Social taboos have long been discussed and criticized, but sneakily continue to linger. Existing more commonly in economically underdeveloped countries and eastern nations like India, women are usually the worst victims of taboos. What is heartening is how the perspective is changing against taboos that have long impeded life for women.
A walk down the centuries brings to light scores of restrictions we have placed on life based on the times, gender, caste or some such “category”. These prohibitions, that were probably relevant in the past, get suffocating when they fail to change with the growth of civilization. Social taboos have proved especially damaging to the development of women, their social status and overall living. There is a pressing need for society to re-look and reconsider taboos in order for us to enjoy a fresh lease of life.
DISTURBING SOCIAL TABOOS FOR WOMEN
Social taboos in India date back to the prehistoric times and the list can be unimaginably long. Shocking as they are, women have predominantly been targeted and forced to adhere to them. Some of these taboos now seem decadent but continue to be a reality for some women:
• During her menstruation cycle, a woman is considered “impure” and has limited access to the social world. She cannot visit a temple, touch certain things, associate with people, wash her hair or touch elder’s feet. She cannot even spell out ‘period’ and has no option but to wait it out.
• Widows in many parts of India have to go bald. With their husband’s death – who is often far older than her – her venturing out of home and socialising come to an abrupt end. Remarriage is only a dream.
• In the child marriage era, little girls were often married off early and kept away from school as education would come at the cost of social interaction. Being a girl meant remaining illiterate for rest of her life.
MENSTRUAL TABOO IN THE MODERN SCENARIO
Amid increasing awareness about female physiology, inclusion of sex education in schools, and transformation of perspectives about the menstruation cycle, findings of a recent survey are not too encouraging. Recently conducted research reveals that more than 90% urban women rule out the idea of washing hair when they are menstruating, close to 70% consider it inappropriate to water plants, and a large section in Southern India won’t go out of home during this time.
Strangely enough, the menstrual taboo prevails in all major religions albeit in different forms. The propagators of this taboo, often belonging to conservative families, bring out remote mythological connections and religious beliefs. There is no denying that menstrual taboo persists even in so-called modern India.
BREAKING THE SHACKLES
While setting prohibitions and restrictions in some spheres of life is essential, this is not so for debilitating social taboos that only bring down quality of life for women. Taboos for women string us to conform to illogical beliefs and hamper our growth and development.
TEN KEY RECOMMENDATIONS MADE BY JUSTICE VERMA COMMITTEE AFTER NIRBHAYA GANG RAPE INCIDENT
A panel set up in response to public outcry over the brutal gang rape and murder of a young woman has delivered its report outlining recommendations on how to tackle gender violence in the largely patriarchal country.
The panel, headed by former Chief Justice of India J.S. Verma, received over 80,000 responses from the public as well as women’s rights groups, academics, gender experts and lawyers, compiling their suggestions into what commentators have described as a “path-breaking” and “progressive” report.
