feel a sense of power; perpetrated by those in power against the powerless.The tragedy which has taken place has been the grave injustice done to the half of humanity i.e. woman.  Why she has been regarded as a sub-species which she is not. Women have always played a specific and crucial role whether visible or not.

Violence against women who have no one (i.e. single women/widowed women) being called as a culture would be wrong as interesting stories about the women suffering great hardships like Sita, Draupadi etc. are reducing women to physical and mental slavery of men. The ancient Indian scriptures played prominent role in lowering the image of women in the society. Manu, the ancient Hindu law giver has also equated women as a slave. Religion has also deeply affected and grievously damaged the image of women in Indian society.  Adhishankaracharya, the great founder of Hindu Philosophy called woman as “the gateway to hell and poison in the shape of nectar”. The churchman thought that Eve led Adam to sin and warned men “not to give thy soul to women”. Even the great thinker Aristotle deprived her of the right to citizenship because she lacks certain qualities; she is naturally defective.

In sum, the Indian tradition is replete with evidences which show intermittent violence and crimes against helpless widows; which shows male chauvinism. She is confined to domestic servitude, her movements are restricted. The imposition of restrictions starts in the family of orientation when she is born. As a result she has to adjust in the family of procreation. At home she is often worse off, reduced to slavish drudges and maltreated in the hundred different ways. Despite of woman’s traditional obedience we find a lot of violence against her. The problem of violence against women is not a new one. Women have been a victim of rape, husband beating, murder, dowry, violence etc. in the past too.

All these and what not, turn to any newspaper at random and you would find the reports of such kind of violence all over the country. These are all what we come to know through different forms of media. There are more such cases which go unreported every day. In fact, include the cases which we our self-indulge in, or the ones which we witness in the neighbourhood but are hesitant in taking even a single step to reduce their occurrences.

In our society, violence is bursting. It is present almost everywhere and nowhere is this eruption more intense than right behind the doors of our homes as well. Behind closed doors of homes all across our country, single women are being tortured, beaten and killed. It is happening in rural areas, towns, cities and in metropolitans as well. It is crossing all social classes, genders, racial lines and age groups. It is becoming a legacy being passed on from one generation to another. Millions of the world’s widows endure extreme poverty, ostracism, violence, homelessness, ill health and discrimination.

Violence against women is present in every country, cutting across the boundaries of culture, class, education, income, ethnicity and age. After a deep analysis and study even when it is now forbidden in most parts of the world, the reality is that violence against women’s rights are often sanctioned under the garb of cultural practices and norms or through misinterpretation of religious tenets. Moreover, when the violation takes place within the home, as is very often the case, the abuse is effectively condoned by the tacit silence and the passivity displayed by the state and the law-enforcing machinery.

Violence against single women is often a cycle of abuse that manifests itself in many forms throughout their lives. Even at the very beginning of her life, a girl may be the target of sex- elective abortion or female infanticide in cultures where son preference is prevalent. During childhood, violence against girls may include enforced malnutrition, lack of access to medical care and education, incest, female genital mutilation, early marriage, and forced prostitution or bonded labour. Some go on to suffer throughout their adult lives – battered, raped and even murdered at the hands of intimate partners.

Even the marital relationship begins with vows to “Love” and “Honour” each other but results in violence.  Women are always considered weak, vulnerable and in a position to be exploited. Family which was perceived as an arena of love, affection, gentleness and centre of solidarity and warmth has now become the centre of assault, exploitation, violence ranging from slapping, hitting, homicidal assault etc.

Violence in the context of this research is defined in terms of-

  1. Sexual exploitation (forced prostitution, rape, sexual harassment); and
  2. Physical assault on women and girls, leading even to deaths, within the family context.

If being single can sometimes relegate a woman to the background, divorce can be traumatic. Social stigma surrounding divorce still hangs heavy over women, usually housewives, who are dependent on their husbands.

That’s not all. If a married couple splits up, the woman being know a single woman generally struggles to receive her fair share of the couple’s property. And even what she is entitled to can get tied up in litigation in India’s excruciatingly slow-moving courts.

