Don't judge me: a need for safe spaces for victims of women and girls

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"She asked about it".

"If she lost weight, she would be pretty."

"She was promoted for her looks."

These statements reflect the usual body embarrassment, causal sexism, and obvious objectification that women and teenage girls go through every day. Be it for the clothes they wear or the opinions they express; The statistics on harassment of women in India tell a terrible story. With 39 crimes against women every hour, India is one of the most unsafe countries in the world. Forty percent of Indian women are subjected to some form of violence or harassment before the age of nineteen, and more than 90 percent of women and girls are subjected to sexual harassment, whether in public places or on the Internet.

A middle-aged woman in UP was beaten, stripped, and shown naked because she resisted the harassment. Zaira Wasim, the Dangal actress, was fondled by a fellow traveler on a flight to Mumbai, and Indian cricketer Mithali Raj was trolled for wearing a spaghetti top. Stalking, verbal harassment, laughter, physical injuries (touching / pinching / groping), cyberbullying etc. are common.

Be it Zaira, Mithali, Priyanka or the nameless woman in UP. Be it a woman in the highest power level or just a schoolgirl in everyday life. This is not a country for women.

Rooted in the psyche: why it is difficult to contain sexual harassment

However, the problem goes deeper than harassment. It is the occasional acceptance of sexual abuse as a normal event that happens to everyone. Breakthrough, an organization working to change the norms and practices that maintain violence against women and girls, has conducted extensive research that has found that 90% of women who are exposed to harassment neither report nor report it Action .

Intensive psychological studies have shown that there are several reasons why women do not take action – they are ashamed and ashamed, the problem is trivialized due to conditioning and statements such as “boys become boys” and they fear the consequences of reporting.

The situation is worse for adolescent girls who deal solely with issues of consent, security, stigma, sexual intercourse, segregation and harassment and with whom no one can speak or speak.

How do we give these women and children the courage to stand up and express themselves? How do we ensure that they are heard and not judged? It is a solution that we all have to tackle together.

A 6 step approach that can turn the tide

While there are some advocates of segregation, surveillance, etc. to combat sexual harassment, they are just patches that are ineffective in the long run. There are no quick fixes to this problem, and we need to focus on making a long-term change in mindset.

1. Make the problem clear: Preventing the abuse of women and girls today is less about drafting laws than about changing deep-rooted cultural norms and practices. How do we stop the victims feeling guilty? How can we make people aware that sexual harassment is not someone else's problem and that it is not eliminated by ignoring it, by hiding it, or by denying someone the right to quit?

2. Use creative ways to create awareness: Awareness that something is wrong is critical to changing the norms and practices that perpetuate violence. Workshops, meetups and coffee table discussions can be organized to learn stories. Influencers and strong personalities can talk about how they dealt with abuse.

3. Encourage dialogue: Secure spaces – online and physical – can express many unheard stories, heal old wounds and pave the way for a better tomorrow. We especially need cross-generational dialogue between young people and their parents so that girls in particular have a support system in their families. For example, we recently made four films about young people exposed to online harassment and their parents' dilemma about how to deal with the issue. In the end, each video ends with a positive call to action. Parents become a safe place for their children.

4. Mobilize men and boys: We noticed a ~ 20 percentage point decrease in men and boys who gave themselves up to harassment after being part of some of our programs.

5. Empowering young people: It is also important to take gender attitudes and behavior into account when views are still changing. Working with young people to discuss girls' rights and scope, anchor leadership and confidence in young girls is vital to tackling gender-based discrimination and violence. It has been shown that our school-based curriculum, which reaches over 200,000 teenagers in 4 states, has resulted in significant changes in gender behavior and in the attitudes of boys and girls.

6. Ensure that existing systems work effectively: Greater institutional response and accountability must be ensured. The reporting mechanisms must be made more accessible and more receptive to complaints. It is necessary to raise awareness of legal remedies (e.g. hotline numbers) and to ensure compliance with the law.

This is a road or a clearly defined path that has not been traveled well so far, perhaps because there are still many minefields. But with many more organizations and individuals leading the way, this narrative can and will change. Are you in?

Sohini Bhattacharya, CEO and President of Breakthrough, an organization dedicated to making violence and discrimination against women and girls unacceptable. She is a social change enthusiast with more than 25 years of experience in the development industry.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)