Here is a list of the 10 key recommendations put forward by the Verma Committee in its 630-page report:
1. MAKE VOYEURISM, STALKING AND INTENTIONAL TOUCHING AN OFFENCE
– Make voyeurism an offence punishable by a maximum jail term of three years
– Make stalking an offence punishable by a maximum jail term of three years
– Intentional touching, using obscene language or gestures should be treated as a sexual assault offence
2. AMEND RAPE LAWS
– Rape of a minor should carry a minimum jail term of 10 years
– Gang rape should be defined in the Indian Penal Code and be punishable by at least 20 years imprisonment
– Death caused by rape should carry a minimum penalty of 20 years in jail
– Make marital rape a criminal offence
3. REVIEW SECURITY LAWS IN CONFLICT ZONES
– Due to the number of reports of sexual offences committed by the armed forces in India’s conflict areas such as Kashmir and the North East, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) – a controversial law that gives sweeping powers to and often confers immunity on security forces – must be reviewed
– Security forces must be brought under the purview of ordinary criminal law rather than under army law
– Special commissioners for women’s security must be deployed in all areas of conflict. Such commissioners will have powers to monitor and take action in all cases of sexual violence against women by armed personnel
– Introduce “Breach of command responsibility” – making a senior officer of security forces or police liable to a jail term of at least seven years if his/her subordinate commits rape
4. MONITOR ILLEGAL, PATRIARCHAL VILLAGE COUNCILS
– Put in place measures to monitor illegal village councils known as “Khap Panchayats” that sanction so-called “honour killings” and impose oppressive diktats such as banning girls and women from using mobile phones, wearing western clothes or venturing out unaccompanied
5. REVIEW MEDICAL EXAMINATION OF RAPE VICTIMS
– Put in place medico-legal guidelines on how to perform a medical examination of a victim of sexual assault
– Scrap the so-called “two-finger” test – an outdated practice that examines the laxity of the vagina to determine whether the victim is “habituated to sex”
6. POLICE REFORMS
– Institute a Police Complaints Authority at district level to look into complaints against police officers who do not register complaints of gender crimes. Police who fail to register complaints or abort an investigation should be punished. This will provide more police accountability, said the commission
– All police stations should have CCTV to ensure proper procedures are being followed in handling, recording and filing complaints
– Provide appropriate technical equipment and training to police to ensure the highest standards of investigation of forensic evidence for sexual assault crimes
– Separate police investigating gender crimes from law and order police to ensure speedier investigation, better expertise and improved rapport with the public
– Increase the number of female police on patrol and on duty in police stations so that women feel comfortable filing sexual assault complaints
7. ELECTORAL REFORMS
– Lawmakers who have been charged in a court of law with serious offences such as sexual offences or dowry crimes should be disqualified from contesting elections
– Sitting parliamentarians with criminal cases against them, including those of rape and other types of sexual assault, should voluntarily vacate their seats
– There should be a code of conduct for political parties, instituting transparency in receiving donations and declaring whether parties had sanctioned people to run for elections who have criminal records
– The formal curriculum in Indian schools must be drastically revamped and sex education must be made an integral part of the curriculum
8. BILL OF RIGHTS
– India should institute a “Bill of Rights” for women, along the lines of similar bills in South Africa and New Zealand
– The bill would set out the rights guaranteed to women, which would include the right to life, security, bodily integrity, democratic and civil rights and equality
9. HUMAN TRAFFICKING
– Define the offence of trafficking in the Indian Penal Code
– Trafficking should be punishable with a jail term of no less than seven years and may extend to life imprisonment
– Employing a trafficked person, for example as a domestic servant, should carry a jail term of no less than three years.
Being in the 21st century, with technology, digitalization and development being flaunted all over the country and the world at large, the need to talk about this subject, “How safe are women in India?” still reverberates. With a profound understanding of what is happening around us, it is time that the country joins hands to realize the gravity of the issue.
While there are many cases of crime against women that are reported there are a lot more cases that are unreported and the treacherous misdoings persist. The list of crimes against women in India is exhaustive and includes acid attack, child marriages, domestic violence, forceful domestic work, child abuse, dowry deaths, female infanticide/sex-selective abortions, child labour, honour killings, rape, sexual harassment, trafficking, forced for prostitution, and many more. The list of safety laws for women in India is equally exhaustive, but despite formation of various effective rules and regulations by the system to handle and control the crimes against women, the number and frequency of crimes against women are increasing day by day.
The crux of the matter among other factors is that the authorities have not effectively implemented new laws on crimes against women. The majority of rape cases still go unreported. The status of women in the country has been growingly offensive and dreadful over the last few years.
In India a women is reportedly raped every 15 minutes. Multiply that by 24×7, 365 days a year. And keep in mind the majority of rape cases still go unreported!! The statistics on crime against women is even worse: Every 2 minutes, a woman in India is a victim of a crime. This ongoing issue of violence against women raises the real and serious question of whether India is truly ready for a seat on the global table.
One explanation for the ongoing rape problem is the skewed sex ratio. Like China, India has a massive imbalance in its sex ratio. Currently, the ratio of males to females is generally significantly greater than 1, i.e. there are more boys than girls.
