Barring a few in-your-face displays of brutality, the gnawing violence against women does not make the headlines. The atrocities women face in and outside their homes rarely become criminal matters for the State. Even the economy does not seem to grudge squandering the potential of half its workforce.
It is time the world recognised that the development agenda will never be complete without the elimination of violence against women. Pitching gender as a standalone objective in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that are likely to replace the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals next year, many countries, including India, have agreed that all-round development is impossible if women are denied their right to movement, education, healthcare, employment, sexual and reproductive choices.
The inter-governmental discussions to include gender as a standalone goal in the SDGs are on. Civil society groups participating in the discussions argue that in the Indian context, geographic, social and economic disparities could pose a major challenge in meeting the targets. Violence against women is a big concern.
Despite legal reforms announced after the December 16 gang rape, the recording of cases of crimes against women remains slack, except in a few pockets in the big cities. Stricter laws and fast-track courts have little meaning for a victim of sexual violence if she can’t get past the first hurdle of getting her complaint registered.
Even in big cities, slums and fringes remain blind spots. A large number of homeless and destitute women do not count at all. As a group, they are, probably, the biggest victims of sexual abuse.
Domestic workers form the largest sector of female employment in the cities. In most states, there is nothing to ensure the basic welfare of a domestic help.
It gets worse for the rural women from lower castes because they bear the triple burden of caste, class and gender. Their tormenters enjoy a sense of entitlement and atrocities meted out to them almost never make it to the crime registers.
The patriarchal attitudes that perpetuate violence against women are hard to break overnight but the government can make a beginning by trying to determine the scale of the problem. Mere registration of cases won’t be enough. The authorities need to work on achieving better conviction rates by strengthening the investigation.
The State should also conduct dedicated, population-based surveys to map gender violence and discrimination to frame targeted policies and laws. To make sure that none of marginal groups such as the Dalits, tribals and minorities go under the radar, the government will have to go beyond mere consultations with civil society groups. They need to include the voices of the marginalised not just in planning but also in implementation and stocktaking of all future frameworks.