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May 24, 2017

Be The New Norm

Rajini R Menon & Julie Thekkudan

End Violence against women and Girls in India

Image Credit: Anu Verma/ Oxfam India

India faced yet another gruesome gang-rape  a couple of weeks back in the state of Haryana, a state lauded by the government for its work on Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign (Save the Girl Child, Teach the Girl Child). What is ironical is that this incident of rape comes within a few days of the Supreme Court awarding death penalty to the offenders in the 2012 Nirbhaya case. This time around the brutality of it did not seem to jar the consciousness of the nation as it did in 2012. It almost seems to have become immune to these frequent and often extremely brutal episodes of violence against women. 

Maybe it is a signal for us to work beyond legal solutions to addressing the existing social norms. Son preference, sex-selective abortion, and increasing demands for dowry all point to our social conditioning which has normalized the unequal power relations and the associated actions of violence between men and women in the country. Why is it so?   

Many of us in the development sector understand and acknowledge that violence against women and girls is an expression of power that men perpetuate in patriarchal societies. A majority of women, girls, boys, and men who are far removed from the developmental jargon do not even know the connection between the two. For the majority, it is a given. The power at stake makes it difficult for men to change simply because the status quo has worked so well for many centuries; it gives men the privilege that they enjoy. This is where the interplay of social norms come in. 

Men often believe that other men in their community hit their wives, if they disobey them. A good woman is one who respects her husband’s authority. The same applies to a ‘good’ sister, ‘good’ daughter and a ‘good’ woman in general. Any change to this definition of the ‘good’ will invite strict discipline from the men. This brings to the forefront the need to change this expectation. Unless we are able to change this social expectation to conform rather quickly, the road to normative change is a long one ahead. 

The beginnings of this change is definitely visible. The thinking and agency of the men who came out on the streets in December 2012 has to be re-harnessed. Young boys and adults should be inspired by an alternative possibility. They need to raise their voices and become the role models for other boys and young adults. They need to make the hashtag #notallmen (which became popular last year on Twitter) a more forceful one. Young girls have already begun to demand their rights to education by collective action in response to the government campaign in Haryana. Celebrities like Varun Dhawan (Bollywood actor) and Virat Kohli (Indian cricketer) need to become more visible in their actions to build the narrative on the alternative. Non-governmental organisations need to take these conversations to the villages and bring the dialogues from the villages to the cities. Media houses need to introspect on how they contribute to these imagined expectations and make their stand known like NDTV (New Delhi Television) which openly stated its stance on refusing to air advertisements on fairness creams. Advertising houses have begun to create more thought provoking ads (Havels, Vicks, Tanishq , Ariel) which makes them stand apart from the crowd but that needs to translate into the DNA of the agency instead of awards that could be won. 

Each one of us needs to step out of our comfort zones and add to the voice that will make the government take cognizance of the need for more concrete efforts on their part. A starting point would be to translate the National Policy for Women into time-bound action plans with adequate resourcing and monitoring of its implementation. It is time for the aspiration of most women (and I am sure many men) for mutually respectful, nurturing, and therefore equal relationships to become a reality. 

Be the new Norm! Weave Violence Free Lives. #Bano Nayi Soch: Buno Hinsa Mukt Rishtey             

To Know more about our work on ending violence against women and girls, Click here.

 

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