If you are single, you could just fade away. If you are separated or divorced, you may struggle all your life – so many women stay in a bad marriage and suffer. And in some families the prospect of being widowed does not bear thinking about.

Other crimes of violence against women include forced pregnancy, abortion or sterilization, and harmful traditional practices such as dowry-related violence, sati (the burning of a widow on the funeral pyre of her husband), and killings in the name of honour. And in later life, widows and elderly women also experience abuse.

While the impact of physical abuse may be more ‘visible’ than psychological scarring, repeated humiliation and insults, forced isolation, limitations on social mobility, constant threats of violence and injury, and denial of economic resources are more subtle and insidious forms of violence. The intangible nature of psychological abuse makes it harder to define and report, leaving the woman in a situation where she is often made to feel mentally destabilized and powerless.

Where does that strict and constructed image disappear while staring at the other women in society?

The physical, sexual and psychological abuse, sometimes with fatal outcomes, inflicted on single women is comparable to torture in both its nature and severity. It can be perpetrated intentionally, and committed for the specific purposes of punishment, intimidation, and control of the single woman’s identity and behaviour. It takes place in situations where a woman may seem free to leave, but is held as a prisoner by fear of further violence against herself and her children, or by lack of resources, family, legal or community support.

The usual argument in cases of sexual harassment / rape is that the female must have provoked the assaulting male by either being out of her home so late at night or by her clothes or manner. I want to ask the society at large: Why do you always look at women as a commodity? Aren’t woman a part of society? Don’t you feel the warmth of love of your mother, sister or friend? If an eve teasing occurs, it’s she is who is being blamed for the way she dresses and not he for the affront. It’s a human rights violation and is highly condemnable.

The society and the government which advices women what to wear failed to give out a strong message to those culprits who are involved in violence against women. Today India is listed as 4th dangerous country for women to live in. Is this is the achievement we gift our mother land? Is this what we are going to gift to our daughters, friends, wives and mothers? Raise your voice and join hands to curb this menace. Every man should encourage and empower your daughter, sister, wife to follow their dreams confidently.

For me a single women’s safety is not just about safeguarding her from sexual harassment; it also includes safe spaces, freedom from poverty and access to all basic amenities, safe public transportation, financial security and autonomy and safer healthier community. Building such a nation is everyone’s job. It’s a mandatory duty of government and judicial system to perfectly ensure women safety and most important duty is to take severe actions against culprits and to give a strong warning.

Today, we are witnessing more violence against single women in different forms in our country which is turning our nation into hell. I hope you all are aware of what actually happening in this nation which is now having more lusty beasts. It is time for our entire society to eradicate all forms of violence against women and to gift a safer nation to our coming generations.

Over 22000 murders, 12,000 rapes, 3500 dowry deaths and 27500 molestation cases are the violent crimes reported in India against single women. There are many instances of crime especially against women go unreported in India. These are figures released by the National Crime Records Bureau recently. While Madhya Pradesh is worst off among the states, the national capital New Delhi continues to hold on to its reputation of being the most unsafe city in India. Delhi takes the top slot for crimes ranging from murders and rapes to dowry deaths and abductions.

Rape is the fastest growing crime in the country today and as many as 18 widow women are assaulted in some form or the other every hour across India. Over the last few months cases of rapes and assault have made it to the headlines with alarming frequency. It is an ordeal simply to file a police report and the investigations thereafter have been stories of apathy and down-right humiliation meted out to the victims. Where convicted, punishments have ranged from capital punishments to a day in jail.

When light is thrown specifically upon the violence done against widows we can draw a class amongst them because all widows do not face similar problems. She may be one with no issue and who has been widowed one or two years after her marriage or she may be one who becomes a widow after a period of 5 to 10 years and has one or two small children to support, or she may be one who is above 50 years of age. Though all these three categories of widows have to face the problems of social, economic and emotional adjustments, the first and the third category have no liabilities while the second type of widows have to perform the role of the father. The first two categories of widows have also to face the problem of biological adjustments. These two types are not as welcome in their husband’s family as the third type.