Source: NCRB Report, Crime in India-2014
From the above table it is evident that the proportion of crimes against women is on the rise. The distribution of the nature of the crimes committed against women is graphically represented below.
AWAG along with other committed women’s organizations, trade unionists and responsible citizens has collectively addressed the issue in wake of the recent and recurrent heinous episodes against women in Gujarat. The collective named ‘Forum of Concerned Citizens for Naliya Incident’ that was formed following the Naliya Sex Scandal, took on its fight for justice through multipronged interventions such as holding protest demonstrations, press conferences, releasing an open letter addressed to women Sarpanchs of the country, etc.
And the fight for justice towards ensuring the dignity and respect for women continues……
LIFE IS PRECIOUS!
10 WARNING SIGNS OF CERVICAL CANCER YOU SHOULD NOT IGNORE
Cervical Cancer, in women, is the second most common cancer worldwide, next only to breast cancer. It occurs in the cells of the cervix, the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina.
Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by a virus called human papilloma virus (HPV). Women of all ages are at risk of developing this cancer after they begin having sexual intercourse.
Risk factors include unsafe sex, multiple sex partners, being overweight, use of oral contraceptives, genetics, smoking, poor immunity, multiple pregnancies and first pregnancy at a young age.
One of the scariest things about this cancer is that it does not show any symptoms in its early stages. After the disease has spread to the bladder, liver, intestines or lungs, the symptoms are more prominent.
Being an adult woman, if you notice any unusual changes or symptoms affecting your reproductive organs, consult your doctor.
Always bear in mind that your chances of successfully treating cervical cancer are higher if it is detected during the early stages. With the use of Pap tests and the HPV vaccination, it’s become possible to treat as well as prevent cervical cancer.
With knowledge of the risk factors and warning signs of cervical cancer, you can save yourself and others from a lifetime of suffering.
Here are the top 10 warning signs of cervical cancer you should not ignore.
• Women between 20 and 30 years old should get a screening every 3 years. Those 30 to 65 years old should be screened every 3 to 5 years.
• Get an HPV vaccination before your early 20s.
• Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke.
• Take the right steps to prevent STDs. This will help reduce your risk of cervical cancer.
To explore more, visit www.Top10HomeRemedies.com
Domestic violence is a serious threat for many women. Know the signs of an abusive relationship and how to cope with the dangerous situation.
Recognize domestic violence
Domestic violence can take many forms, including emotional, sexual and physical abuse and threats of abuse. Men are sometimes abused by partners, but domestic violence is most often directed towards women. It might not be easy to identify domestic violence at first. While some relationships are clearly abusive from the outset, abuse often starts subtly and gets worse over time. You might be experiencing domestic violence if you’re in a relationship with someone who:
• Calls you names, insults you or puts you down
• Prevents or discourages you from going to work or school
• Prevents or discourages you from seeing family members or friends
• Tries to control how you spend money, where you go, what medicines you take or what you wear
• Acts jealous or possessive or constantly accuses you of being unfaithful
• Threatens you with violence or a weapon
• Hits, kicks, shoves, slaps, chokes or otherwise hurts you, your children or your pets
• Forces you to have sex or engage in sexual acts against your will
• Blames you for his or her violent behavior or tells you that you deserve it
The cycle of violence in domestic abuse
Domestic abuse falls into a common pattern, or cycle of violence:
Abuse – Your abusive partner lashes out with aggressive, belittling, or violent behavior. The abuse is a power play designed to show you “who is the boss.”
Guilt – After abusing you, your partner feels guilt, but not over what he’s done. He’s more worried about the possibility of being caught and facing consequences for his abusive behavior.
Excuses – Your abuser rationalizes what he has done. The person may come up with a string of excuses or blame you for the abusive behavior—anything to avoid taking responsibility.
“Normal” behavior – The abuser does everything he can to regain control and keep the victim in the relationship. He may act as if nothing has happened, or he may turn on the charm. This peaceful honeymoon phase may give the victim hope that the abuser has really changed this time.
Fantasy and planning – Your abuser begins to fantasize about abusing you again. He spends a lot of time thinking about what you’ve done wrong and how he’ll make you pay. Then he makes a plan for turning the fantasy of abuse into reality.
