As a Parliamentarian and a citizen of the country, I see critical gaps in women's safety regime.
The gaps persist despite government’s efforts to promote women's empowerment. While addressing the nation from the Red Fort this year, the prime minister expressed a strong intent to ensure women safety, for which the state needs to fulfill its responsibility. Most recently, Smriti Irani, the Union Minister for Women and Child Development affirmed the commitment to address gender-centric issues through mutual cooperation with the G20 group of countries.
The ground reality, is quite contrary.
There are numerous instances that suggest that women’s safety lacks due focus and attention from the government.
Lack of Attention Towards Women's Issues
Significantly, the gap in terms of the issues we urgently need to work upon and the ones that have enough political fuel, are clearly visible. Women safety, unfortunately, is one of the former.
I refer to safety as protection from gender-based harassment and a woman’s level of comfort, ease and perception of risk during all stages of life.
We witnessed an extremely stressful Monsoon Session with loss of productivity and the absolute murder of dissent. Three instances prompted me to gauge a pattern, bringing a great sense of disappointment around the way women’s issues are attended to:
Denying permission to discuss the rape case of a 9-year-old in Delhi
The way the scuffle between honourable women MPs and women marshals was handled
Derogatory remarks and unparliamentary language used by a male minister in the presence of women MPs (Agar aap karoge danga, toh kardenge hum aapko nanga)
India is the world’s most dangerous country for women due to the high risk of sexual violence and their being forced into slave labour, according to a poll by Reuters.
Similarly, the data from the National Crime Records Bureau (2020) points to a grim rise in rape cases between 2018 and 2019. Between 2020 and 2021, crimes against women have increased by 63%.
As per a report that analysed India’s budget over the past three years, our budget is spending just 30 rupees per woman to fight gender-based violence. India’s budgetary allocation towards women safety is woefully short of global standards.
For 80 million who actually suffer sexual violence, the budget allocation has reached about 102 rupees per head. At the global level, the cost of this violence has been estimated to be around US 1.5 trillion dollars.
The Consequences of Violence Against Women
When the incidence of violence against women increases in any nation, it strongly hampers women’s participation in the workforce, thus impacting the economy negatively. And by creating a safe environment for women, the GDP in India may increase by US 770 billion dollars.
Increased incidence of violence against women strongly hampers women’s mobility, thus impacting the economy negatively. And only by creating a safe environment, India’s GDP may increase by 770 billion dollars.
So if we plan to become a 5 trillion dollar economy, shouldn’t women safety be one of the core objectives of the state?
After the horrific gang rape incident in 2012, women safety did gain prominence in the papers of lawmakers.
The allocation of Rs 3,000 crore towards the Nirbhaya fund in 2015, in order to install GPS systems, CCTVs in public transport etc, still remain underutilised. Other policies such as Himmat App, with its panic button could not gain much acceptance. The underlying assumption is the male dominance in public places, where a woman would ideally fit in only with her "safety tools", expecting her to stay in a state of ‘hyper-alertness’.
The root cause being ‘agency’, it is the ‘ability to define and have control over one’s goals and act upon them’. A woman’s “agency” suffers when she is constantly concerned about the other who is assumed to be outside of the home and could be a potential threat to her dignity and life. As a result, fear dictates her each and every move. Empowerment takes a backseat.
A Radical Take on Women Empowerment
With the introduction of Nirbheek, the debate on owning a gun became more heated. Gaining widespread criticism from women’s groups and gun control advocates, it was supported by the assumption that women carrying guns are twelve times more likely to get shot, as compared to unarmed women.
But isn’t it hypocritical, that we demand death penalty for the perpetrators but not give a chance to the potential victim to save her life? If not all, at least a micro section of women, who are compelled to commute through lonely places for livelihood or for other necessities. For me, the solution lies in institutionalised training of firearms. We can also ease licensing norms by permitting special quotas on the lines of sports quota firearm licenses for women safety in the Arm’s Act. The immediate consequence could be an increase in women’s confidence and a deterrent for attackers.
Hence, owing to the rising cases of brutality – be it the Sakinaka case, the Bengaluru case or the Pune one, we need to start with radical women empowerment. Despite radical empowerment measures like gun ownership instilling a sense of negative reality, just the deterrent effect would be enough.
While the efforts to change the social mindset can never ever be overemphasised, the efforts to provide a safer and more comfortable environment for women is the foremost responsibility of the government.
While our National Education Policy must ensure gender sensitisation, addressing the issue of socially structured gender roles and creating awareness on gender justice at a much enhanced and focused scale through textbooks, the efforts of the government to empower women to defend themselves must gain more prominence. It is imperative for the government to empower women to defend themselves from physical, emotional and social depredations.
(Dr Fauzia Khan is a Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha from Nationalist Congress Party. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)