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Friday, Dec 13, 2019

Why it is time for women to speak up, be angry

One in three women worldwide faces violence. But in a post-MeToo era, conversation around sexual violence is in the open and so is the need for change.

columns Updated: Nov 29, 2019 20:28 IST
Globally one in three and, in South Asia, 37% of women face some form of violence: Physical, emotional, financial and, increasingly, online
Globally one in three and, in South Asia, 37% of women face some form of violence: Physical, emotional, financial and, increasingly, online (Raj K Raj/HTphoto)
         

Women have been told to be many things – patient, accommodating, docile even. Now, for the first time on an international platform, they are being told to be angry.

Not that they needed prompting. Anger was in evidence at the regional Beijing +25 conference held this week in Bangkok where UN Women deputy executive director Anita Bhatia told an audience of 500 ministers, policy-makers and civil rights organisers from 35 countries, “Be angry. Ask your government for change.” She was speaking at the launch of 16 days of activism that focus on violence against women after hearing two moving testimonies, the first from actress and model Cindy Bishop and the second from Mumbai-based rape survivor Natasha Noel.

“You cannot remain silent,” Noel said. She spoke of the need to teach children about sexual abuse. Bishop’s anger was sparked by a March 2018 Thai government campaign advising women to dress modestly during the Songkran (new year) festival. She had been assaulted at the festival 23 years ago and said 60% of women who attend are sexually assaulted, regardless of what they wear, but only 25.8% report it. Her post “Don’t tell me how to dress” kicked off Thailand’s MeToo movement.

“Violence against women and girls is ingrained all over the world,” said UN special rapporteur on violence Dubravka Simonovic. “Why aren’t we talking about it as an emergency?”

Globally, one in three and, in South Asia, 37% of women face some form of violence — physical, emotional, financial and, increasingly, online. According to the National Crime Records Bureau data for 2017, crimes against women in India were up 6% compared to the previous year with 27.9% of cases filed as “cruelty by husband and his relatives”. A third of 32,559 rape cases involved minor victims.

The post-MeToo era with offshoots in China, Japan, Korea, India and Pakistan has opened conversation about sexual assault. Also under discussion are entrenched patriarchal systems that result in sloppy legal justice, victim-blaming and stigmatisation that cloak perpetrators with impunity.

The 16-day campaign advocates for a global redefining of rape laws that focus on active consent rather than the use of force. But there is need also to dispel stereotypes on the role of women in society that go beyond legislation to include media and popular culture.

To do that, governments and civil society activists, teachers and parents, entertainers and public figures must get down to the really hard work of education — not as a one-off life skills class, but an unrelenting, concerted campaign with a clear message of ending violence against women and girls.

“We are angry,” said Indonesian activist Vica Larasati. The anger isn’t just about shrinking spaces for human rights, regression on sexual and reproductive health rights and the rise of macho nationalism. It is anger over how little has changed 25 years after the Beijing conference set gender equality as a goal. Yes, it’s time to get angry.

Namita Bhandare writes on gender

The views expressed are personal