Set-up – Your abuser sets you up and puts his plan in motion, creating a situation where he can justify abusing you.
Your abuser’s apologies and loving gestures in between the episodes of abuse can make it difficult to leave. He may make you believe that you are the only person who can help him, that things will be different this time, and that he truly loves you. However, the dangers of staying are very real.
Break the cycle
The longer you stay in an abusive relationship, the greater the physical and emotional toll. You might become depressed, anxious, helpless and guilty. Still, the only way to break the cycle of domestic violence is to take action — and the sooner the better. Start by telling someone about the abuse, whether it’s a friend, relative, or other close associates. At first, you might find it hard to talk about the abuse. But you’ll also experience relief and receive much-needed support.
“Silence Is Not A Virtue; Break The Silence Of Oppression.”
Dr Ila Pathak (1933 – 2014)
Founder, Ahmedabad Women’s Action Group (AWAG)
by Faeza Jariwala (Post graduate Student, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Maharaja Saiyajirao University of Baroda, Gujarat and AWAG intern)
After due interactions between my faculty head and AWAG’s Secretary Ms Sara Baldiwala, my internship for a month’s duration was confirmed. This provided an opportunity for me to learn the broad concepts related to the organization’s ongoing mental health programme with dalit and Muslim communities in the slums of east Ahmedabad.
The field work gave me an exposure on the grassroot realities that exist thereby changing my perceptions regarding people and their conditions.
On the conceptual front I learnt about mental health illness, awareness about it among communities, basic knowledge about counselling and skills of a counsellor through field visits undertaken.
Alongside, the organization’s team that I was associated with also guided me on personal growth aspects such as punctuality, sensitivity, accuracy, observation, listening, confidence and work decorum. The most valuable aspect that I learnt about was to treat people with respect and dignity regardless of their socio-economic conditions.
I received a fair feedback on my shortcomings as well as my strengths and work performance.
The entire episode made me realize how blessed I am and changed some of my perceptions altogether. My decision to choose AWAG for internship proved worthwhile.
“Stand up for someone’s rights today!”… was the theme announced by the UN for this year’s Human Rights Day celebrations.
The violation of women’s rights is a widespread phenomenon. To accept that the Human Rights of women and men are essentially equal is a very difficult proposition, especially in the Indian milieu. Despite the Right to Freedom and Equality being laid down in the Indian Constitution, in reality it is observed that women are neither free nor given equal status. For a majority of women, not only is asserting their Right to Ownership of Property a pipedream, but even enjoying the basic amenities such as food, clothing, education, healthcare and having a say in matters on an equal bases as their male counterparts, is unacceptable by society. In an environment where women are not accepted as human beings and are confined to the status of personal property or domesticated animals, the need to sound the bugle was strongly felt.
The very first act of sounding the bugle on the issue of Human Rights of Women was led by Shri Hansaben Mehta from Gujarat. She represented India at the UN Human Rights Declaration in 1948 and was responsible for changing the language of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from ‘all men are equal’ to ‘all human beings’; thus highlighting the need for gender equality. As is well known, Human Rights Day is observed every year on 10 December. It commemorates the day on which, in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 1950, the Assembly passed resolution 423 (V), inviting all States and interested organizations to observe 10 December of each year as Human Rights Day.
This year, Human Rights Day called on everyone to stand up for someone’s rights and reaffirm our common goal to make a real difference and stand for humanity.
AWAG has been active on the issues related to women’s rights, dignity and gender equality. One of the important reasons to celebrate Human Rights day at AWAG is to advocate and reaffirm its purpose on the importance of ‘equal rights’. This year too, the organization commemorated the day by participating in an event at Lal Darwaja, Ahmedabad in collaboration with other local organizations including Movement of secular democracy (MSD) and Peoples Union for Civil Society (PUCL). Among other speakers, Ms Sara Baldiwala from AWAG presented her views on the effects of the recent move of Demonetization on women.
Let’s all recall the fundamental message/ sine qua non… “Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.”
– Ms. Sara Baldiwala, AWAG