If we take all the cases of violence into consideration, we find that the victims of violence are generally those:

  • Who feels helpless, depressed, have a poor self-image and suffer from self-devaluation, or those who are ‘emotionally consumed’ by the perpetrators of violence, or who suffer from “altruistic powerlessness”;
  • Who live in stressful family situations, or who live in families which, in sociological terms, cannot be called ‘normal’ families, that is, families which are structurally incomplete (husband is dead), economically insecure and functionally inadequate;

If we take all types of widows together, we could say that violence against widows includes physical battering, sexual abuse, deprivation of legitimate share in property, and abuse of their children. The important characteristics of violence against widows are:

  1. Young widows are more humiliated, harassed, exploited or victimized than the middle-aged widows;
  2. Ordinarily, widows know little about their husband’s business, accounts, certificates, insurance policies, and bonds, and become easy victims of fraudulent schemes fostered by unscrupulous members of their family (of procreation) who try to acquire their inherited property of life- insurance benefits;
  3. Perpetrators of violence are mostly the members of the husband’s family;
  4. Of the three most important motives of victimization-power, property and sex-property is a crucial factor in victimization in middle class widows, sex in the lower class widows;
  5. Though the authoritarian personality of the mother in law and the maladjustment of siblings-in-law are important etiological factors in the widow’s victimization, the most important factor is widow’s passive timidity; and
  6. Age, education, and class appear to be significantly correlated to the exploitation of the widows but family composition and family size have little correlation with it.

‘Gender justice‘ is the ending of, and the provision of redress for, inequalities between women and men that result in women’s subordination to men.

Those who see unequal gender relations as being central seem to take an explicitly political position that defines gender justice as being about overcoming women’s subordination.

The term is rarely given a precise definition and is often used interchangeably with notions of gender equality, gender equity, women’s empowerment, and women’s rights.It is not surprising, therefore, that concepts of gender justice that seek to enhance women’s autonomy or rights in relation to men are controversial and arouse intense debate.

Conclusion

Despite these differences, common interpretations of gender justice that emerge from the literature pertain to fair treatment of women and men, where fairness is evaluated based on substantive outcomes and not on the basis of a notion of formal equality that uses an implied ‘sameness’ standard.

Gender justice includes unique elements that go beyond related concepts of justice in class or race terms, which complicate both its definition and enactment. First, women cannot be identified as a coherent group along with other sets of disempowered people such as ethnic minorities or socially excluded immigrants. Gender cuts across these and all other social categories, producing differences of interests—and conceptions of justice—between women. Second, unlike any other social group, relationships between women and men in the family and community are a key site of gender-specific injustice, and therefore any strategy to advance gender justice must focus on power relations in the domestic or ‘private’ context. Third, the patriarchal mind-sets and social relations that are produced in the private sphere are not contained there, but infuse most economic, social and political institutions. Indeed, the term gender justice provides a direct reminder of this problem of institutionalized bias by reminding us that justice itself, in its conception and administration, is very often gendered, responding to a patriarchal standard derived from the domestic arena.

For ages women are one of the most oppressed and constitute the most deprived sections of the society why because our human society as a whole is a male dominated society irrespective of the different geographical locations. For centuries this male dominated society taking the advantage of the physical weakness and biological difference in women spread the canard that the safer place for women are in the kitchen and they are not serious and not fit in the works outside home.

This misconception about women in the affairs of the society has been decreased gradually from the past few decades or so and the power and potential within woman conies to the fore in many activities whether it is in politics, sports or social issues.

In order to remove such atrocities against women and to enable the women to participate in the affairs of the society the psyche that women had no alternative but to depend on men should be removed first. The fact that women are excelling in different fields proves that women can and do handle politics successfully if they are given opportunities.

In a nutshell,

From cradle to the grave, women are objects of violence from those nearest and dearest to them. And it is a never ending cycle for there is considerable evidence of intergenerational transmission of violence”.

Formatted on 1st March 2019.

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