One out of every two women in India is beaten by her husband.
That is a horrifying statistic on women who suffer from domestic abuse.
I had no idea! I would have said it was high but not that high.
I had the privilege of sharing an intense conversation on this topic with a fellow passenger on one of my recent long-haul journeys. He works closely with an international organization whose entire focus is research on women such that the results can be used to empower women and promote gender equality. His focus geography is Asia. Kudos to him and others like him!
As he reeled off statistics and opinions, I sat open mouthed in amazement and horror. I really had no idea! And my questions would not stop coming.
I also learned that there are regional differences where India’s diversity comes into play so the range of domestic abuse of women varies from a high of over 60% (sixty percent, folks!) to a low of 21% in very few (small) states.
States with the high stats include Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh. The lower stats occur mostly in the North Eastern states such as Meghalaya. Many of the others fall around the 50% mark.
The varying range is explained by the varying level of patriarchy in a particular region and community. No prizes for guessing what the higher degrees of patriarchy result in !
Here are some of the other things I learned –
- Policies have been put in place to help victims of domestic abuse, but on the ground where it really makes a difference, execution is poor and sometimes deliberately withheld
- These policies help once the abuse has occurred; what needs to happen is more fundamental – programs are needed to prevent violence against women from happening in the first place.
- This can only begin with public education and when children are in school (sadly, it is not happening). Even simple things like changing the examples and analogies used to teach social concepts would help so that patriarchy is not shown as the standard to strive for.
- Men still control much of politics, society, education and religion, and they are simply not motivated to see any change.
- Most of the abuse happens early in a woman’s marriage; that’s when the husbands are setting the rules and showing who is boss.
- Mass media including Bollywood is no help as more men are showing off their machismo (and strong bodies) more often; this is a trend that is totally opposite of the desired state
However slow the progress, it’s greatly heartening to see organizations such as this one hard at work trying to address the problem from several angles. Civil society has a large role to play in getting the government to pay attention and to get them to address the issues. Imagine having to get the government’s attention on something so critical!
[One bit of news I learned from my fellow passenger is that his organization has been featured in an episode of the upcoming season of Satyamev Jayate. You know what that means, right? There is a future, there’s more to come of this awesome program! ]
Here are some of the critical issues that this organization is focused on:
- Availability and access to education for the girl child
- Violence against girls and women
- Child marriage
- The practice of dowry
- Equal pay for equal work
While I have focused on India because that is what my fellow passenger talked most about, the problem with violence against women is certainly not endemic to India or Asia, it is pervasive around the world including the Western world. [More on this in Part 2].
The question that remains in my mind now is, what is the upside to patriarchy? Is there one?