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10 Years of Domestic Violence Act: The Way Ahead
Rajini R. Menon
A case of India and Malawi
Violence against women and girls (VAWG) has been defined as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life” (UN, 1993)i . Despite decades of global and national level activism, and legal reforms, violence against women and girls continue to persist in various forms and across social settings in all parts of the world. Latest global figures indicate that about 1 in 3 (i.e. 35%) of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime .ii
India and Malawi: A decade of implementation of Domestic Violence Act
A cross-country analysis of domestic violence in India and Malawi depict many similarities despite differences in contexts including the size of population. Why Malawi? Historically, both India and Malawi, have been treading the same path to fight gender-based violence.Both the countries are signatories to Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)iii that recognized gender-based violence as a form of discrimination and recommended that states to take measures to prevent and respond to VAWG. Both countries are also committed internationally through the Beijing Platform (1995), which outlines actions to respond to and prevent gender-based violence. Subsequently, the national policies (National Gender Policy of Malawi and National Policy for Women in India) considers violence against women as problem area and speaks on addressing the issue under one of the objectives of their national policies.
Because data from both countries show that 40 per cent of ever-married women in the age group of 15-49 years have faced some form of domestic violence – India’s NFHS-3 data (2005-06) ivand Malawi’s Demographic Health Survey (2010)v . Because this south-east African country Malawi, like India, completes 10 years of the implementation of its domestic violence act. India enacted the Prevention of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA) in 2005, while Malawi enacted the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (PDVA) in 2006. The difference is that while the Indian Act is only for women, the Malawi Act addresses both men and women.
In India, the public discourse on domestic violence emerged in 70’s and 80’s with an increase in incidence of dowry deaths. A sustained campaign led to the enactment of the section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), in 1983, which made ’cruelty by husband or his relatives’ a cognizable and non-bailable offence. The PWDV Act came into force in 2006 following decades of struggle by women’s rights movement across the country. The Act was to make justice available to women who may not always want criminal proceedings and would want to keep the option of reconciliation alive.
Malawi enacted its Prevention of Domestic Violence Act in 2006 in order to meet its international and national commitments as well as the Millennium Development Goals. The PDV Act is a civil law seeking to prevent domestic violence, providing protection, civil reliefs, monetary reliefs and legal remedies through new set of actors and mechanisms.
The multi-country study (2015) conducted by Oxfam Knowledge Hub (on VAWG) details that in both countries women’s economic dependence on men, poverty, cultural beliefs, illiteracy or ignorance contributed as additional factors to the perpetration of violence against women in domestic spaces. Poverty lead to early marriages, which often gives rise to sexual violence; the social norm is that it is alright to beat or abuse a woman and it is interpreted as a sign of love by the community. The reference groups in the community, the family members especially the mothers’-in-law and other elders, neighbours, relatives, local leaders, and peer groups influenced in reinforcing the negative social norms that justified violence against women in domestic spaces. Though women can take recourse to the national legislation, severe challenges impeded justice to the aggrieved women.
For instance, when India and Malawi enacted this legislation, they provided for Protection Officers and Enforcement Officers, respectively. This would be the first point person for the aggrieved woman. However, these point persons have neither been appointed in adequate numbers with independent charges, nor with the skills and capacities required for the role. The training of functionaries is pertinent to hold them accountable to their responsibilities; this has not been done. Further, service providers and medical facilities have no coordination with the Protection/Enforcement Officers. The insensitivity of the judiciary has emerged as the major lacunae in implementation in both the countries. Most Victim Support Units (VSUs) stationed in police stations in Malawi do not offer conducive environments for handling complaints with confidentiality, and struggle to provide basic provisions of temporary shelter. Similarly, the service providers in India are unable to provide appropriate referrals including to the shelter homes. The shelter homes neither have basic amenities nor a safe environment for the victim and her children.
One-Stop Centers which exist in the hospitals of both countries are not operationalized in all regions or districts; in the case of Malawi, services of Enforcement Officers, police, counsellors, medical facilities, etc. was not available in one place. Thus, inadequate and dedicated budgetary allocations, and systemic lags are encountered in implementation of the Act in India and Malawi.
At a recent learning event hosted by Oxfam, the country participants shared that despite these implementation challenges, the advocacy efforts of the Women’s Rights Organizations have resulted in some positive changes on the ground. In Malawi, there were some successes in terms of raising public awareness, training of implementing actors, new construction of VSUs and One-Stop Centres, some provision of legal aid, better coordination among actors and preparing instructional pamphlets about the PDV Act in local languages. In India, through the advocacy efforts of PWDVA Action and Advocacy Group at the national level the budgetary allocations for the implementation of PWDVA was increased from 20 crores to 67.5 crores in 2013. However, these allocations were not utilized by the national government due to a variety of reasons including change in government and the shift in the mandate of implementation on the state government. Advocacy at the state level resulted in good models of implementation especially in some states like Maharashtra, and Kerala. Kerala has appointed adequate independent permanent Protection officers and Maharashtra has developed a reporting format at the state level with state budgetary allocations. These states have increased the public awareness on the legislation at the local level of government.
Though we have these few examples of positive deviances, there is much more that the legislative victory should have been achieved. Since the legislative victories of India and Malawi on the Domestic Violence Acts have a history of engagement of women’s rights movement, the momentum of women’s rights movements has to be used to link up with allies from other social movements to plug the implementation gaps. There is a need to engage with men and boys, norm setters, media and policy makers rights movements has to be used to link up with allies from other social movements to plug the implementation gaps. There is a need to engage with men and boys, norm setters, media and policy makers for a collective behavioral change that will help to end gender based violence.
Written by: Rajini R. Menon Regional Gender Coordinator, Oxfam India
Photo credit: By Simon Williams / Ekta Parishad (Ekta Parishad) via Wikimedia Commons
iUnited Nations General Assembly, Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, 20th December 1993, Article 1
iii They have adopted the General Recommendation No. 19 in 1992 on violence against women (VAW)
v https://dhsprogram.com/pubs/pdf/FR247/FR247.pdf; One in ten ever married women has experienced both physical and sexual violence, and 7 percent have experienced all three forms of violence by their husband or partner.
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